How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)
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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)

Post Author - Elizabeth Thorn Elizabeth Thorn Last Updated:

In a competitive job market, every candidate can use a boost. While there are several ways for someone to make their application stand out, a great letter of recommendation is one of the best ways for them to have someone else highlight their skills and achievements.

87% of employers check references and often seek third-party verification before proceeding with a candidate, meaning a strong letter of recommendation could make or break someone’s chances of landing the job. Basically, for applicants, these letters can be career-defining, transforming potential hires into top contenders.

If you’ve ever wondered how to craft a standout recommendation letter that truly makes an impact, you’re in the right place. We’ve loaded this quick guide with expert tips and sample letters to help you get started.

TL;DR — Key Takeaways

  • Recommendation letters often offer valuable insights into a candidate’s skills and personal qualities, helping verify their potential and giving them an edge in the hiring process.

  • While reference letters are particularly impactful for senior roles, they may be less crucial for entry-level positions where skills tests offer more insight into their abilities to perform well on the job.

  • A solid recommendation letter should have a header, introduction, main body, conclusion, and signature, maintaining a professional yet warm tone to endorse the candidate effectively.

  • When crafting your own reference letter, use the job description as a guide for what to include, covering skills, projects, qualifications, and personality traits.

  • Reference letters are most effective when integrated into a smooth hiring process, enhancing the employer’s brand. Toggl Hire’s ATS helps you track skills tests, interviews, and CVs seamlessly.

What’s the purpose of a recommendation letter?

To…recommend a candidate. Oh, beyond that? It’s to provide credible insights about a candidate’s skills, personality, and achievements. They help employers assess a candidate’s suitability for a job by highlighting their strengths, achievements, and potential contributions to the team.

Potential employers usually ask for letters of recommendation after they’ve shortlisted job applicants and require verification of candidate credentials. They are almost always private, allowing writers to offer a candid and subjective assessment.

Not all positions require a letter of recommendation. As a rule, they are mostly needed for:

  • Senior roles where experience and leadership skills are essential

  • Roles where honesty and reliability are critical, such as those involving money or confidential documents

Entry-level positions rarely require letters of recommendation. But an exception to the rule could be a start-up looking to assess cultural fit and skills when building a new team, for example.

How to Use Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation can be useful in different ways:

  • For candidates, letters provide accurate representations of their abilities. A compelling recommendation letter could give them an edge when competition is fierce.

  • Potential employers benefit from third-party opinions. This makes it easier to decide whether candidates meet role requirements.

  • A previous employer asked to write a letter of recommendation can help maintain a good relationship with promising ex-employees. A good letter can also help build a positive brand.

How to format a letter of recommendation

Well, for starters, we don’t recommend using AI to compose and structure a recommendation letter, as they can vary greatly depending on which role the person is applying for and what skills are most important to success in that role.

They’re also highly personal, and it would look pretty darn suspicious if the letter sounded like it was written by Chat GPT.

Despite these variations, the format remains fairly consistent.

The tone should always be professional and concise, avoiding slang or jokes. These letters validate the candidate’s skills and achievements and often comment on their potential in a new role. While it’s okay to throw in an anecdote or two, now’s not the time to try and be funny.

Recommendation letters generally also follow a standard format. The following core elements are almost always present.

Header

The header is the first thing a reader sees, so it’s important to get this right.

Write the date of writing and the recipient’s address. Add your professional address to enable return mail if necessary (whether that’s a physical or email address). Double-check all of these details and present them professionally. Errors here ruin the tone of the letter before recipients read a word.

Greeting and introduction

Next comes the salutation or greeting. As this is a professional letter, a formal tone is required.

Greetings like “Hi there” aren’t appropriate. If you have the full contact details, use “Dear [recipient’s name].” If you’re unsure who you’re addressing, write “To Whom It May Concern” (and pay attention to capitalization).

It’s generally better to personalize the greeting to create a human connection. Personalization matters in a process that can feel a bit robotic. Feel free to ask the candidate for more information about the recipient to ensure it’s addressed to the right person.

