What Is a Letter of Recommendation & Why Do You Need One?

Woman writing a letter of recommendation

With this guide, you'll be able to ask for or write the perfect letter of recommendation

Social proof, the idea that we can discern what is right or wrong through the actions and feedback of what other people think, is a psychological phenomenon that marketers have been capitalizing on for years. If a very credible source recommends or endorses your product, consumers will be much more likely to buy what you’re selling. The same can be said when it comes to our professional brand. For this reason, having a strong letter of recommendation ready to fire off is extremely important!

While LinkedIn provides you with the opportunity for clients and colleagues to endorse and recommend you, you may find yourself needing, or being asked to write, a more formal letter of recommendation. This guide will walk you through how to ask for and craft a letter of recommendation.

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a formalized letter from a previous manager, professor, or someone who can vouch for your skill, performance, and character. It should also outline why they believe you are a great candidate for the role at hand. This kind of letter clearly dictates why a person is qualified, and what makes them the right fit.

In a corporate setting, letters of recommendations are often replaced with a quick reference call to your old manager. However, in academic settings (any kind of higher education will likely request a letter), or professional designation settings (think: law, medicine, therapy, etc.), a letter of recommendation would likely be required to be considered for a position.

Who to ask if you’re requesting a letter of reference?

When considering who to ask, think about the relationships you’ve built over your time both in school, and at work. Pick someone you know would paint you in a very positive light, and who would be equally invested in your success.

If the application is academic, consider reaching out to an old professor, teaching assistant, lab supervisor, or any other “supervisor” you may have worked with at school. If the application is for work, consider reaching out to old colleagues, bosses, or mentors. Most people won’t have any problem helping you out. However, don’t be alarmed if someone asks you to write your own letter, and sign their name! While people might want to help, they could feel pressed for time, and this does sometimes happen (though it is certainly not a best practice!)

You can use an academic reference for a professional recommendation, and vice versa.

Who to ask if you’re requesting a letter of reference?

How to write a letter of recommendation

If you’ve been asked to be a reference, and need some guidance on how to write a letter that helps a candidate stand out, consider using the following template to guide your writing. 

Dear [Insert name],

Introduction paragraph: Who am I, who am I recommending, and what is my relationship to them?

Main body: What were some hard and soft skills I admired most about this person? What were some of their accomplishments that I recognized, and examples of their great work? What resulted from their work? What was their work ethic like?

Main Body: What was it like to work with this person? What did I enjoy most about working with this person? How did they provide value to my team? What did they bring to the team dynamic?

Conclusion: Why is this candidate a great fit for the position, and why do I recommend them?

Best,

[Insert name and contact information]

Sample letter of recommendation

For a full example of what a letter of recommendation could look like, read the following sample:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Dear Mr./Ms. [insert last name]

I am pleased to write this letter of recommendation for Katie Yunger for the position of teaching assistant at the Toronto School Board. I worked with Katie as her supervisor during her Master’s degree as she completed her thesis in my research lab.

I cannot think of a more hard-working, dedicated, and creative person than Katie. She comes to work every day ready to get things done and does not shy away from learning new skills that can help her, both in her work, and the work of others. Katie’s support in my research helped me publish 3 new articles in well-established journals. I could not have done this without her detail-oriented work and commitment to the cause. She also introduced me to new tools and technology which I now use in my daily practice.

She easily grasps new concepts, and can work well both individually, and in a team! She always meets and exceeds deadlines and goes above and beyond in the role.

Knowing the requirements of this position, I can confidently say that there is no better person for the job than Katie. Her mastery of the technical skills involved in teaching, along with her passion and ability to connect with different audiences are paramount. I highly recommend Katie for this position.

Best,

Janet Berish
[insert written signature]
[Insert contact information]

Sample letter of recommendation

Learn More!

Writing someone a letter of recommendation is a huge honor and could be a deciding factor in whether or not they find success! Remember to do a great job, and most importantly, write from the heart.

If you are asking someone to write you a letter, be sure to provide them with as much information as possible, and include all relevant details that can help make you a success!

How To Ask For & Get Online Recommendations