By Staff Writers

Whether applying for a job or to an advanced degree program, you will probably need a letter of recommendation. This document should be written by someone in your life who can attest to your excellence and expertise. Often, these letters are written by current or former employers, professors, or colleagues who know your commitment to learning and your passion for your field. Letters of recommendation are particularly valuable for individuals who do not have the strongest resumes or prior credentials and are looking to strengthen their applications.

This guide provides tips about how to write a letter of recommendation -- either for yourself or on behalf of somebody else who may ask you for one.

Five Tips for Writing a Letter of Recommendation for a Student

When selecting someone to write a letter of recommendation, students should first look to current or past employers or supervisors. These individuals are familiar with a student's work ethic and ability to handle tasks under pressure. Professors and academic advisors are also great resources, especially for students applying to a more advanced academic program.

Icon - Quote Professors and academic advisors are also great resources, especially for students applying to a more advanced academic program. Icon - Quote

The most important thing about choosing someone to write a letter of recommendation is that the person writing the letter must know the student well enough to accurately describe their abilities and passions while describing them in the best light.

If a student asks you to write a letter of recommendation for them, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Describe your personal relationship with the student. Before you dive into strengths and traits, first state how long you have known them and how you became acquainted. This provides credibility regarding your relationship.
  2. Provide specific examples of the student's abilities and work ethic. Recommendations are valuable because they give the reader a chance to learn about the student beyond their test scores and achievements. Recalling specific times when the student excelled in a particular role or class helps the reader get a clearer understanding of them.
  3. Stay away from vague wording and phrases. Your goal is to make this recipient stand out from the crowd. Avoid cliches and describe the student's traits and abilities through thoughtful examples and personal anecdotes.
  4. Take the specific job or school into account. If a student is hoping to attend a school that specializes in engineering, focus on skills that relate to that discipline.
  5. If you do not feel qualified, it is okay to turn down a recommendation request. Recommendations are meant to individualize the student by speaking to their unique skills and qualities. If you do not know the student well enough to provide specific examples, be honest with them so they can find a better option.

Five Tips for Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Yourself

When approaching a supervisor, mentor, or professor to request a letter of recommendation, the last thing you might expect is that they will ask you to pen the first draft. However, whether it is due to a time constraint or because they believe you can write the letter more effectively, this request is actually pretty common.

For some, this request may result in confusion and anxiety. Listing out your own skills and abilities can be difficult and uncomfortable. However, the trick is to see this as an opportunity. You can make sure that your recommender touches on all of the achievements, skills, and qualities you need highlighted, rather than leaving it to chance. After all, who knows you better than you do?

Icon - Quote ...Make sure that your recommender touches on all of the achievements, skills, and qualities you need highlighted. Icon - Quote

Be open to edits. Your recommender asked you to write a draft, not the final version. You should not expect them to sign off on the letter automatically. Expect questions, comments, and changes before the letter is ready to be submitted.

When writing your own letter of recommendation, keep these tips in mind.

  1. Do not sell yourself short. Modesty is the last thing you need in a recommendation letter. Make a list of relevant skills and qualifications and include as many as you can, providing specific examples to back them up.
  2. State the recommender's relationship to you. This can be challenging when writing from your recommender's point of view, but it is important to include for credibility. Describe your relationship and explain how long you have known or worked with one another.
  3. Only include relevant skills and examples. Your recommender can only speak to skills and qualities they have observed in their professional setting, so make sure you only write about things they would know.
  4. Write in the third person. This may seem obvious, but you have to remember that you are writing from your recommender's point of view. Proofread carefully to ensure you did not slip up and write in first person. It is also worth re-reading to check for major style and tonal changes.

Example of a Good Letter of Recommendation

Dear Mr. Evans,

It is a great pleasure to recommend Sarah for the marketing position with Cooper Agency.

I was Sarah's instructor for multiple marketing classes during her MBA program at the University of North Carolina. During our time together, Sarah displayed creativity, wit, and passion toward her work, and she will be a valuable asset to any team.

Sarah's knowledge of advertising and marketing strategy exceeded classroom expectations and carried over into practical settings. Alongside a group of other graduate students, she was pivotal in developing a marketing strategy for an upcoming local restaurant, which proved to be a great success.

With a focus on how social media advertising influences consumer behavior, she led her team in developing a strategy that emphasized the importance of eating local. The campaign outlined the positive community effects and the health benefits of eating locally grown food. During this time, Sarah displayed natural leadership skills and her ability to work in team settings.

Along with her creativity and leadership skills, Sarah is a delightful coworker. While working through her thesis, she constantly rearranged her schedule in order to accommodate mine and always came prepared with questions and insights to ensure our time was spent effectively. Sarah is organized and thoughtful in her approach, and she brings an infectious energy to her work. With these qualities, I am highly confident that Sarah will be a great asset to your team at Cooper.

If you need more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at 555-555-0150. I'd be happy to expand on my recommendation.

Katherine Winslow
Professor and Marketing Director
University of North Carolina