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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)

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Maybe it started with a layoff. Perhaps department restructuring was to blame. Or maybe a disgruntled peer made a snap decision. No matter how it began, it ended with your favorite employee losing a job, looking for a new one, and you've been asked to help out with several taps on your keyboard.

Should you write the letter? Absolutely! A written recommendation letter can mean the difference between landing a job and cashing an unemployment check. Those letters can also lead to significant risks for you and your organization if you handle them the wrong way, so we'll explain how to do it right.

Why Do Recommendation Letters Matter?

Hiring managers face a huge burden when they're filling open positions. They're covering for people leaving or already gone, and they're under pressure to make the right hire as fast as possible.

In many industries, there's a lot on the line — so a recommendation letter can make a world of a difference.

two-men-reading-letter

Some organizations, including the University of Alabama, require a written request for a recommendation letter. The job seeker outlines what the letter is for and asks you to write up a note to make the dream a reality. This documentation proves that you're acting on behalf of the job seeker rather than chiming in on a conversation that doesn't involve you. You can keep this in the employee's file, along with the letter you wrote.

Reference Letters and the Law

It's worth repeating that letters of recommendation are legal documents. They're also bits of paper that could translate into money, both for an employee and a company. Not surprisingly, they're also used as evidence in court cases. Get them wrong, and you could face significant consequences.

You could get sued by:

  • Job seekers. If your letter contains opinions, fabrications, or distortions, and that keeps people from getting a job, they could come after you for damages. Similarly, if your letters are so bare-bones that they don't give employers enough information to hire someone, you could get sued.
  • The employer. Imagine that you've stretched the truth a bit, and you're hoping that gets the person into a new job quickly. That fudge could land you in court if the person isn't quite right for the position.

Your human resources department and your legal team are BFFs, and they need to get involved in any request for recommendations. Show them the ask from the job seeker, and get advice on what you can and can't say. Let them review and edit the document before it heads out the door.

We can't stress enough that letters of recommendation are legal documents.

What to Include in a Letter of Recommendation

You can't dash a few random notes onto a piece of paper and call it a recommendation. These are formal, written modes of communication that should follow a strict outline.

Your letter should include:

  • Your name, title, address, and contact information.
  • The name, title, and address of the hiring manager.
  • The date.
  • The job title the person is applying for.
  • The person's dates of employment.
  • Your connection to the person.
  • The truth about your working relationship.

Some legal experts also recommend adding a disclaimer at the end of each letter that says something like this: "In accordance with our company's practices, I give this reference in good faith and in confidence, without legal liability on my behalf or the behalf of my company."

This disclaimer may not hold up in court, but it could protect you from some forms of liability.

Here’s A Sample Reference Letter Template

Confused about where to start with your letter? Try this template.

Dear [recruiter name],

It's my pleasure to recommend [job seeker's name] for [position].

I worked with [job seeker's name] for [length of time]. During that period, I found [person's name] to be [skills you think the job seeker can apply to position].

To give an example, [job seeker's name] and I worked together on [project, and how the person helped make that a success].

[Job seeker] and I stopped working together because [reason for departure], and I was sorry to see [him/her/them] go. I feel [job seeker's name] would be an asset to your company, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions about our time together or need more information.

Sincerely,
[Your name and job title]

In accordance with our company's practices, I give this reference in good faith and in confidence, without legal liability on my behalf or the behalf of my company.

Sounds easy, right? Let's put it to the test.

Employee Recommendation Letter: Example 1

In this example, a supervisor is writing a letter of recommendation for a person named Jane who moved out of state to return to school. Here's what the body of the letter might sound like.

It's my pleasure to recommend Jane for your Administrative Assistant position.

I was Jane's supervisor for three years during her time with Cardboard Plastics. During that period, I found Jane to be hardworking, organized, and efficient.

To give an example, Jane and I worked together on a trade show presentation. She printed all our graphics, packed them up, and shipped them to the site. I had everything I needed to complete a successful show, and we landed five new clients.

Jane and I stopped working together as she left our company to head back to school, and I was sorry to see her go. I feel Jane would be an asset to your company, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions about our time together or need more information.

Employee Recommendation Letter: Example 2

Now, let's try an example of someone who left the company under a cloud. Here's what that letter might sound like.

It's my pleasure to recommend James for your Veterinary Assistant position.

I worked with James for one year at ABC Kitty Cats. During that time, I found him to be compassionate, caring, and wonderful with animals.

To give an example, James and I worked together to help a family after their dog had been hit by a car. James helped the family fill out paperwork, and he stayed with them for hours while we performed surgery. The family was so happy he took the time to care for them.

James and I stopped working together as he wanted to focus his time on helping people. Our practice is fast-paced, and sometimes, he couldn't make the human connections that were so important to him. It wasn't a good fit, and I was sad when he left us to explore his options. I feel he would be a good fit for your practice.

You've Been Approached. Now What?

Your email inbox pings, and you see the ask for a letter. What's the first thing you should do?

Put your legal hat on, pick up the phone, and have a conversation. Talk about:

  • The job. Get the name of the hiring manager, the business name, and the coveted position. You'll need this to customize your letter. If your caller doesn't have this information, don't start writing until you get it.
  • The pitch. Why does this person think this is a good employment fit? What sorts of skills are crucial for success? You'll know what to highlight as you write.
  • The past. Can you provide an honest, positive review? Speak openly about what you might say, and give your caller the option to withdraw the request.
  • Your company. If you absolutely cannot write letters due to your internal policies (more on that in a minute), tell your caller. And if your company limits what you can say, outline those rules too.

What to Do After You've Written Your Letter

You've done all your writing, you've passed your notes through HR, and it's ready to send. But you must take one important step first: never send a letter of recommendation on your own. Always let the job seeker push out the note. Why? Because the person might read your words and reconsider sending the note out to an employer. Let the person make the call, always.

Ready to put these guidelines to use? Visit us. We pull together the best employment opportunities, and we aggregate them by location, so you can find the job you want where you want it.

Start your search today, and you'll do more than write recommendation letters. You'll ask for them!

References

National Unemployment Rate at 3.8 Percent Through March 2019. (April 2019). National Conference of State Legislatures.

High Turnover Costs Way More Than You Think. (January 2016). Huffington Post.

Legal Implications of Letters of Recommendation. University of Alabama.

Reference Letter Liability. (August 2011). Miller Thomson.

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