After the greeting, write a short introduction. Introduce yourself and your connection to the candidate. Re-stating the purpose of the letter is also a good idea. Something like “I can confidently recommend [X] for the role of [Y]” immediately creates a positive impression.

Body paragraph

The next section is critically important, as it forms the bulk of the letter and explains:

  • The candidate’s qualifications (if relevant)

  • Achievements in a professional setting

  • Personal qualities that make the candidate a valuable asset

Every sentence should relate to the role in question. If the candidate is a former employee, describe how their experience fits the role. Use specific examples to illustrate the candidate’s skills and potential.

When a candidate moves from a junior to a senior position, it’s okay to be subjective. Think about how they’ve demonstrated leadership abilities. Running project sub-teams or stepping up to fill staff absences are both good examples.

How to structure a letter of recommendation

Comparative assessment (optional)

This section is optional but can help when potential employers have plenty of choices. If the role is particularly competitive, explain how the candidate stands out from their peers.

For example, the candidate may have an outstanding work ethic or an exceptional thirst for knowledge. They may stand out for their concentration and focus under pressure. Or they may be a model colleague, defusing tensions and managing disagreements.

Closing statement

A good recommendation letter finishes with a positive but professionally-worded candidate endorsement.

The endorsement summarizes points made earlier about the candidate’s strengths and qualifications. Mention why the applicant fits the employer’s team. Stress your confidence that the candidate will perform well in the advertised role (not in the general workplace).

Invite the reader to contact you for further information. Employers may desire clarification before they make a final decision.

Signature

Finally, the letter should end with a formal closing and a signature. If you don’t know the recipient, “Yours” or “Best” are fine for the closing. However, “Sincerely” is generally acceptable. Definitely don’t go with “Peace out” (you’d be surprised…).

After that, print and sign the letter of recommendation. Typing your name is fine if you choose a digital format. Remember to include your professional title underneath the signature.

Tips for writing a strong recommendation letter

Mastering the structure above is fairly simple, but without care and attention, it’s easy to misjudge the tone or leave out important content. The five tips below will help you perfect the wording and structure every time.

Understand the purpose of the reference letter

Before writing anything, look at the job description and job title. Understand the required skills, tasks connected to the role, and cultural qualities suitable candidates need. This information influences your content and tone. Don’t start writing a letter of recommendation without thinking it through.

Think about the person asking for the recommendation

Keep the candidate in mind when writing a letter of recommendation. List achievements, focusing on what made your colleague a good team member. Pick out some unique qualities that set the candidate apart from run-of-the-mill applicants.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Remember to provide specific examples, including any quantifiable metrics, where possible.

Start with a reference letter template

Save time by using a pre-written letter of recommendation template.

Below, you’ll find an expertly created template (along with some sample letters). Fill in the gaps with information based on your former employee and the role in question.

Edit to personalize and highlight the right skills

Before using a letter of recommendation template, check that it meets your requirements. For instance, you may want an extended section on different projects and relevant skills. Or you may need content on academic performance if you are a teacher or university professor.

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

Customize the template to highlight candidate strengths. Some areas won’t be relevant to your letter of recommendation, while others are critical. Focus on what skills most suit the person for the position they are pursuing.

Specific examples of recommendation letters

Letters of recommendation are not creative writing exercises. However, writing an effective letter does require creativity and care. Well-written letters also fit their context. They suit a particular role and never come across as generic.

If that sounds tricky, we’ve created three exemplary recommendation sample letters for different situations to use as guidance the next time an ex-employee asks for help.

1. An entry-level role for a previous intern or junior employee

Dear Mr. Doe,

I am writing about Ms. [x] regarding the Web Development Officer position. I employed Ms. [x] for three years, first as an intern and then as a junior technician. During that time, she contributed to a website redesign and became a valued member of our IT support team.

