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How to Write a Powerful Letter of Recommendation Every Time

by Ellie Williams, studioD

If someone has asked you to write a letter of recommendation, your endorsement could help him land a coveted job or other opportunity. An effective recommendation letter not only praises the person but does so in a way that’s enthusiastic without sounding forced or over-the-top. Before you pick up your pen, ensure you have all the information you need to credibly and thoroughly explain what makes the person the ideal candidate.

Research Before You Write

Even if you know the person well, you might not know all of his skills and accomplishments. Ask him to provide you with his resume and anything else that demonstrates his achievements, strengths and talents. Also ask for any information he can provide about the opportunity for which he’s applying. If it’s a professional position, request a copy of the job description. In the case of a scholarship, fellowship, grant, award or other competitive honor, ask for literature that describes the program and what the organization considers when evaluating candidates.

Explain Your Relationship

Your letter will carry more weight if you demonstrate that you know the person well enough to vouch for his talent, knowledge and integrity. Begin by introducing yourself and explaining how you know the person. For example, open by mentioning that you’re the senior marketing director at XYZ Enterprises and that you’ve worked closely with the candidate, John Doe, for seven years. Note that he reports directly to you and during this time you’ve seen firsthand his skills, ease in working with others and commitment to his job.

Include Examples and Anecdotes

Instead of describing the person as intelligent, talented or possessing a strong work ethic, offer specific examples that prove your point. For example, if you want to emphasize how well the candidate works with others, describe a time when he brought several team members together and motivated them to accomplish an important goal. If you want to praise his problem-solving ability, recount an instance when he solved a difficult challenge and how he did so using limited resources.

Tailor Your Letter

Only discuss information that demonstrates how the person qualifies for the opportunity for which he’s applying. If the job primarily requires people and communication skills, don’t focus on his technical knowledge. While impressive, this might not be what the employer is looking for. Instead, discuss his ability to work well with a diverse group of people. If the position requires strong leadership skills, concentrate on the person’s track record of launching successful projects at the company.

About the Author

Ellie Williams has been a journalist since 2001. Her work has been recognized by her state's press association and by her local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Williams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and humanities, with minors in French and theater.

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