Copyright © 2002-2004 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Permission is granted to non-profit educational institutions to reproduce this document for internal use provided that the Bok Center's authorship and copyright are acknowledged. Adapted from “Writing Your First Letter of Recommendation,” retrieved from http://bokcenter.fas.harvard.edu/docs/TFTrecs.html on January 4, 2005.
As an employer, coworker or friend, you may at some point in your career be called upon to write a letter of recommendation. If you are unsure about how to go about it or simply don't know what to say, here are some tips about what to include and how to structure a typical letter of recommendation. This advice may also be useful if you request a letter of recommendation from someone who is not familiar with how to write one. Be sure to tell your employee, coworker, or friend how strong a letter you feel you can honestly write for them; give them a chance to ask someone else if you cannot write a strong letter.
Start out by specifying in what capacity and for how long you have known the person whom you are recommending. If the person is an employee or coworker, indicate the term of employment, the responsibilities of the position, and any significant projects undertaken by the individual. You may wish to include a sentence about the nature of your company and its activities. Here, you can also give a one-sentence summary or overview of your opinion of the recommended individual.
In the next paragraph provide a more detailed evaluation of the person as an employee. Describe his or her performance on specific assignments and list any important accomplishments. What are the individual's strengths or shortcomings in the workplace? What was it like to interact with him or her?
To sum things up you can make a more broad characterization of the individual and his or her demeanor. Overall, was the person responsible, polite, warm, disagreeable, lazy, or spiteful? Finally, indicate the degree to which you recommend the individual for the position she or he is seeking: without reservation, strongly, with some reservation, or not at all.
Before writing the letter, you may want to ask the person for a list of his or her projects, since you probably will not be aware of all the work they've done. Finally, if you have not had much contact with the person, you should respectfully decline to write the letter of recommendation, rather than putting together something vague and dispassionate.
Retrieved and adapted from “Monster Resume Center,” http://resume.monster.com/articles/recommendation/ on January 4, 2005.