Dos and Donts Checklist for Letter of Recommendation

Dos and Donts Checklist for Letter of Recommendation :

Before writing a letter of recommendation, consider your acquaintance with the person requesting it. Are you familiar with their work? Do you have a favorable impression of their experience and capacity? Can you honestly recommend them for a job? If the answer to any of these questions is no, have a candid discussion with the candidate and try to resolve your concerns. If you are unable to do so, suggest that there may others better suited to serve as the applicant’s advocate.

Business letters of recommendation are generally provided by individuals who served above those recommended in managerial or supervisory roles, and provide organized and frank discussions of an applicant’s abilities and achievements. Think of these as written versions of an interview: what would you say to the prospective employer’s face? What would you want to convey?

Although it seems self-aggrandizing, it’s important to emphasize your own credentials when drafting a business letter of recommendation. The more important you seem, the more your opinion will matter to the prospective employer.

Show the reader you’ve known the candidate for long enough to have formed an educated and cogent opinion. Communicate your confidence in and support of the applicant and try to provide some insight into his or her personal attributes.

Though it is important for you to customize the document to fit your needs, the standard structure of a letter of recommendation is (and should remain) as follows…

  • The author’s credentials provided in the letterhead, signature block, and/or opening paragraph

  • The relationship between the author and the candidate described in the opening paragraph

  • The author’s opinion of the candidate introduced in the first paragraph and reiterated in the closing

  • The candidate’s attributes discussed in two or three concise paragraphs and one or two discrete personality traits addressed in each such paragraph

  • If you are struggling to make the letter more personal, ask the candidate for additional information about him or herself (e.g., transcripts, writing samples or a short narrative).

    Before agreeing to write a letter, ask about any pending submission deadlines. If you can’t complete the letter within the available time frame, inform the candidate immediately so he or she can seek out alternatives.

    Be thoughtful about revising the enclosed letter. A smart employer knows to read between the lines of a letter of recommendation, and will consider what your letter does not say. Phrasing can reveal much about an author’s true knowledge and feelings.

    The enclosed form begins with the phrase: “It is a genuine pleasure and honor for me to recommend….” If you are not well acquainted with a candidate, consider an introduction more appropriate to your relationship. For example: “This serves as a letter of reference for….”


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