A letter of recommendation is a document written by a person or organization that can attest to someone's skills, qualifications, and experience. You've probably written one before, too: "To whom it may concern…"

But do you know what makes a good letter of recommendation? And what should you do if someone asks you for one?

Don't worry! We're here to help. In this article, we'll show you exactly how to write a letter of recommendation that gets results, how to find the ideal recommender, and the uses of the recommendation letter.

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What is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation, also called a recommendation letter, is a testimonial written by someone who can attest to your skills, achievements, and character. This person could be a teacher, former employer, client, or even a colleague.

Letters of recommendation are commonly submitted when applying for jobs and college admissions. They are often used to supplement other information about you, such as academic transcripts, standardized test scores, and resumes. 

They give the reader an idea of how you think and act in different situations, with different people. A letter of recommendation typically includes:

  1. Your name and contact information
  2. The person writing the letter's contact information
  3. How long the writer has known you
  4. The writer's relationship with you (teacher, boss, etc.)
  5. How the writer knows you (classroom setting, work setting, etc.)
  6. How your skills and experience make you a strong candidate
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Another important thing to note is that there are three main types of recommendation letters and they are:

  • For employment: Recommendations for employment are written to prove that someone is qualified for their next job. These letters should be written by past supervisors, managers, or peers.
  • For college admissions: Recommendations for college admissions are typically written by a high school teacher or guidance counselor. They're meant to show that a student has the potential to succeed in their future academic career.
  • For scholarships: Scholarship recommendations are written to prove that a student has the qualities needed to earn a scholarship, such as dedication, focus, and leadership. Typically they're written by teachers or mentors who can attest to these qualities in the person they're recommending.
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What is a Character Reference?

A letter of recommendation is also called a character reference. A character reference is a letter from someone you know who can attest to your personal qualities and abilities.

A character reference is typically written by a friend or employer, or another person who can speak to your positive attributes. The person writing the reference is called the referee, and they might be a teacher, coach, previous employer, client, or someone else who can attest to your abilities and achievements.

A potential employer may want to see a character reference in addition to other employment references as part of the hiring process. A personal reference letter is usually less formal when compared to an employment reference letter. However, it should still be well-written and free of errors.

A character reference does not need to be long. Just a sentence or two will do but it should be specific, highlighting your best qualities. If possible, it should also include examples of how you've demonstrated these qualities in the past.

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How to Craft a Letter of Recommendation with Formplus (forms + pdf builder)

You can design a letter of recommendation in Formplus using the PDF builder.

Formplus is a drag-and-drop online PDF builder that helps you create online forms easily and build documents in minutes. 

You can use it to create and distribute letters of recommendation.

The first thing you'll want to do is use the form builder to create a letter that answers all the right questions.

You can easily do this by dragging and dropping the features you need in your letter into place, then adding more features as needed. 

The Formplus pdf builder is designed to be flexible and user-friendly so that you can create almost any kind of document you want. You can then download this letter as PDFs to share with others. 


Uses & Importance of Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation have been around for a very long time because people have always needed to vouch for each other. But it's hard to say how many people know how to write one well.

A letter of recommendation is, in the simplest terms, is a letter that supports a candidate. The person writing the letter will be someone who has worked with the candidate in some capacity, can speak to their abilities and character traits. This is typically, their supervisor.

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A good recommendation letter can be used to address three main things:

  • your relationship to the person you're recommending
  • why they are qualified
  • how they stood out from their peers or made an impact on your organization

The primary purpose of a letter of recommendation is to give the recipient an understanding of how well you know the person who is being recommended and what their skills are. So it's important that the person writing a letter knows you well enough to speak to your abilities. As such, the most effective recommendation letters are those that are tailored to the specific audience.

List of People You Shouldn’t Ask to Write Your Recommendation Letter

If you're applying for a job and need a recommendation from someone, it's important to consider the type of person you ask to write one for you. Here are some people who should not write your recommendations:

1. Your parents. A recommendation from your mother or father is not going to help you get a job in most cases. They will probably give you glowing praise, but it won't be the kind that convinces an employer that you work hard, show up on time, and do good work.

2. An old teacher or professor who doesn't remember you well or hasn't seen much of your work. It's great to have someone with a teaching background give you a recommendation if they can speak to your abilities as a student and as an employee. Just make sure they've seen enough of your work to give you the kind of glowing review that will impress an employer!

3. A friend or family member who has never observed your work habits or seen how well you perform under pressure. This might seem like an obvious point, but it's worth reiterating. This is because many people ask their friends and family members for recommendations without considering if those people have actually seen them at their best in the workplace

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How to Find the Ideal Recommender

Ideally, the person writing your recommendation letter will be able to speak about both your professional and personal qualities as they pertain to the job or school program you're applying for. You should also make sure that they have time in their schedule before the application deadline. (Note: it's not always necessary to ask someone who has worked or studied with you directly.)

Here are some of the best people to approach for a letter of recommendation: 

  • Someone who has worked with you in a professional setting and can vouch for your work ethic and skillset.
  • Someone who has supervised or mentored you in an educational or work environment.
  • Someone whose character and reputation would impress the person reading their letter of recommendation (for example, a college professor whose research on ancient Greek architecture has made her an expert in her field.

What Should be Included in a Strong Recommendation Letter

You don't have to be a professional writer to write an impressive letter of recommendation. All you have to do is follow these simple steps, and then you'll be ready to provide certification for your next employee or colleague.