Ms. [x] regularly demonstrated the ability to contribute and develop her skills. She volunteered for coding and web design courses and used those skills in subsequent projects to maintain the company website. Her initiative and desire to succeed exceeded our expectations and requirements for someone in her position.

I confidently recommend Ms. [x] for a permanent technical role. She possesses exceptional potential and a willingness to learn. She is honest and friendly and works hard to meet project goals. I have no doubt that she will become a valuable asset to any business workforce.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. Referee

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

The example above provides a positive assessment of a young but ambitious colleague. The text informs the recipient about how the candidate has developed their skills and contributed to business operations. It explores the candidate’s potential, offering an honest but upbeat character assessment.

2. A senior-level position

Dear Mr. Doe,

I am writing about Mr. [x] concerning the position of Digital Marketing Manager. I employed Mr. [x] for five years at Cybersales Enterprises and confidently recommend him for the position.

While at Cybersales, Mr. [x] rose to the position of Regional Sales Executive. He showed exceptional business and organizational capabilities, running a 30-person team responsible for North American operations.

During his time with us, Mr. [x] oversaw the creation of an immersive sales app that used 3D technology to introduce new products. He also managed several product launches, ensuring seamless rollout and strong sales figures.

Mr. [x] also contributed to our learning culture by developing his skills and mentoring junior staff. He showed a flair for relationship management, enabling colleagues to realize their potential. His character makes him a strong candidate for management roles.

At all times, Mr. [x] demonstrated a strong work ethic and proved an honest, enthusiastic team member. I am confident his skills and qualities make him an ideal addition to your team. He will confidently assume additional responsibilities without any problems.

Yours sincerely.

Mr. Referee

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

This recommendation example focuses on what makes the candidate a management candidate. It details specific projects and general performance observations. It notes aspects of the candidate that suggest management potential while remaining relevant to the role under discussion.

3. A character-specific letter focused on soft skills, not technical qualifications or skills

Dear Mr. Doe,

I am writing about Mr. [x] for the Corporate Social Responsibility Manager position. I employed Mr. [x] for seven years at Ecowash Industries as our Environment and Ethical Officer. I have no hesitation in recommending him for a senior CSR position.

As an employee, Mr. [x] showed a passionate belief in environmental protection and social causes while aligning CSR initiatives with our business strategy. He communicated clearly with senior colleagues, explaining corporate policy changes and updating production managers about performance targets.

Mr. [x] also demonstrated an exceptional ability to resolve disputes and motivate colleagues. He used game-playing techniques to embed energy conservation practices. He also bridged the gap between executives and factory staff, easing the transition to different packaging and production techniques.

I am confident Mr. [x] will perform well as a CSR manager. He has outstanding commitment, negotiation skills, and positivity. As an employer, he is also a pleasure to work with.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. Referee

Top tips to enlarge those brains Top tip:

This reference letter stresses the candidate’s personal qualities. It provides some detail about technical projects but focuses on desirable character traits over qualifications or professional achievements. The tone is slightly less formal, as the emphasis is on personality.

How to hire employees you want to recommend

Letters of recommendation add a human touch to recruitment, communicating admiration, respect, and even affection. Reference letters also reassure employers in a world where around 70% of candidates write misleading resumes.

But that’s not all they do. Recommendation letters can also be critical reference points in hiring decisions. At Toggl Hire, we often think, ‘Will we be proud to recommend this candidate?’ If we aren’t sure, it’s time to take a second look.

The challenge is finding candidates you want to recommend. If that’s what you’re after, then consider implementing skills testing and other candidate assessment checks during your hiring process to ensure you’re hiring all-around great employees you’ll be happy to recommend once they eventually move on to a different role (hopefully far into the future!).

Skills tests, for example, can help you identify individuals with skills and personalities that suit your organization. Find out more with a free Toggl Hire account. Sign up today to make your hiring more efficient and plan for a more productive workforce.

Elizabeth Thorn

Elizabeth is an experienced entrepreneur and content marketer. She has nine years of experience helping grow businesses and has experienced first-hand the impact of skills-based hiring in today's global, digital world.

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