Writing a letter of recommendation for an employee, co-worker, or other acquaintance can seem like a chore, but she will surely appreciate the effort you put into singing her praises. The best letters are both effusive and sincere, which requires a special touch.
Ask the letter requester for a copy of all the information you will need to write the best possible letter of recommendation. This should include not only the requester's resume and list of projects she has worked on or other qualifications, but also a list of points she would like emphasized in the letter.
Find out if there are any special forms that you should use or procedures that you need to follow. Often completed letters must be sealed in an envelope with your signature across the flap.
Begin the letter with a statement of your name and position, the requester's name and position, how long you have known her, and in what capacity. This statement should establish your ability to accurately evaluate her.
Describe two or three of the requester's most notable qualities or skills, giving specific examples of how he has demonstrated those qualities in the past. Areas to consider include the requester's intelligence and analytic ability, level of experience, organizational skills, reliability, and ability to work with others.
Compare the letter requester to others you have known in a similar capacity. If possible, quantify the comparison, for example, ‰??Of the nine assistants I have had, Mary is the very best.‰??
Consider including some modest criticisms of the letter requester. If she has made some progress overcoming a shortcoming recently, mentioning it here can improve your credibility.
Conclude the letter with your overall assessment of the requester and his or her suitability for the position she is seeking. The language should be strong, but not overblown or insincere.
Add your contact information and an offer to respond to follow-up questions if you are willing to do so.
Save a copy of the letter. It will save you a lot of time and effort should she need another letter in the future.
Mail the letter or deliver it to the requester on time.
One to two pages is generally the ideal length for a letter of recommendation. Any less and the reader will suspect you don't have much to say about the applicant, any more and you will exhaust those who need to read it. Vague praise is the kiss of death. Platitudes about the requester that lack evidence to back them up are a sign of insincerity or disinterest. If you lack the time to write a proper recommendation and you trust the requester to write a good one, you can ask her to write it for you. Be sure to carefully review it for accuracy, however, before you sign your name to it. The best recommendations take into consideration the position the requester is seeking. If she is seeking admission to graduate school, for example, you might want to focus on her intelligence or self-motivation, but if she is seeking a position as a manager, you might want to emphasize her leadership skills.
If you are writing a letter of recommendation for an employee, check with your company's human resources department to ensure you are complying with company policy. Some companies prohibit supervisors from writing recommendation letters to avoid potential legal troubles. If you cannot honestly write an enthusiastic letter for the requester, it's better to tactfully suggest they find someone else rather than compromise your integrity or write a lukewarm letter, which is unlikely to fool anyone.