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HOW TO WRITE A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION

A letter of recommendation is typically written by a current or previous employer, colleague, client, teacher or anyone who can vouch for a candidates work or academic performance if they are applying for a position elsewhere.

It covers the persons employment and/or academic history, skills and achievements as well as attests to the person’s work aptitude and attitude. It provides the person looking to hire an individual with a “vote of confidence” that the applicant has what is needed to fulfill the role.

A letter of recommendation is usually obtained beforehand and sent with your curriculum vitae/resume; otherwise, it’s requested once a firm or HR manager has shown interest in you. The difference between a letter of recommendation and a reference letter is explained later.

What is included in a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a statement about a person’s qualifications, skills and aptitude in relation to a person’s ability to perform well in a job or at an educational institution. It serves to present the individual as a good fit for a specific position or college that they’re seeking to fill or join.

Typically, a letter of recommendation is made up of three parts:

  1. A paragraph or sentence that explains in what capacity you know the person and how long you’ve known them (duration of employment or college attendance)
  2. An evaluation of the person’s qualifications, skills and accomplishments, as they relate to the position they held or course they attended. It should be concise and to-the-point, with just enough detail to paint a picture of a person’s strengths and positive attributes.
  3. A brief summary of why you would recommend the person and to what degree you would recommend them.
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Who writes a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is typically written by a person of authority that can vouch for an individual’s qualifications, skill set and demeanor having developed a personal relationship in the time they were employed in a company or attended a college or programme.

It’s a formal letter that’s written with careful consideration to present the person in the best possible light, but still written with honesty and integrity. The person writing a letter of recommendation should be held in high regard and have a good deal of authority regarding his/her work ethic and character.

Bear in mind, if a person writes a letter of recommendation under false pretense or presents an individual in a more glowing light than is warranted; it reflects poorly not only the person who writes the letter but on the company or college itself.

How to write a good letter of recommendation

Firstly, think carefully before agreeing to write a letter of recommendation. What you say needs to be honest and accurate and if you don’t feel completely comfortable recommending the person, maybe you’re not the right person for the job.

It’s better to say no than to write a letter of recommendation that’s negative or vague. A good HR person will pick up on subtle clues and quickly work out that you “don’t really recommend the person”. You might not personally like the person but if they have the right qualifications and skills for a job, all you’re required to do is focus on those aspects. Keep it objective and your personal feelings won’t come into play.

Make a list of the person’s qualifications and skills, as well as a list of qualities and accomplishments. It doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list; you only need to include what you believe to be relevant for the person to successfully apply for a similar position they held with the company or a position they’d be suited to in the future.

It’s important that you connect the person to the job and not the personality to the job. A letter of recommendation should be factual and objective, so avoid getting too personal.

Be as specific as possible. Instead of saying “good interpersonal skills”, say this person was highly effective in managing our customer service division.

Write well so your letter of recommendation has authority. A poorly constructed letter that’s riddled with spelling mistakes will do more harm than good. Check punctuation and grammar, or ask someone else to proofread the letter for you.

Lastly, check the letter of recommendation is dated correctly and you’ve used the correct spelling of the person’s names and details.

What is the difference between a letter of recommendation and a reference letter?

A letter of recommendation is written by a business executive or college professor who can vouch for an individual’s qualifications, skills and aptitude as it typically relates to a position in a company. The focus is on work-related attributes that would stand them in good stead for a future position, rather than personal attributes. For instance, you’ll refer to their work ethic and punctuality rather than their friendliness and vibey personality.

A reference letter tends to be more personal, and is often referred to as a character reference. It differs from a letter of recommendation by throwing light on an individual’s character traits, especially those that’ll stand them in good stead to do well in a position for which they’re ideally qualified.

A reference letter can be written by a colleague, your church minister, a teacher or a client. It’s someone that knows more about you on a personal level, as opposed to someone who can vouch for you purely on work-orientated skills and attributes.

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