Letter of Recommendation

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A Letter of Recommendation is a very important part of a complete job or school application. These forms can also be called recommendation letters, letters of reference, or simply, a reference (although this could be confused with a list of references).


Students and job applicants request letters of recommendation from former colleagues, teachers, or even friends and family as a method of proving they are qualified for the job or educational opportunity. As the author of a letter of recommendation, you should be able to write words of support for the job or school applicant, which highlight the applicant’s skills, strengths, and abilities, in one page. Since you know the applicant personally, you can also highlight their social attitudes – how they handle stress and other people at school or in the workplace, for example – but it is unnecessary and potentially illegal to disclose any information about the applicant’s race, national origin, creed, religion, gender or sexuality, pregnancy, or any other federally-defined protection from employment discrimination.

There are two types of letters of recommendation: open and closed. Closed letters of recommendation are more common for university applications – a teacher or professor will send the letter directly to the school as part of a potential student’s application to the institution. However, a student or job applicant may legally request to see their recommendation to understand the contents or to help proofread. The applicant must disclose whether the recommendation is open or closed, but that should not be a basis for employer or educational discrimination.

Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

If you are applying for a new job or pursuing an educational opportunity, go ahead and ask former coworkers, teachers, and administrative staff for a possible letter of recommendation. Find people that you enjoyed working with or whose classes you performed well in – these people will be able to positively assess your skills. You may also consider asking friends and family in the event you need a personal recommendation letter, which can help a potential employer or university assess your social skills and general attitude.
If you need a recommendation for a new job, also ask your former boss for a letter of recommendation, because this can show you are still on good terms with your former employers.

Best Formatting for a Letter of Recommendation

To avoid any potential legal problems with a letter of recommendation, here is the best format for the letter:

  1. First paragraph: Present the job or student applicant by name, and indicate that you are pleased to have the opportunity to write or speak about their qualifications. Also indicate how long you have known the applicant, and in what context (which class or job position).
  2. Second, and perhaps third, paragraph: Describe the applicant’s skills, knowledge, and abilities based on your first-hand experience of working with them or teaching them. You should also relate how these skills apply to the new job or educational opportunity.

Final paragraph: Restate your general recommendation and close with a formal regard.