How to Write a Letter of Recommendation [+ Free Template]

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation [+ Free Template]

I’ve been helping people create letters of recommendation for jobs they want, internships, promotions, and more, for over ten years. I’ve learned during this time that if you’re not selling yourself effectively, you won’t make a lasting impression.

woman writes a letter of recommendation

A recommendation letter differs from a resume or a cover letter because it comes from someone who knows you well, so it should feel more personal.

Read further to discover how to write a letter of recommendation that will help you land the job or opportunity you’ve been dreaming of.

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Table of Contents

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a one to two-page description of your merits from someone who has a particular insight into your character, work ethic, projects you’ve completed, and more.

Typically, a letter of recommendation is written by someone who is an authority figure to you, such as a past employer or manager. This person should be able to recommend your professional work or academic experience.

Do I write my own letter of recommendation?

You might be thinking, “Wait, don’t I have my (boss, colleague, or friend) write a letter of recommendation for me? Why must I read this blog to create a letter of recommendation?”

You can, of course, ask them to write a letter of recommendation for you from scratch. But don’t be surprised if it takes them a really long time to write it. Even then, it may not meet your expectations.

There’s nothing wrong with giving the person you’re asking an outline, a list of your past achievements, or even a draft of a letter of recommendation.

In fact, it’s expected that you will give the writer an idea of what you want them to include in the letter of recommendation while still allowing them the creative freedom to add their spin.

They can adjust whatever the letter is to fit what they feel comfortable signing their name to, and you will save them a significant amount of time — meaning you get a better letter of recommendation faster.

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Whether you’re writing a letter of recommendation for a professional or academic opportunity, the basic elements are the same.

Start by including the date and recipient’s information, introducing the writer, describing the applicant and their performance, and signing off with the writer’s contact information.

A long relationship with the candidate or a deep familiarity with their work is an important element of writing a letter of recommendation.

When ideating which details of your professional relationship to include, ask yourself which projects they worked with you on, what strengths you admire in them, specific moments they came through for you, and what you’ll miss about working with them when they leave.

Remember, a letter of recommendation is more than just a list of their professional experience, that’s what a resume is for, as the writer you can give a hiring manager insight into the personality of the candidate and if they’d be a good fit for the role.

Check out this free letter of recommendation template to get started.

Letter of Recommendation Format

1. Date

Including a date is important for establishing the validity of a letter of recommendation.

Use the specific date that corresponds with the candidate’s last day at an organization or even some time after they worked with the writer of the letter of recommendation.

If you’re asking for a letter of recommendation from a coworker or boss while still employed, be sure to tread lightly as most employers won’t be thrilled to recommend you to a job when you’re leaving.

If you do trust that they are ok recommending you, despite leaving the company, go ahead and put that day’s date.

2. Recipient’s Information

Write out the name, position, and company of the person the letter of recommendation is going to. Or, if you’re not sure what companies you will be applying your letter of recommendation to, feel free to keep this section generic so you can fill it out later as opportunities arise.

3. Introductions

Introduce the writer of the letter of recommendation. Remember, use the first person (whether you’re the person writing the letter of recommendation, or the receiver creating a draft).

Go ahead and list their areas of expertise, education, current title, and anything else applicable. If the writer is a previous manager you’ll want to list their position, how long they’ve been at the company and their education. You should also say how long they’ve worked with or known you.

4. Performance and Qualifications

Use this section to talk about the commitment of the letter’s requester in your organization. You

can also mention their most notable traits, skills, and abilities through adjectives.

This section is the bulk of your letter and the most important part. Remember, your boss/coworker/friend can put their own spin on what you say in the letter, you’re just giving them an idea of what you’d like included.

Ask yourself these questions when writing this section:

  1. How can I tell the story of my accomplishments?
  2. What personal details need to be included?
  3. What motivates me?
  4. What challenges have I overcome?
  5. What are my most relevant skills?
  6. Why do I want to work at this company or apply to this school?
  7. What makes me a good fit for this role?

