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How To Write a Letter of Recommendation

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If you are in any leadership position, you will likely have to write a letter of recommendation for an employee, coworker, student or intern.

Being asked to write a letter of recommendation means the request is from someone who respects your word and trusts your judgment. To write the best letter possible, follow along for tips, tricks, templatesand more.

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a letter from a professional contact in your network — past or present — endorsing you for a job or position. Generally, reference letters are used during an application process for admissions or employment, but may be part of entry into a professional program or organization.

Letters of recommendation should speak to the candidate’s personal qualities, like:

  • Integrity
  • Intellect
  • Leadership potential
  • Work ethic
  • Attitude

Related: Why Are Reference Letters Important for Getting a Job?

Types of letters of recommendation

You may write a letter of recommendation in a few different capacities. While your audience will be different, the sentiment is the same: as the letter writer, you want to spotlight the individual’s strongest or most relevant characteristics.

Academic letters

When a current or former student asks you for a letter of recommendation, they might not have any work experience.

However, your role is to focus on their academic performance, character traits and any pertinent extracurricular activities. Tailor your writing to show why this student would be an excellent fit for the program.

Application scenarios for academic letters can include:

  • Undergraduate acceptance
  • Collegiate educational program (honors societies and advanced courses)
  • Post-graduate school (medical, law, graduate)
  • Scholarship or grant
  • Fellowship or internship

Professional letters

It is common for candidates to ask former employers or professional mentors for a letter of recommendation during a job search. A former employee moving to another position can still mean an amicable relationship and a no-hard-feelings parting of ways.

The most significant difference between an academic and a professional letter is the weight put on the two essential parts: the personal and the professional.

When writing a letter for a former student, it is acceptable to include more personal attributes and anecdotes as long as formal information is also included. However, a professional letter should largely avoid focusing too heavily on the personal.

Additionally, some positions may require candidates to provide both professional and personal references, where personal references speak more to the overall character of the applicant.

Related: 7 Ways to Boost Client Retention and Prepare for Inflation

Real estate referral letters

One type of letter of recommendation that might not immediately come to mind is a real estate referral letter. Sometimes landlords request a letter of recommendation for a prospective tenant.

This type of letter should speak to positive experiences with the candidate, including ones that speak to what would make them a good tenant.

Another example is during a bidding war; sellers sometimes care about who the new occupant will be. In this case, a letter of recommendation should explain why the candidate deserves the house, would treat the place well and what the new home would mean in their life.

Related: Getting the Best Testimonials From Clients to Use in Your Marketing

10 tips to write a good letter of recommendation

What you include in your letter of recommendation matters. Remember, you are playing a role in a decision that could change someone’s future, so how you create your final product and what it includes matters.

1. Start with good information

When you are asked to complete a letter of recommendation, it’s vital to have direction. While many letters are relatively standard, prompts often call for specific traits or examples about the candidate.

To write as accurately as possible, ask your subject to provide the following:

  • Job description or academic program description and requirements
  • Updated resume
  • Specific skills, achievements or qualifications they want to be highlighted
  • Any other helpful documentation like transcripts

Related: What’s My Job, Again? The Fine Art of Crafting the Job Description

2. Be personable

The recipient of your letter should receive personal insight about the subject. To do this, you should provide the necessary details about your relationship with the subject and paint a picture of what the recipient might find valuable.

As you draft your letter, consider what the recipient might want to know about the person in question and speak to that. Writing with a positive attitude is also best practice, no matter the purpose of the letter.

3. Make it anecdotal

One of the best strategies to make a letter personable is to use anecdotal evidence. You can describe situations that highlight relevant character traits. You can also tell a short story that highlights the subject’s personality.

Anecdotes capture the reader’s attention much more than a generic list of personal qualities. Don’t just mention the subject’s quality; show how you’ve seen that quality in action.

Related: Why Storytelling Is a Skill that Every Entrepreneur Should Practice

4. Use facts

Anecdotal evidence is a great way to tell a story, but that story can also be boosted by concrete evidence. Concrete evidence includes quantitative examples of the subject’s performance.

This can be grades, achieved merits, performance history or anything else you might have data for.

