Tips to write a recommendation letter for an employee

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 1 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Getting asked to write a recommendation letter can make you feel proud of yourself. Writing one can put you under pressure, though, because there are many expectations from the other side. You may not get extra time on your hands to write a comprehensive one or may experience writer's block if it's your first time creating one. In this article, we explain how to write a recommendation letter for an employee with an overview of the steps and some useful tips for guidance.

What is a letter of recommendation for an employee?

A letter of recommendation for an employee is also known as a letter of reference. It is a document where you explain the qualities and capabilities of a person you are recommending for a specific job or task. Job references meant for a company often need these recommendation letters. Current or former employees can request their supervisor or team leader to write a recommendation letter when applying for a new job. Here are a few key elements that you can include in your letter of recommendation:

  • a comprehensive introduction about yourself and what you do

  • your personal experience with the person in the workplace and your relationship with them

  • an example or story about when the candidate proved to be conducive to a project, enumerated value and benefited others

  • at least two positive characteristics of the employee

  • closing statement and reasons you think the employee is a perfect fit for the position they applied for

  • your signature and contact information

  • key points designed to convince the next employer that the individual is suitable for the position

Related: Steps for how to ask for a letter of recommendation

How to write a letter of recommendation

Here are nine steps you can follow to write an impressive letter of recommendation for an employee:

1. Examine the CV

Before writing the recommendation letter for an employee, examine or review their CV to get a comprehensive idea about their work experience and knowledge. Knowing the employee's qualifications and their academic background is vital in writing a strong recommendation letter. You could ask them to send you an updated CV or request the hiring committee for it. You can also factor in their work experience in your recommendation letter this way.

Related: The ultimate guide to CV basics (with example)

2. Begin with your introduction

Introducing yourself in the initial lines of the letter of recommendation is an ideal approach. Clarify your position and work relationship with the employee, so the reader understands better. It is important to avoid providing an in-depth history about yourself and keep the focus on the person you are recommending for the position. A brief introduction is only necessary to give context to the letter of recommendation and showcase that the writer is qualified to give their recommendation for the employee.

3. List the attributes

Review the job description and resume of the candidate side by side and highlight key points. Make a list of their achievements and skills, so you can refer to it later when writing the recommendation letter. Doing this can save you a lot of time and help highlight the suitable attributes of the employee, which could show recruiters that they are the right fit for the job. You can also ask the individual to provide you with an overview of the qualities they want to pitch to potential employers.

4. Refer to the job description

An effective way of writing a strong letter of recommendation is to give potential recruiters or employers what they want to see. A simple approach is to find out the job description's focal points and include that language in the letter of recommendation. This benefits the employee in getting a specific position and the hiring committee in finding out whether the employee possesses the required skills.

5. Focus on certain skills

When writing a letter of recommendation, try highlighting or demonstrating a few key skills which are in demand. Keep the focus only on the required skills that the employee possesses. Add them to the letter of recommendation. Use demonstrations and examples to prove that the employee possesses these skills and has the quality to overcome challenges and obstacles in a project. Include these points in the main body of the letter and within a summary of the work ethics too.

Related: How to write a letter of recommendation for a teacher

6. Explain their strengths

You can do this by explaining the areas the candidate excels in, their ability to meet deadlines and resolve technical issues. This can give your former employee a competitive advantage and the recruiter an insight into their expertise. It is important to be clear when talking about strengths or qualities. For example, if you are writing a letter of recommendation for an SEO strategist, simply writing that they are familiar with search engine optimisation techniques may not be good enough.

Instead, you can write, 'She generated quantifiable results, increasing our website traffic by 20% in less than four months. It resulted in an 8% increase in our overall sales.' Quantifying results is important, as most employers prefer to read about tangible benefits. You can also rank the employee with your other applicants.

7. Add your contact information

Include your updated contact information or details in the letter of recommendation by which the potential employer can get in touch if required. Add your email address or phone number at the bottom of the letter of recommendation after your signature. This is necessary in case a potential employer wants to discuss a specific point.

8. Check the format and length

Use a standard font to write a letter of recommendation for an employee. Primarily, most professionals use Times New Roman, Calibri, Helvetica or Arial to submit letters digitally. The margin length is 1-inch wide if you plan to print the letter of recommendation. The size of the font is ideally between 11 to 12, depending on the length of the letter. It's also important to keep the letter direct and concise.

9. Create an outline

Creating an outline for the letter of recommendation before writing is the first step to writing a convincing recommendation letter. Doing this ensures that you do not forget to include the key points and attributes of your former employee. This is not an additional task that you may find challenging or time-consuming. Creating a general outline keeps things simple and you can always add more to it.

Tips for writing a positive letter of recommendation

The following are some useful tips that you can apply to write an engaging letter of recommendation for an employee:

Use active voice

Write in an active voice because the sentences always read better. More importantly, it also allows you to communicate more clearly. Put the subject first in the sentence, so it is clear who is performing the actions. Active voice also makes sentences more efficient and shorter, which makes writing generally more concise. Your tone also becomes more conversational and informal, as if you are addressing the reader directly.

Related: Tips on how to write a recommendation letter for a student

Visualise the reader

Visualisation is a powerful tool that you can use when writing a positive letter of recommendation. If you have notes about the employee, use those to write the main body. Then, visualise how a prospective employer might view the letter. Look for memorable ways to improve the letter of recommendation by highlighting any impactful work experiences of your employee.

Write clearly

Try to make the letter as professional as possible. Avoid using adjectives in every other sentence, as it makes the letter appear quite superfluous. Focus on presenting your points in a concise and direct manner. It's important to offer honest praise to an employee, especially if they overcame serious challenges during their work. Building a narrative about how an employee overcame issues to improve their work makes recommendation letters more impactful.

Proofread

Spelling mistakes and typos can happen. That is why proofreading the recommendation letter is crucial before sending it out. An easy way to do this is to read the letter out loud and fix the errors simultaneously. You can also have your colleague or assistant take another look too. Free software is also available that you can use to review the recommendation letter.

Be committed

Your goal is to make your former employee's application appear better than others for their next job. Hence, it may help to sound interested and enthusiastic in the letter. Maintain a positive tone throughout the letter so that the reader better understands the employee's skills and experience.

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