Here’s an example of what answering these questions might look like:

“Jane Doe became my employee in 2016 after transferring from the Sales department. She is extremely motivated by sales-centric goals, employee satisfaction, and choosing tactics that deliver a high return on investment.

In my time working with Jane Doe, I’ve watched her tackle challenging projects, such as when our startup was bought out by a bigger brand.

She made sure each member of her team transitioned seamlessly while also still meeting her quarterly goals, an accomplishment that only one other team at the company achieved during this time.

Her background in sales has made her a friendly team player, a wise financial decision-maker, and an influential leader. She would be an excellent fit for any role that needs someone who is going to meet hard-to-reach targets, lead a team to excellence, and maintain organization.

In my time working with Jane Doe, I’ve often used her as my go-to-person because I know she is both reliable and hard-working.”

Don’t forget to write this section in the first person, and don’t be afraid to really sell yourself and your achievements!

If you’re not comfortable with being this specific, here’s an example that leaves space for the writer to put in their own thoughts.

“[NAME] became my employee in [YEAR] after transferring from [DEPARTMENT]. She is extremely motivated [ENTER PERSONAL QUALITIES].

In my time working with [NAME], I’ve watched her tackle challenging projects, such as [PAST PROJECT(S)]. [SENTENCE ABOUT WAS DONE WELL].

Their background in [ENTER BACKGROUND] has made them [FAVORABLE PERSONAL QUALITIES]. They would be an excellent fit for any role that needs [DESCRIPTION OF ROLE THEY’RE APPLYING FOR].

In my time working with [NAME], [DESCRIPTION OF HOW WE’VE WORKED TOGETHER IN PAST].”

5. Contact Information

Finally, you can close this letter wishing the applicant luck in their new professional stage. Most importantly, provide detailed contact information, as interviewers will need to confirm the information provided in this document.

How long should a letter of recommendation be?

Like a cover letter or a resume, a letter of recommendation should be about one page long. I’ve often erred on the side of shorter than longer because you really can say everything you need to in one page.

If you’re having a hard time whittling your letter of recommendation down to one page, consider asking a friend with writing experience to edit it down to the most important details, or even using AI tools to help you.

Free Letter of Recommendation Template

Writing your letters of recommendation from scratch can be time-consuming and difficult. Download your free recommendation template (pictured below) here as a Google Docs or Microsoft Word file.

Free Letter of Recommendation Template

Letter of Recommendation Samples to Inspire You

Now that you have the letter of recommendation template downloaded, you might be wondering where to start.

The free HubSpot letter of recommendation template gives you:

  • Compatibility with Word or Google Docs
  • Easily identifiable space to describe the abilities, attitudes, and skills of the person you are recommending by following the template structure
  • The capability to edit the letter to align with your company’s corporate image
  • Options to print or send the letter of recommendation in your desired format

Try filling out each blank part of the template with the applicable information. It will then begin to look something like this example:

Generic Employee Letter of Recommendation Sample

[New York City, April 15, 2024]

[Mr. James Big]

[Chief of Business Operations]

[VIC or Very Important Company]

To whom it may concern:

Please accept my warm greetings. As the CEO at Business International, it is a great pleasure for me to provide this employment reference letter for Jane Doe, who has served as Head of Sales.

She has worked at this company for five years. During that time, I have confirmed that Jane has the necessary experience to carry out her job to the highest standards of the company and with the values that I consider essential.

At Business International, Jane has shown interest and efficiency in the tasks of Head of Sales. Given our working relationship, I have observed that she is extremely motivated by sales-centric goals, employee satisfaction, and choosing tactics that deliver a high return on investment.

She made sure each member of her team transitioned seamlessly while also still meeting her quarterly goals, an accomplishment that only one other team at the company achieved during this time. Her background in sales has made her a friendly team player, a wise financial decision-maker, and an influential leader.