5. Highlight the positives

If someone asks you for a letter of recommendation, you likely have a positive relationship, which is essential to highlight in your writing.

You do not need to go overboard to the point of gushing; however, you should exhibit your genuine enthusiasm for the candidate and avoid negative comments. Superlative comments can be a powerful way to highlight your positive experience with the subject.

6. Use specific details

Details make all the difference. Your writing should show who your candidate is through rich and convincing details. You should not simply list a story or statistic and move on.

7. Stay formal, stay concise

Letters of recommendation are a delicate balance of showing professional affection and establishing authority. In addition, while using anecdotal and quantitative evidence, remember to keep it concise.

The recipient of your letter is likely an admissions officer or hiring manager who reads countless documents like this one. Capture their attention, get your point across and respect their time.

Finally, ensure you use a professional font to complete the formal aesthetic.

Professional fonts include:

  • Times New Roman
  • Arial
  • Cambria
  • Georgia

Related: How To Craft the Perfect Professional Letter

8. Impress the impact

When someone decides to enter into the job application process, it’s a big deal. Whether it’s someone’s first job or the promotion of a lifetime, your voice in the process matters. Impress the impact this opportunity could have on the subject.

Could it pave the way for the rest of their career? Could it put them on the right academic trajectory? Does it align with their overall aspirations?

9. Follow the guidelines

While this might seem like a no-brainer, the guidelines matter. If there is a word count, due date or specific submission form, stick to the instructions to ensure everything goes smoothly.

10. Say no if you need to

While it might be difficult to turn someone down, if you don’t think you’ll be able to give your all to a letter of recommendation, you should not write one.

Two reasons not to write a letter of recommendation are:

  • You’re unable to, in good conscience, write a positive recommendation.
  • You’re unable to dedicate the necessary effort to the task within the specific time constraints.

Related: Why Setting Boundaries Is the Secret to Preserving Energy and Focusing on What Matters

5 mistakes to avoid in a letter of recommendation

When writing a letter of recommendation, there are certain dos and don’ts. Now that you’ve seen the dos, it’s time to cover what not to do when drafting your letter.

1. Don’t generalize

Again, your letter should show, not tell. To achieve this, avoid general language with vague statements about the subject. Broad descriptions do not help the candidate. Stick to the specific anecdotes and evidence that paint a picture of who they are.

2. Avoid the basics

When describing the candidate, avoid talking about basic, bare minimum skills. Showing that the subject can adhere to basic expectations does not do anything to set them apart from the crowd.

Basic expectations include:

  • Punctual to events and with assignments
  • Respectful
  • Organized
  • Compliant
  • Professional
  • Hard-working

3. Try not to be too one-sided

A letter of recommendation should describe the candidate as a whole — their personal character and professional attributes. This means that you’ll need to speak to your relationship and their performance. Failing to illustrate one side or the other makes for a flat, incomplete letter.

4. Refrain from being critical

Your letter is meant to highlight the candidate, so it should not include cheeky compliments or subtle critiques. Unless the instructions specifically ask for weaknesses or potential growth areas, you should avoid mentioning any negatives.

Related: 5 Steps to Providing Constructive Criticism

5. Don’t forget to let them know who you are

You should introduce yourself and your relationship with the candidate at the beginning of your letter. This can give the recipient a better idea of who you are and why you are qualified to submit the letter. Establishing this introduction is vital to building the credibility of your letter.

What to include in a letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation should include three parts: an opening, a body and a closing. However, within those components are subgroups of what content to include.

The components that every letter of recommendation should include are:

  • Official letterhead: From your school or business
  • Date: Entire month, day and year
  • Your name: First and last (and any credentials you hold)
  • Contact information:Phone number or email
  • Salutation: If possible, address the recipient by name
  • Introduce yourself: Your position and your relationship to the candidate
  • The recommendation: Describe the applicant, anecdotes and qualifications
  • Closing statement: Restate why you recommend the candidate
  • Sign off: Send a thank you and include a signature

Letter of recommendation template

You’ve been briefed on what to include in an effective letter of recommendation and the proper format. Take a look below for a flexible template you can tweak for each type of letter.

