Recommendation letter for a job

When applying for a new role, you’ll want to do everything you can to boost your chances of success. That’s where a recommendation letter (aka letter of support) comes in handy. It gives your application extra credibility alongside your CV and cover letter. But what exactly is a letter of recommendation? That’s the question we’re here to answer. In addition, we’ll fill you in on who to ask for a recommendation, how to ask for a letter of recommendation, and the information you should provide to the reference writer. Don’t have time to read the whole article? Scroll down and get a bite-sized summary about recommendation letters.

What is a recommendation letter?

A letter of recommendation for employment is a formal letter written by one of your professional contacts, and describes your suitability for a specific role. It’s not always a requirement to apply for a job, but it can be requested by your future employer. A recommendation letter is sometimes confused with a job reference letter, but there’s a slight difference between them.

A letter of support plays into the specific qualities that would equip you for the new role, while a job reference only verifies or endorses your general experience, skills, and behaviour. A reference letter can be sent to multiple employers, while a letter of recommendation is often sent directly to the requesting employer. As you can already tell, a recommendation letter carries a bit more weight. All the more reason to choose someone who you can trust!

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Who to ask for a recommendation letter

Asking the right people is just as important as knowing what to write in the letter of recommendation. You need to be sure that the person who is recommending you is willing and able to give you a fair and accurate reference. They need to know what you’re capable of, and how your strengths and weaknesses play into the new opportunity. Ideally, you want to choose someone you’ve worked closely with for at least a few years. So, who can you ask to write a recommendation letter for you? These could be:

Work or professional references

These include managers, supervisors, colleagues, or co-workers; basically anyone who you’ve worked closely with in a professional setting. These are great references to use for a letter or recommendation because they can directly comment on your skills and experience related to your new role.

Academic references

These include academic supervisors, principals, and teachers; essentially anyone who has supervised your academic career. These are great references to use if you don’t have any work experience. They also tend to have more insight into your behaviour and achievements than professional references.

Character references

These include family, close friends, neighbours, sports coaches, or anyone who knows you well. These types of references may be biased, and may not have much insight into your professional or academic skills and knowledge. Only use these reference if you don’t have anyone else to ask.

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What to include in a letter of recommendation

When asking for a recommendation letter from one of your contacts, it’s important to give them accurate instructions. As a rule of thumb, a letter of recommendation should be about 1 page in length, and should consist of three parts: opening, body, and closing. The contents of the letter will depend on your situation, but the following general topics should be covered:

  • The reference’s relationship with you
  • Why the letter is being written
  • The reference’s experience working with you
  • A description of your behaviour and character
  • Your strengths and weaknesses (with examples)
  • Why they recommend you for the position

How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Asking for a recommendation letter should be done via email. Even if you currently work in the same place as your contact, an email will give them the space and time to consider your request. Also make sure to do it well before the deadline, to avoid putting your contact under pressure.

Remember that writing a letter of recommendation can take quite a bit of effort and time. And since it’s voluntary, try not to have unrealistic expectations. This is why it’s important to collect a shortlist of contacts you can approach. Once you’ve found someone willing to help you out, this is what you should send them:

  • A recommendation letter sample: If your potential employer doesn’t give you an outline to follow, sending a template will help your contact to get an idea of what’s expected.

  • CV & LinkedIn profile (if you have one): Your CV will help your reference reflect better on your work history and tasks in each role. If you’re a regular LinkedIn user, you may have some great recommendations or skill endorsements that may strengthen your case.

  • A detailed summary of your job duties and achievements: This is helpful when you and your contact haven’t worked together for some time, or he/she isn’t familiar with your background.

  • A copy of your cover letter: A cover letter will give your contact a better picture of your work history, and details regarding your skills and experience. If you don’t have on yet, you can use a cover letter example to find inspiration.

  • A copy of the job advertisement: Sending the job advertisement will help your contact make those valuable connections between your skills and experience and the new role. This will improve the overall relevance of the letter of recommendation.

Recommendation request letter (sample)

If you aren’t close with your preferred contact, it isn’t easy to ask for a recommendation letter. The best practice is to keep it short and straightforward. Don’t go into any details about what should be covered in the letter just yet. It could be that your contact doesn’t have time, or simply isn’t comfortable writing a letter of recommendation. Only after you’ve received a confirmation can you inform them on what to include in a recommendation letter. You can use the template below to craft your own email request. All you have to do is tailor it to your current situation, and you’re all set.

Dear [Hiring Manager Name],
I hope everything is going well for you. I am currently applying for the position of [Role] at [Company]. The hiring manager has requested that I submit a detailed letter of recommendation from someone who can effectively describe my experience, skills, and accomplishments. Based on our years of collaboration, I am confident that you can help me write an effective, honest, and detailed letter on my behalf.
It would be appreciated if you could write a recommendation letter for me that highlights my accomplishments, work performance, and commitment to the job. I can imagine you must have a full schedule at the moment, so I'll be happy to send you a recommendation letter sample to save you time. I’ve been told to submit the letter by [Date]. In addition, if there is any information I can provide to assist you in writing my letter, I would be happy to send you further details.
Thank you for your time.
Kind regards,
[Your Name]

Recommendation letter: in short

A letter of recommendation is a great way to increase your chance of landing a job. It provides an extra layer of credibility to your job application, and can really make a difference to an employer’s decision to hire you. If you’re requesting a letter of support from one of your contacts, such as a work, academic, or character reference, make sure that you send them the following:

  • A recommendation letter sample
  • CV & LinkedIn profile (if you have one)
  • A detailed summary of your job duties and achievements
  • A copy of your cover letter
  • A copy of the job advertisement

Along with your letter of recommendation template, you should also provide your contact with the topics they should cover. Each letter will be different, but in general, it should include the following topics:

  • The reference’s relationship with you
  • Why the letter is being written
  • The reference’s experience working with you
  • A description of your behaviour and character
  • Your strengths and weaknesses (with examples)
  • Why they recommend you for the position

If you’re currently in the process of applying for a job, and are waiting for your reference to get back to you, why not explore other vacancies? Make sure to create a custom CV for when you apply to your next job, as this will make you stand out from the crowd. Already got invited for an interview? Our comprehensive interview tips will help you get prepared.

FAQs about recommendation letters:

  • How long should a letter of recommendation be?

  • As a rule of thumb, a recommendation letter should be about 1 page in length. This equals to about 500 words single-spaced, in Arial 12-point format. However, keep in mind that the reference should also be able to add their contact information, the date, a relevant header or subject line, greetings, and closing salutations. Additionally, the letter of recommendation should generally consist of three parts: an opening, body, and conclusion.

  • How to write a letter of recommendation for a student?

  • The best way to write a recommendation letter for a student is to include various examples related to the student’s achievements in and out of the classroom. It should describe the student’s performance in subjects relevant to the role or programme they are applying for, and how the student behaved and performed in class. Comments on their personal development, as well as their enthusiasm for the field are great topics to cover in a letter of support for students.

  • What is the difference between a reference and a recommendation letter?

  • There is a slight difference between a reference letter and recommendation letter. A job reference letter is general in nature, and only verifies or endorses a candidate’s experience, skills, and character. Candidates can keep a reference letter on-hand for future use. On the other hand, a letter of recommendation is more detailed, and supports the candidate's application for a specific scholarship, program, or job.

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