How to Write a Stellar Letter of Recommendation for an Employee

Posted on January 21, 2024 | Updated on January 21, 2024

Whether someone left to start a new career, was laid off, or is looking to move up within the same company, writing a letter of recommendation for an employee can sway a hiring decision in their favor.

The job market has become increasingly cut-throat as businesses cut much of the workforce. Likewise, many employees left their companies during the Great Resignation after COVID-19, hoping for greater autonomy, flexibility, value, and more significant contributions. 

Of course, a letter of recommendation is unlike a traditional note to a friend or family member. It requires careful reflection, formatting, and detail to get it just right. Let’s learn how to write an outstanding letter of recommendation that hiring managers can’t ignore.

A Rocky Year of Layoffs

Following the pandemic, 2022 was met with widespread layoffs, particularly within the technology sector. Sadly, the trend continued into 2023, with 1,059 tech companies laying off 240,193 people since the first quarter — almost 50% more than the year before. Tech giants like Google, Meta, Microsoft, DocuSign, and Zoom let go of the most employees.

Of course, technology wasn’t the only industry to drastically change the workforce. Flexport announced it would lay off 30% of its employees in early October, Liberty Mutual let go of 850 employees mid-month, and Conde Nast cut 6,000 jobs by November 1.


As companies look for ways to cut costs amid rising inflation, they’ve left their workers unemployed and in a pinch. Rent, groceries, health care, and transportation are at an all-time high. Without work, individuals are unable to cover their basic needs. 

Are Letters of Recommendation Still Relevant?

Searching for work while companies tighten the reins on hiring is no easy task. Even the most talented individuals with years of experience struggle to catch a break. Writing a letter of recommendation for an employee is one helpful way managers can assist them in the job hunt. 

Letters of recommendation are a crucial part of a job application, whether external or internal. Consider it similar to looking up Google reviews, which 98% of people read before buying goods and services. A recruiter will want to read someone’s “review” of a candidate before hiring them. 

Nowadays, experts deem various parts of the job application process as passé. For example, it is frowned upon to include an objective on your resume and, in some cases, even your address. Headshots and references are also outdated. However, letters of recommendation are unlikely to go out of style anytime soon. 

Appropriate Use of Letters of Recommendation

Regardless of the field, position, career level, or external and internal positions, a letter of recommendation can go a long way in swaying a recruiter. However, there are some fields that nearly always require a reference letter, including the following:

  • Academia
  • Law
  • Government
  • Medicine
  • Business
  • Nonprofits

Being asked to write a letter of recommendation for an employee is something you should take seriously. Frankly, it signifies an employee’s respect for you as an accomplished supervisor or co-worker. 

5 Tips to Write a Letter of Recommendation for an Employee

A recommendation letter can be a make-or-break moment for a former employee. You’ll especially want to provide a compelling reference if you are trying to boost their employability after a layoff. These five tips will help you construct a stellar letter of recommendation that lands them the job.

1. Gather the Necessary Information

Before you write a reference letter, you must garner crucial information about the employee and the role they’ve applied for. Are they moving up the career ladder or seeking a similar role to their most current position?

Ask them to provide their resume, LinkedIn profile, and the job listing for you to work off of. Also, find out if they need a generic letter of recommendation for multiple applications or one for a specific position.

2. Use a Simple Template and Font

A simple letter format is best when writing a letter of recommendation for an employee. For one thing, a traditional template looks professional and makes it easier to read. 

Stick to one page with one-inch margins and line spacing. Additionally, you can improve readability by avoiding condensed fonts like Arial Narrow, Helvetica Condensed, Futura Condensed, and Garamond Narrow.

Open the letter with a formal salutation and close with your signature and printed name. It would be best to also break up longer text blocks with white space. 

3. Explain Your Professional Relationship With the Employee

A manager or supervisor writes most letters of recommendation. These individuals should know the employee well and be able to speak to their abilities. 

Often, a reference letter from a former colleague also goes a long way when submitting job applications. A co-worker can attest to a person’s skills and professionalism, particularly for roles demanding a high level of collaboration and teamwork.

4. Highlight Their Strengths and Accomplishments

Did the employee develop a successful marketing campaign, demonstrate exemplary customer service, or excel at a specific program while working for you? These accomplishments are worth sharing with the letter recipient.

Most of the letter should focus on why the employer should hire the candidate. Explain how their character and performance will benefit the new company. For instance, they may have excellent leadership capabilities, time management skills, emotional intelligence, or self-discipline — all essential for a managerial position. 

The more you can emphasize a candidate’s experience and potential, the easier it is for a recruiter to make a confident hiring decision.

5. Provide Your Contact Details

A recruiter may want to follow up with you after reading your letter of recommendation for a job applicant. They may have questions regarding something you shared about the employee’s skill sets or organizational contributions.

Be sure to include your email address and phone number for the recruiter, inviting them to reach out for a more in-depth account of the employee’s performance. Your company might even use a standard letterhead with those details, making it easier for them to locate your extension or other contact information.

What to Avoid When Writing a Letter of Recommendation

An effective letter of recommendation speaks to an employee’s experience and skill. However, there are a few things you’ll want to avoid if you want to help them land a job. 

  • Generic language: A recruiter will want concrete examples of an employee’s achievements and contributions to the company.
  • Assumptions: The recipient does not know much about the candidate — it is your job to explain what sets them apart from the applicant pool.
  • Errors: A professional letter of recommendation is free of grammatical errors, making it easier for the recruiter to read.
  • Negative language: Unless you genuinely believe the employee has done their previous company wrong in some way, always keep your language positive. 
  • Repetitive content: Avoid repeating the same things for multiple people — hone in on the person specifically.
  • Missed deadlines: Send the letter of recommendation before the deadline to give an employee their best chance of consideration for a role.  

A Thoughtful Letter of Recommendation Goes a Long Way

It means a lot to a former employee when you agree to write them a letter of recommendation. Some can breathe a sigh of relief knowing a glowing review might give them a leg up. If asked to write a recommendation letter for someone, take the time to make it shine. Your review of their character and job performance could be what gets them employed.


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