A great letter of recommendation can make or break future aspirations of an individual - whether it is for a new job or starting education at a new university program. The person writing a letter of recommendation hold the key to the future so it is a great responsibility which shouldn’t be taken lightly. References can elevate a candidate to the top of the pile or shuffle them down to the bottom.
All good letters of recommendations have some common features which should be adhered to and standard conventions that should be followed. The impression which the reader of the letter gets by reading the letter is going to be his or her first impression of the candidate.
Collecting job references throughout your career is always a good idea, considering tight-deadline job searches can make it difficult to secure proper references. Always having a few that are ready-to-go is handy. You also don't need to only ask supervisors or previous bosses, asking colleagues for raving reviews is also a great idea.
Like other professional communications, a letter of recommendation is a formal mode of communication. Formal conventions of letter writing should be followed. Your reference writer should include addressing you in a respectable and appropriate way, and writing the address, date and name of the company worked for.
The flow of your reference testimonial should be structured and divided into sections of short paragraphs. This will help keep the focus on your positive attributes and full attention on you, with a better change of making an impact on the reader.
The opening of your letter of recommendation should exemplify the confidence your referrer has for you. A positive tone in the beginning can set the tone for the entire letter and will reinforce their belief that you will do a good job at your potential position. This doesn't need to be too extravagant, a simple but decent message can make all the difference.
The body of the letter should be the description of the relationship between you and your reference. This should include the nature of your relationship, how long you've known each other and the work you've done together. This is also the point where you need to describe your qualifications and explain why you're the right person for the job.
Clarity is so important. Instead of vaguely mentioning and referring to the qualifications of the candidate, it should use specific example to illustrate the skills and qualifications of the candidate. Especially the times when you overcame an adverse situation, landed a sales deal, proved your leadership qualities, took extra skills training, etc.
Even though examples are good way of highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of an individual, you should draw parallels with the peers of the candidates as this helps put the achievements of the candidate in perspective. It's also a great idea to ask your references to focus on specific skill sets that you'd like to highlight.
For example, "David, I was wondering if you'd be able to focus on my leadership skills in your reference." Your letter of recommendation can be tailored to not only the type of work you accomplished, but the skills you learned.
Only highlighting your strengths can come off as really one-sided. Looking at your weaknesses or the areas where you can improve can show insecurities, but it can look like you're trying too hard if you only focus on the good. You need to strike a good balance because it shows you have a more human side. However, you don't want to exaggerate the weaknesses either, as it can have an adverse effect.
The ending should blend with the tone of the entire letter and it should be on a positive note. You should end the letter professionally and the last thing in the letter should be your signature. To get a better idea of examples of great letters of recommendation check out the examples below and take a look at our collection of resume templates.