Date

Your Name

Phone Number/Email Address

Dear [appropriate title],

My name is [your name], and I am writing to offer my sincere recommendation of [candidate name] to [name of company/institution].

Over the past [amount of time you’ve known the candidate], I have gotten to know [candidate name] as his/her/their [your position].

In this capacity, I have had the opportunity to observe and interact with [candidate name]. I can say with confidence he/she/they make an excellent fit for [company/institution name] because of his/her/their [specific attributes].

[Dedicate one or two paragraphs illustrating specific examples of the candidate’s character and performance. Remember to include a combination of anecdotal and quantitative evidence to form an entire picture of the candidate.]

It is my pleasure to recommend [candidate name] to your program, as I know his/her/their [one or two positive attributes] would contribute significantly to your community/company/institution.

Thank you for your time,

[your name and credentials]

How you can write a great recommendation letter

Being asked to write a letter of recommendation will likely happen at some point. It is crucial to have a positive relationship with the candidate and enough experience with them to write a letter of substance.

Remember, when writing letters of recommendation, a strong recommendation includes:

  • Non-cliché candidate attributes
  • Anecdotal evidence
  • Quantitative evidence

Potential employers or future education institutions choose the candidate they think will be the best fit for them.

To do that, they must have a complete picture of the candidate. When asked to write a letter of recommendation, ensure you have the time to dedicate to the letter-writing process.

Explore the rest of Entrepreneur.com for more information on the job application process and other professional writing tips and tricks.

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Entrepreneurship

Southwest Develops Software Fix to Prevent Travel Meltdowns

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Following its disastrous Christmas travel season, which saw the cancellation of 16,700 flights, Southwest Airlines is testing new software fixes — and facing an inquiry from the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) for “unrealistic scheduling of flights.”


Lowe Llaguno | Shutterstock

CNN reports that the airline’s existing software system will remain in place. However, changes stemming from Southwest’s review include a new command center team, telephone system improvements, and overall improved preparedness for inclement weather.

In a Thursday call with investors, the Portland Press Herald reports that Southwest CEO Bob Jordan defended the company’s systems and operating plans, saying, “Based on what we know at this point, our processes and technology generally worked as designed.”

Southwest also announced Thursday that it had a third-quarter 2022 loss of $220 million in revenue. At the same time, Jordan assured investors that issues dogging the airline throughout the holidays won’t “ever happen again.”

Southwest had many cancellations over the holidays partly because their system requires crew members to call in instead of updating their availability electronically. On Thursday, the company’s COO, Andrew Watterston, called that “a problem” and then elaborated, “It wasn’t the problem for the situation. It was a symptom of the problem.”

According to Jordan, switching to electronic notification will necessitate changes in pilot and flight attendant labor contracts. CNN says Southwest is currently negotiating to replace existing contracts covering various issues, including pay and benefits.

Despite tech failures, the Press Herald notes that Bob Jordan said Southwest would shell out $1.3 billion for its upcoming upgrades this year. The “recent disruptions,” Jordan said, “will likely accelerate some of our plans to enhance our processes and technology.”

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Entrepreneurship

Southwest Develops Software Fix to Prevent Travel Meltdowns

Published

on

Following its disastrous Christmas travel season, which saw the cancellation of 16,700 flights, Southwest Airlines is testing new software fixes — and facing an inquiry from the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) for “unrealistic scheduling of flights.”


Lowe Llaguno | Shutterstock

CNN reports that the airline’s existing software system will remain in place. However, changes stemming from Southwest’s review include a new command center team, telephone system improvements, and overall improved preparedness for inclement weather.

In a Thursday call with investors, the Portland Press Herald reports that Southwest CEO Bob Jordan defended the company’s systems and operating plans, saying, “Based on what we know at this point, our processes and technology generally worked as designed.”

Southwest also announced Thursday that it had a third-quarter 2022 loss of $220 million in revenue. At the same time, Jordan assured investors that issues dogging the airline throughout the holidays won’t “ever happen again.”

Southwest had many cancellations over the holidays partly because their system requires crew members to call in instead of updating their availability electronically. On Thursday, the company’s COO, Andrew Watterston, called that “a problem” and then elaborated, “It wasn’t the problem for the situation. It was a symptom of the problem.”