She would be an excellent fit for any role that needs someone who is going to meet hard-to-reach targets, lead a team to excellence, and maintain organization. In my time working with Jane Doe, I’ve often used her as my go-to girl because I know she is both reliable and hard-working.

It is for this reason that I highly recommend her to your company, as I have witnessed how the response to her assignments has added value and growth to our company, just as I am sure she will be able to contribute to the new organization where she will work.

This letter is extended at the request of Jane Doe for the purposes that best suit her.

Thank you,

[Rebecca Johnson]

[CEO]

[Business International]

[businessinternational.org / [email protected] / 123-456-7891]

This is a good starting point but still pretty generic, because when you read this letter of recommendation, you’re not super sure that the writer actually knows who it’s being sent to.

It feels more like a general recommendation of Jane, instead of someone who knows her very well recommending her for a specific job. It feels generic because it lacks important details about Jane’s performance and her work personality.

Let’s spice it up a bit. Here’s another sample that’s been adjusted to better describe Jane and what she does for the company:

Better Employee Letter of Recommendation Sample

[New York City, April 15, 2024]

[Mr. James Big]

[Chief of Business Operations]

[VIC or Very Important Company]

Mr. James Big,

As the CEO of Business International, it is a great pleasure to provide this employment reference letter for Jane Doe, who has worked for five years as Head of Sales at Business International.

I am thrilled to recommend Ms. Jane Doe to your organization. As you read further, you will find she will be a great asset to any organization looking for a high performing Head of Sales.

During our past five years, I’ve watched Jane flourish as she’s moved from a customer success manager into her role as Head of Sales, managing a team of twenty sales associates. About three years ago, our startup company was bought by Business International, and Jane took the transition in stride.

She led the way for her team during the transition by ensuring each team member onboarded their new role and tasks, worked with employees we gained during the transition, and even still met her quarterly sales goals. In fact, she was one of only two departments that still met their goals during the transition phase.

Jane’s background in sales has made her a friendly team player, a wise financial decision-maker, and an influential leader. I’ve often used Jane as my go-to girl because I know when I give her a task, she won’t just meet my expectations but will rather wow me with her ingenuity and creative problem-solving.

I’ve heard firsthand from Jane’s customers just how beloved and appreciated she is. One customer even raved about her persistence in solving a problem he had with billing.

Jane went above and beyond to ensure the customer’s problem was solved while also forging a strong relationship that has led to customer retention and referrals. Jane maintains a 95% customer retention rate, one of the highest at our company.

For this reason, I highly recommend her to your company. I am sure Jane will be able to contribute greatly to VIC, and I’m excited to watch her career trajectory.

Thank you,

[Rebecca Johnson]

[CEO]

[Business International]

[businessinternational.org / [email protected] / 123-456-7891]

Did you notice that this letter of recommendation felt a lot more personal?

It still uses the basic elements that every letter of recommendation should have, but there’s a lot more attention to detail, including storytelling and important statistics. When you write a letter of recommendation for yourself or someone else, include lots of details to avoid sounding generic.

Tips for Creating an Effective Letter of Recommendation

1. Use statistics.

Just like a resume, a letter of recommendation needs to quantify what you’ve accomplished. You offer proof of your performance and accomplishments by including at least one statistic in your letter.

Here are some possible stats you can include in your letter:

  • Number of customers you’ve retained or onboarded
  • Number of sales you’ve contributed to
  • Any statistic you’ve improved upon (ex., improved SEO results by 11%)
  • Number of projects you’ve completed over a set amount of time
  • Dollar amount of influence you’ve created for the company
  • Number of employees you’ve managed or trained

The possibilities for including statistics in your letter are endless. Try making a list of as many as possible and then narrow down which ones you think are most important and relevant to the position you’re applying for.