Some of the information you are to include in a letter of recommendation are: 

  • Their personal qualities, especially in relation to those who will be reading the letter (e.g. if they are applying for a job at a school, mention how excited they are about working with children)
  • Academic achievements, including courses and grades
  • Skills and abilities
  • How long you've known each other and in what capacity
  • Personal anecdotes relating to their professional qualities/skills
Read: Writing Job Application Forms: Types, Tips & Free Templates

In order to make a strong recommendation letter, you need to be able to describe three things: the skills the person has and how they use them, why their skills would benefit the organization they're applying to, and why you think they're qualified based on your relationship with them.

Follow these steps:

  1. Set the tone: Use a formal tone, and make sure your letter has no spelling or grammatical errors. You can ask someone to proofread it before sending it off.
  2. Get personal: Talk about how you know the person who has requested a letter of recommendation from you, as well as how long you've known them.
  3. Go into detail about their skills and attributes: You should also mention any accomplishments they have achieved during the time that you've worked with them.
  4. Acknowledge their achievements: Describe what you admire about this person and why other people should admire them too! To get started, here's how Formplus can help craft a letter of recommendation:

Legality Issues and What to Leave Out of a Recommendation Letter

The legal issues surrounding letters of recommendation are pretty clear. A letter that contains information that is demonstrably false (for example, the person lied about their GPA or the number of hours they worked) could result in a lawsuit. 

But even if the information is true, it's possible for a letter to give the appearance of being false. For example, if you have to compare your student to another student or employee, but your student/employee is much better than the other, it may appear as though you're lying or exaggerating.

To protect yourself from liability, you may want to avoid giving any quantifiable comparisons in your letter. Instead, provide enough detail about this person's abilities and skills that it's clear why they are a good candidate for the program or position they're applying for.

Read: How to Write a Complaint Letter + [ 5 Template Samples]

Also, an employer could be sued for libel or defamation if the letters are too positive or overly flattering and can't be substantiated by facts. Employers should also make sure they don't include any confidential information in their letters that they don't want to be published elsewhere. 

This includes things like salary, raises, bonuses, and other benefits given to the employee. They should also refrain from including anything that could be construed as discriminatory, such as details on an employee's race, gender, or age.

Elements & Structure of a Sample Letter of Recommendation

There are three elements that every letter of recommendation should have:

1. An opening paragraph that introduces the person writing the letter, their relationship with the applicant, and why they're qualified to write it.

2. At least two paragraphs detailing the applicant's strengths, qualifications, and achievements. These paragraphs should include specific examples and anecdotes that support their claims about the applicant. 

3. A strong closing paragraph that encourages the reader to take action (e.g., hiring or accepting the applicant).

Examples of Poor, Good & Great Recommendation Letters

Here is an example of a good letter of recommendation. It touches all the important areas that need clarification.

Example 1

Dear [name],

I'm thrilled to be writing you this letter of recommendation to support your application for [program name]. I've known [name] for [length of time, e.g., many years] and can attest that they are a hardworking student who is committed to their studies.

[Name] is currently enrolled in my course on [course name], where they consistently achieve high marks and participate enthusiastically in class discussions. In addition to their academic achievements, they have also demonstrated leadership skills through their roles as [list extracurriculars or work/volunteer experiences here].

Based on my observations, I am confident that [name] will make a great addition to your program. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide you with any additional information about their skills and qualifications.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

Example 2

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to recommend [name]. I have known [name] for [length of time] in the capacity of [description of relationship].

[Name] stands out as an exemplary student and employee, and I want to provide my highest recommendation. At our organization, we value being collaborative and honest, and I can say without a doubt that [name] exemplifies these characteristics.

[Name] is always willing to go the extra mile in everything she does, whether it's working with clients or improving her own skills.

I am convinced that [name] will succeed in whatever endeavor she pursues next. She has earned my highest recommendation. If you have any questions about her work or character, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely

[Your name]

Here is an example of a poor letter of recommendation:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing this letter on behalf of Lance McEnroe, my former employee. I worked with Lance here at [company name] for six months, until he was terminated. I feel that Lance is a good worker. He gets along well with his fellow workers. He is always punctual and works hard. As his supervisor, I found him to be a pleasure to work with.

In my opinion, Lance would make a valuable addition to your company. He was a good employee, and I know he will be a good asset for you. If there is any further information needed about Lance's performance at [company name], please contact me at 555-555-5555.

Sincerely yours,

Tom Smith.

FAQs

  • Is a short recommendation letter bad?

No, it is not. The important thing is for it to address all the necessary points needed.

  • Can a recommendation letter hurt you?

The answer to this is yes. A negative letter of recommendation can hurt a student or employee application significantly. Bad recommendation letters can definitely take away your chance at a job or school. This is why you should be confident in your recommender. 

  • Can you write your own recommendation letter?

Yes, you can write your own recommendation letter but be very careful. If you're writing a letter of recommendation for someone, you will want to use first-person pronouns like I and me, as in "I would like to recommend this student" and "I can attest that the candidate is the best person for the job". If you're writing a letter of recommendation for yourself, however, you will want to use third-person pronouns like he and she, as in "He is a brilliant student" and "She is the best person for this job."

  • Do universities & employers check the authenticity of recommendation letters?

Most universities assume the authenticity of the recommendation letter sent to them. They mostly don't verify and just about 1% might check the authenticity. 

Conclusion

It is important that all letters of recommendation are written in language that is straightforward and to the point. Also, don't forget to contact your recommender ahead of time to avoid missing the submission deadline



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  • on 12 min read

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