How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation for a Job
Updated 26 February 2021
Applying for a graduate job always presents a few challenges. Aptitude and personality tests, assessment days and lengthy interview processes are all common. To complicate matters further, some employers request that you submit a recommendation letter as part of your application.
What does that mean?
First, it’s important to understand exactly what one of these letters is. Essentially, a recommendation letter is a document prepared by a teacher, colleague, client or employer which recommends the work you’ve done, either through employment or academic study.
The purpose of a recommendation letter is to verify and endorse your skills, aptitude and achievements. These letters are created with the goal of giving a potential employer the confidence they need to employ you.
Be sure to give your referee as thorough a brief as possible for your recommendation letter.
How Best to Source a Recommendation
It may appear obvious, but the best approach is always to ask the individual you have in mind directly. Many students feel anxious about approaching a teacher or employer for one of these letters. More often than not though, they will know how to prepare a recommendation letter, as you won’t be the first one to ask it of them.
Ask politely, state the purpose of the letter and let them know the deadline for your application. Rather than simply just asking for a letter, request that the person writing it is as specific as possible, covering particular projects or tasks that you have completed which relate to the job.
Before approaching your teacher, supervisor or manager, you should collate the relevant paperwork to provide them with sufficient information to work from. At the very least this should include a brief outline of the job or opportunity that you are applying for and the deadline. Don’t leave your request until a couple of days before the deadline.
What if Your Request is Denied?
Don’t get disheartened if the first person you ask to write a recommendation letter for you declines your request. There are various reasons why this might happen, such as lack of time - or simply they may not feel that they know you sufficiently to write a strong enough letter.
If your initial choice declines to write a letter, do make the effort to find someone else suitable to prepare the letter. The recommendations provided could set your application apart from the other candidates, or highlight key skills and areas of expertise.
What Should be Included in Your Letter of Recommendation?
The letter of recommendation should be tailored to the job that you are applying for. As such, you must make sure to brief the individual writing the letter about the role requirements.
The content of the letter should outline your qualifications and skills while relating them to your education or employment. It should go on to explain how you meet the selection criteria specified by the company.
Recommendation letters should provide information on who you are, how you and the person writing the letter are connected, why you are suitably qualified and what skills you have.
To further strengthen the letter, it is advised that specific examples are provided. This could include a project you completed, a task that you coordinated or a customer that you helped. Ensure that the examples are relevant and draw on the skills identified in the job description. It is also beneficial to draw on your achievements or awards from education or employment.
The first paragraph should outline the purpose of the letter and the connection between you and the referee. It should mention how you know each other and for how long.
The second paragraph should include details about the individual, covering why they are qualified and what they can bring to the role. This section could be more than one paragraph but it should be as short, clear and concise as possible.
The third paragraph should summarise why a recommendation is being provided.
The closing paragraph should include contact details (eg a phone number or email address) in case the employer requires further information or clarification of any points.
What to Avoid in a Letter of Recommendation
Note that there are also some things to avoid in the letter:
- Being too general. If the letter doesn’t address the skills, experience and knowledge you have that are relevant to the role, then it’s doing you a disservice. Each letter should be tailored, incorporating certain keywords taken from the job description.
- Asking the wrong person. If you are struggling to find someone to write you a recommendation, don’t just choose anyone. Make sure that you choose someone who knows you well enough to write positively about your skills and achievements.
- Misunderstanding the role. It is really important to explain to the person writing the letter about the job you are applying for, or better still provide them with a copy of the job description and person specification, so they can tailor the letter properly.
- Making untrue statements. If the person writing the letter wasn’t happy with the standard of work, they should not lie. Instead, it would be much better to politely decline the request.
- Not providing follow-up details. Sometimes the recruiter reading the recommendation letter may have additional questions or may require further clarification, so the letter should include at least one method of contact, such as telephone number or email address.
How to Format a Letter of Recommendation
Presentation is everything when it comes to applying for a job; the way in which the letter is presented can create an impression about the quality of the letter. All letters should be suitably formatted, well written and reviewed to check for spelling and grammatical errors.
A formal letter of recommendation should be longer than a couple of brief paragraphs. Providing short letters suggests that the writer does not know the person well or doesn’t have sufficient information to provide a recommendation.
That said, the letters should not be overly long. A page in length should be sufficient, with three to four paragraphs to provide the recommendation.
The content should be single-spaced and the text aligned to the left. Traditional fonts should be used, such as Arial or Calibri, and the font size should be anywhere between 10 and 12 points.
A Sample Template for a Letter of Recommendation
There are many ways to write a letter of recommendation. Here is a sample letter that can be adapted or used as a framework:
Dear Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms (Surname)
I am writing on behalf of (Name) regarding the position of (job title) and I would highly recommend (Name) for this role with your organisation. (Name) has been with the company/school/college/university for (number) of years and during this time I have been (Name) (teacher, manager, supervisor).
Since working with (Name) I have been very impressed with their communication skills, enthusiasm for work and professional approach. During the time (Name) has spent with us, he/she has consistently demonstrated all of these qualities and I endorse him/her for (a list of skills relevant to the role). Most notably (provide an example or two here).
(Name) is industrious, resourceful and always willing to learn and take on challenges. He/she can work in difficult situations, solve problems with ease and deal with complex situations. He/she can multi-task effectively and can coordinate resources and projects to a high standard, even when meeting challenging deadlines. He/she has consistently surpassed their individual targets and his/her reports are always accurate and detailed.
(Name) is a well respected, diligent and knowledgeable employee, and I can confidently recommend him/her to join your team. (Name) has my recommendation. If you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me by telephone at (telephone number) or email at (email address).
(Your Name) (Job Title)
How to Send Your Letter
When you are asked to provide a letter of recommendation, you may be given specific instructions from the recruiter. Some organisations will request that you obtain the letter from the person providing the recommendation before delivering it to the recruiter yourself, while others may request that the person writing the letter sends it directly to them.
If you are sending the letter of recommendation by email, it is advised that you attach a copy of the letter as a Word document or PDF, rather than including it in the body of the email.