According to Jordan, switching to electronic notification will necessitate changes in pilot and flight attendant labor contracts. CNN says Southwest is currently negotiating to replace existing contracts covering various issues, including pay and benefits.

Despite tech failures, the Press Herald notes that Bob Jordan said Southwest would shell out $1.3 billion for its upcoming upgrades this year. The “recent disruptions,” Jordan said, “will likely accelerate some of our plans to enhance our processes and technology.”

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5 Ways to Become a Better Public Speaker This Year

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The ability to speak publicly is a skill that everyone can use. From coaches to entrepreneurs and writers, anyone who wants to get out into the world to market what they do needs to be an effective speaker.

This article will discuss five ways to become a better public speaker — five methods for sharpening your raw talents to morph into a more effective communicator overall.

Related: This Is the One Thing You Need If You Want to Get Paid Speaking Gigs

1. Practice in different environments

This tip comes from an exercise that musicians sometimes use while practicing.

The idea is to see if you can replicate your performance no matter where you are. As a speaker, you will encounter all kinds of scenarios and audiences. You have surely had distractions around you, being in front of people with different interests, being under different lighting and noise conditions and more.

Practicing speaking in different environments will force you to get comfortable performing under all circumstances. Without the crutch of your favorite environment, you have to remember your lines and recall cues completely on your own.

Related: 4 Expert-Backed Strategies for Improving Your Communication Skills

2. Produce different kinds of ‘speaking’ content

Another tip for becoming a more well-rounded speaker is to produce a variety of speaking content. Speakers don’t always have to stand on a stage and talk to live audiences.

I create speaking content across many channels — from my website and blog to YouTube and my podcast series. I distribute audio and video recordings of my speeches to my clients and promote them on my social channels. I go live on Facebook and other platforms to speak directly to my audiences that way. You can do the same.

This variety isn’t by accident. Producing these different types of content in the digital space allows individuals to sharpen their speaking skills and reach larger audiences than they could in person.

3. Get active on audio platforms

Here’s a speaking tip that doesn’t involve performing as much as learning from what others are already doing: Get active on professional audio platforms such as Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces to meet with like-minded individuals and discuss relevant topics.

Doing this lets you compare notes with industry counterparts while working on your speaking skills. You will endeavor to communicate with other business leaders and coaches from around the world and all different walks of life.

Related: The Role of Effective Communication in Entrepreneurial Success

4. Take every opportunity to speak

Speak to a group at every available opportunity. I used to wonder how I could speak to an audience when the professional invitations dried up for a bit, and the answer was local service groups.

Toastmasters International, Rotary International, Lions Clubs International and the Freemasons are all great examples of the types of organizations that not only perform good works for their local communities but also welcome speakers and presenters to deliver valuable information to their members.

I find chapters of these groups in many cities and towns that I visit. Having these groups near me allows me to cut down on my travel time and simply makes it more convenient to continue practicing speaking skills while also putting my abilities to good use for my community.

Not only will this help you with your skills at public speaking, but it’s a rewarding experience as well.

5. Work with a speaking coach

Finally, every speaker-in-training could benefit from working with a speaking coach or mentor. These professionals provide their clients with professional tips and feedback on everything from the words they’re using to how they’re delivering them to audiences.

Some speakers wonder why they can’t just rely on their friends and families to provide them with honest feedback, and there are some good reasons for not doing that. Family and friends are kind, but that’s exactly the problem. Speakers need the unrelenting honesty of professional coaches if they truly want to leave their bad habits behind and become stronger.

I hired a professional speaking coach to improve my skills, and I can attest that it pays dividends every single day in my career.

Related: Leading Speaking Coach Shares His Strategies To Get A Flood Of Clients From Webinars And Virtual Presentations

Communication is everything to professionals

Whether it’s in the world of business, non-profits or coaching, speaking effectively is vital to success. Communication means everything to professionals, and those who can’t tell others what they do and what they’re about can’t expect to get their visions too far off the ground.

I followed these five actionable tips for becoming a better speaker, and I came out on the other side as a communicator that I never even thought possible. You will do the same.

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