Recommendation Letter

Recommendation Letter
By Sue Campbell

At some point in your career, it’s likely that you’ll request a letter of reference or recommendation from someone of importance, or it’s possible that you may be asked to write a letter of reference or recommendation for someone else. There’s an example of a recommendation letter, including all its parts, later in this article.

It can be a difficult letter to write and it’s important that the person writing the letter (whether you or someone writing on your behalf) is qualified to make such a recommendation. It should be someone who has firsthand knowledge of the applicant’s professional history and accomplishments, such as a close colleague, employer, immediate supervisor, advisor, professor, client, etc. 

The person making the recommendation also needs to be familiar with the applicant’s skills, capabilities, experience, contributions and performance, with specific examples to which he or she can refer, where possible.

If you’ve been requested to write a letter of recommendation for another, and you feel both comfortable and qualified to do so, request that the candidate provide you with a copy of his or her resume, and a list of important qualifications (relevant to the positions being targeted). Have him or her provide you with specific achievements, and a list of any (relevant) professional associations for which he or she is a member. Even a close colleague may be surprised to learn all that a candidate has accomplished or contributed to an organization. 

If you’re requesting a letter of reference or recommendation be written on your behalf, be sure to supply your reference with this same necessary material.

One of the most important things to remember when creating a letter of recommendation is that it may be kept on file for future reference. Therefore, the letter needs to be factual (honest) and should omit any negative comments or weaknesses.

The reference letter or letter of recommendation should contain the following components:

  1. The applicant’s full name (early in the document).
  2. The length of time the reference has known the applicant and in what capacity – An explanation regarding the reference’s qualifications to make such a recommendation.
  3. How the applicant is exceptional to others with similar backgrounds or in similar positions. Provide specific examples.
  4. The applicant’s professional qualifications (years of experience, academic credentials, etc.) and competency in his or her profession, with examples of specific accomplishments and achievements.
  5. The applicant’s character traits relevant to the positions being targeted (avoid mention of any characteristics that could be the basis of discrimination, such as race, religion, color, nationality, age, appearance, marital status, disabilities, etc.). See EEO article for reference.
    Traits worth noting include (these are in addition to specific skill sets): ability to communicate (written and verbal), intelligence, self-reliance, initiative, flexibility, willingness to accept responsibility, energy level, direction, interpersonal skills, ability to effectively handle conflict, teamwork, level of commitment, ability to lead, etc. Avoid “soft phrases” such as “good, adequate, fair, reasonable, satisfactory,” etc. Instead, choose more powerful word choices, such as: “exceptional, significant, astute, articulate, versatile, creative, assertive, imaginative, qualified, dedicated, professional, dynamic, and innovative,” but be honest.
  6. Contact information for the reference, if he or she is willing to continue future dialogue and/or correspondence regarding the applicant. (Include this reference on your list of references! As the letter of recommendation ages, make certain to maintain current contact information and update your reference list as necessary.)

Construction of a Reference / Recommendation Letter – Putting It All Together
(See example recommendation letter – in PDF)

(Your letterhead containing your contact information)

March 8, 2012

(Contact Name, when the letter is written for a specific position, company or individual)

John Doe, CEO of ABC Company
123 North Someplace
Anywhere, USA

Dear Mr. Doe: (or)
To Whom It May Concern: (
When the recipient is uncertain)


It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for Jane Smith.
(You can use “Ms. Jane Smith,” but do NOT use “Miss” or “Mrs.,” as it may create a basis for discrimination.)

Other sample leading statements for a recommendation letter include

Please accept the following letter of recommendation for Ms. Jane Smith.
I am writing this letter of recommendation at the request of Ms. Jane Smith.
Upon your request, I submit this letter of recommendation for Ms. Jane Smith.

Other sample leading statements for a reference letter include

Please accept the enclosed letter of reference for Ms. Jane Smith.
I am writing this letter of reference at the request of Ms. Jane Smith.
It is with pleasure that I act as a professional reference for Ms. Jane Smith.

(Writer’s Qualification)

I have known Ms. Smith for seven years, both as her employer at ABC Company from 2006 through 2011, and as a professional colleague.

(Applicant’s Qualifications)

Ms. Smith is a highly qualified sales executive with experience in the management of major accounts for mid-size to Fortune 500 companies. In addition to implementing strategic marketing and sales communications that effectively supported a $5 million increase in revenue for ABC Company (2007), Ms. Smith consistently delivered the types of programs and solutions necessary to achieve higher profit margins and wider marketplace potential. She produced quality teams that were devoted to her objectives and unfailingly handled conflict with grace and intelligence. Her dedication to quality customer service was bar none.

Ms. Smith holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Import and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at Another University of Import. She is an active member of the ____________ professional association.

(Applicant’s Character Traits – relevant to the positions being targeted)

Ms. Smith’s native intelligence for sales and marketing is among the best I have seen. She has the drive and energy necessary to see complex projects through to completion, guiding teams and clients through the entire lifecycle process, on time and within budget. She is both a team player and a dynamic leader, a professional who wins the respect of others through her integrity and unwavering desire to bring out the best in her teams.

(Recommendation – not necessarily required in a reference letter)

I can confidently recommend Ms. Smith for any executive level position in sales, marketing, new business development and/or team leadership.

(Invitation for further contact or communication)

If I may provide you with any further information in your consideration of Ms. Jane Smith, please feel free to contact me.


Reference Name
Professional Title for Company Name
(555) 555-5555

(See example recommendation letter – in PDF)

See “Regarding References” to learn how to make a Reference List.

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Good luck in your job search! Sue – over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I’ll be glad to help!