Hiring managers use all kinds of techniques to go beyond the resume or portfolio and learn more about potential hires. A quick search of Facebook or Twitter can reveal a lot about a candidate before he’s even arrived for an interview.
But no matter how easy it is to learn about a candidate online, nothing beats a clear and articulate letter of recommendation. It’s personal and honest, and can provide essential insight into a candidate’s capabilities and character.
Writing a letter of reference is an important responsibility. Here are some best practices to ensure that your letter gives the candidate every possible advantage.
Use proper formatting
A character reference letter should be a piece of formal correspondence. Even if the reference will ultimately be delivered by email, you should still use a traditional letter format. Use a legible, 12-pt. font, double-space your paragraphs, and keep the margins to around one inch. If you have professional stationery, then by all means use it.
Put your name and address in the upper right hand corner of the page, followed by the date. Next, include the recipient’s name and address aligned to the left margin. Begin your letter with a formal salutation: Dear Mr./Mrs. _______ or Dear Sir or Madam if the recipient is unknown.
Start your letter by explicitly recommending the candidate for the position (make sure you ask the candidate for the specific title she is applying for).
- I am proud to enthusiastically recommend Peggy Carter for the position of Sales Manager.
- Without a doubt, I can say that Steve Rogers is highly qualified for the job of Social Media Analyst.
Explain your relationship to the candidate
Don’t assume the recipient will connect the dots between the candidate’s experience and your name or company. Briefly explain how you know the candidate, including when and where you worked together and the nature of your professional relationship (i.e. did you supervise the candidate either directly or indirectly, or were you colleagues?).
- I had the pleasure of supervising Pepper at Stark Industries for five years, and never before have I worked with a more diligent and devoted employee.
Give specific examples
While it’s helpful to speak in general terms about the candidate’s character and overall fitness for the position, be sure to give specific examples of the qualities that you believe make the candidate an excellent employee. (You may want to ask the candidate if there are any specific skills he would like you to highlight or mention.) Providing a brief anecdote or two that illustrates the candidate’s abilities is particularly effective – and more interesting to read than a long list of adjectives.
- Bruce handled a difficult and demanding client in New York with tact and respect, successfully negotiating a mutually beneficial contract.
Keep it positive
Nobody’s perfect, and you can probably think of at least one negative criticism about a candidate. But unless you believe that this negative quality would make the candidate an overall poor choice for the potential employer (in which case, you should politely inform the candidate that you don’t feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation), be truthful and keep your letter focused on the positive. You can always provide additional contact information and invite the recipient to reach out to you directly with any additional questions.
Sample Letter of Recommendation
Washington, D.C. 20566
October 12, 2016
107 Avenue H
San Francisco, CA 94130
I am writing to enthusiastically recommend Clint Barton for the position of Sales Director. I have had the pleasure of supervising Clint directly for the past six years at S.H.I.E.L.D., and I can attest to his keen eye and laser focus on the most essential tasks.
Clint is an incredibly hard worker who has been a valuable addition to our team, supporting his colleagues both professionally and personally. He has exceeded quotas for 18 of the past 24 months and has consistently demonstrated patience and leadership training new recruits.
I can say without a doubt that any organization would be lucky to have Clint on board. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out to me directly.
The next time you’re asked to write letters of recommendation, remember these key points to help you write an effective and compelling recommendation that’s sure to give your candidate a leg-up winning the job. And if you want to dig a little deeper to make your professional references really sing, consider contacting one of Ace-up’s communication coaches today.