2. Be specific and simple.

Anyone can churn out a generic letter of recommendation that, upon further scrutiny, doesn’t really say a lot. The more specific you are in listing your accomplishments, the more you’ll avoid generic platitudes.

Hiring managers want to see that the writer of your letter of recommendation knows and understands you. If your letter of recommendation sounds generic, they might doubt how close you are and why you’d choose someone who doesn’t know your accomplishments to write your letter of recommendation.

When you’re working on being as specific as possible, you should also try to edit out any filler words that aren’t needed. It’s common for letters of recommendation to say the same thing more than once, but I’d limit mentioning something like a job title to only twice (with the exception of your name).

Consider reading your LOR out loud to identify which sentences should be cut.

3. Tell a compelling story.

If you’ve been a part of an organization for a while, you likely have an interesting story.

That story might be about how you went from one lower-ranking role to a higher-one, and it would include details about the hiring process, accomplishments that got you promoted, and how you’ve managed in that role since obtaining it.

Or, your story might be about a difficult project you completed, with details like deliverables you achieved, the impact you made, revenue goals reached, etc.

Check out HubSpot’s guide on storytelling to get a better idea of what story your letter of recommendation should tell.

4. Get personal.

Think about the person who will write and sign off on your recommendation letter.

What are some of your best memories with this person? Were there long lunches where you talked about shared interests, or meetings where they made you feel valued? Think about what their favorite memories with you might have been.

This is one section where you will definitely want to jog their memory to get a personal story or quality of yours that they appreciate. Feel free to list some of your favorite moments for them to reference if they so choose.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

If you want to get an employer to agree to write your letter of recommendation, you’ll want to follow a few basic steps.

Step 1: Assess your relationship.

You won’t want to ask just anyone to write you a letter of recommendation.

If you have multiple managers up the chain of command, choose the manager that has worked the closest with you unless your working relationship hasn’t always been smooth.

If you’re not completely sure that the person you’re asking has a high opinion of you, don’t ask them to write your letter of recommendation.

Some letters of recommendation have to be submitted anonymously to maintain integrity. You’d hate to ask someone for a letter of recommendation just for them to submit a weak or unfavorable letter.

Great candidates for writing your letter will have:

  • A good working relationship with you
  • A knowledge of your past accomplishments
  • An understanding of your growth at the company
  • A willingness to help you out by writing a compelling letter

Step 2: Write your own letter or create an outline.

While the Hubspot Free Letter of Recommendation Template is a great starting point, you won’t want to just send them the template and hope for the best.

Write your own example letter, or create an outline/list of information you want included. Before you even ask for a letter of recommendation, this step should be completed, so you can give them your example letter or outline at the very beginning to avoid wasting their time.

They’re also more likely to agree to write your letter of recommendation if they know they won’t be starting from scratch.

Step 3: Ask for your letter.

When you ask someone to write you a recommendation, you’re asking them to do you a favor. Return the favor by including a sweet treat, or gift, or taking them out to lunch when you ask for their help.

Be sure to let them know what kind of deadline you’re working with and ask if they’d like periodic reminders leading up to when you need the letter of recommendation.

Step 4: Write a thank you note.

This final step is optional, but I highly suggest you do it.

Once you’ve received your letter of recommendation, write a thank you note to your recommender. Include details about them that you admire.

Remember, there’s a good chance the hiring manager or school might reach out to your recommender to ask them more questions, so you’ll want to remain on good terms with them.

Using Your Letter of Recommendation

Now that you have your completed letter of recommendation, be sure to use it as much as possible. Jobs often only ask for a resume and a cover letter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t also attach your letter of recommendation.

If a job limits your attachments, contact the hiring manager on LinkedIn and send over your letter of recommendation.

Creating a letter of recommendation might be a process that you repeat, especially if you’re applying for academic spots and positions, as they often require more than one.

Use this free template whenever you have to start over on a letter of recommendation. If you need multiple letters, consider having each address a unique aspect of your work or school experience.

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