Are there any best practices for writing a recommendation letter? How long should it be?
We have asked experts to provide some valuable insights:
Ron Auerbach, MBA
Educator | Career Coach | Job Search Expert |
Author, Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success
A standard guideline is no more than one page
That’s more than enough space to sing the individual’s praises and convince whoever is reading the letter that he or she is worth considering. So whether it’s a recommendation letter to gain admission to a school, an honor society, or some other organization, or a recommendation for a job, I would say one page is sufficient.
Use relatively short paragraphs, not lengthy ones.
After all, you don’t want to take up a great deal of the reader’s valuable time! So I would like it to a cover letter where you’re the goal is to pique their interest enough to want to bring that person in and learn more. So recommendations letters can be as small as one or two very short paragraphs or up to a page in length.
Here is a sample recommendation letter just to give you a sense of how short, yet powerful it can be:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am very pleased to write this recommendation on behalf of Jason Smith. He has been under my employ for the past two years and has been a valuable asset to our team.
Jason is extremely personable and tries real hard to do his very best. I have been pleased with the quality of his work and his ability to meet deadlines and standards. So I honestly feel he would make an excellent new hire. And will perform well on the job because he is very capable and learns quickly.
You would be fortunate to have him as an employee!
Educator | Academic & Career Coach | Founder, Life Lived by Design
When it comes to letters of recommendation, it’s tempting to have a template that can be easily updated with pertinent information; however, if you truly want to support the person you are recommending, you should approach this letter in the same way you would a cover letter.
Take time to write a one-page customized letter
Just as with cover letters, employers and hiring managers can easily identify when a letter of recommendation is a copy and paste job. They are usually surface-level recommendations without any examples or substance to them.
To truly express your support, it is important to take the time to write a customized letter that highlights what the candidate can bring to the position. A great letter of recommendation should mirror a cover letter in these ways:
- Addressed to a specific person.
- More than one paragraph, but no more than a page in length.
- Include specific examples of how you have seen the candidate embody the strengths you describe.
- Highlight how the candidate is a match for the position and/or company.
- Include your contact information for follow up.
If you are comfortable writing a letter of recommendation but have some reservations, be direct with your reservations without overemphasizing them.
Also, communicate your reservations with the candidate prior to submitting the letter. This empowers the candidate to address any reservations directly with the hiring manager as well.
Because letters of recommendations should not be based on a template, it’s important to consider whether you will be able to provide a detailed recommendation. If not, politely suggest that the candidate consider who else could provide support.
VP of Supply Chain, Dexcom
A letter of recommendation is not a vital part of the hiring process
Honestly, when I see re-prepared LOR, I could not care less. In fact, it backfires. When I have enough confidence that a candidate is likely the right fit, I talk to references to confirm my belief and to test my concerns.
Anyone can get someone to write a nice letter about them. I want to talk to a reference about the specific situation the candidate will face to make sure they are likely to be successful.
Career Expert | Founder, Remote Bliss
A recommendation letter doesn’t need to exceed one page.
If you have a lot to say, it’s fine if it goes on to two pages, but ideally, you can give a strong endorsement without being overly wordy. Remember, a hiring manager is likely evaluating dozens, if not hundreds of applications, so you want to grab their attention and get to the point without going on and on.
State your enthusiastic support for the candidate right away.
Make sure to add a sentence explaining who you are and what makes you qualified as a recommender. In the body of your letter, provide specific anecdotes about the job seeker so the potential employer sees how they performed in their previous position. Finally, make sure to endorse the candidate strongly as you conclude your letter while inviting the reader to follow up with any more questions.
As a recommender, your letter can powerfully advocate for the candidate and help bring their application to life. But longer isn’t necessarily better, so try to convey a strong message of support without going on for more than two pages.
Recruitment Specialist & Marketing Director, Mashvisor
A good letter of recommendation should be about one page long, definitely not more than a page.
First of all, you as someone who’s writing the letter should be able to summarize all the things you want to say about this particular person in such a space.
Don’t make the common mistake of using the smaller font just to fit more text in without going over one page. This will only annoy the person reading the letter as he/she will have to strain his/her eyes.
Second, you should not write more than a page because employers looking for new employees receive tens if not hundreds of applications for each position. Just imagine the amount of reading they have to do to select the best candidate. They will definitely not be happy if they have to read 2-3 pages to learn more about the candidate you are recommending and this might affect him/her negatively.
On the other hand, leading a lot of blank space on the page will also make a negative impression. If you have agreed to recommend someone, you should have a couple of paragraph worth of positive things to say about him/her.
Don’t just list the most important qualifications and traits of the person but also show specific examples when he/she demonstrated these qualities.
Human Resources Manager, Quantum Networks
The letter should not exceed two paragraphs
They should highlight the skills and talents a candidate has and note their successes in previous roles/positions they’ve held. Through the lens of a recruiter, a good letter of recommendation should tell me why this candidate would make a good employee at our company and be straight to the point about it.
I can easily tell when letters are filled with information rephrased differently to make the letter appear to be longer and portray new information. However, short, sweet, and simple letters are important when it comes to reading them.
HR Manager, Traffic Bees
There are no hard and fast rules regarding the optimal length of a recommendation letter
The essence of it lies in its details; a shorter one consisting of relevant details trumps a longer one with pointless information.
Furthermore, the person reading the letters is probably swamped with having to read other pages. Thus, keeping the letter succinct and impactful is imperative. Every letter of recommendation should include common elements such as the following:
- Skills, abilities, and strengths
- Character traits
- Contributions made to the class or community
It is also important to avoid lying or exaggerating a person’s accomplishments. Your reputation is at stake; endorsing an incompetent employee or colleague who delivers a mediocre job performance can tarnish your name.
Requests for letters of recommendation can take place for a whole slew of reasons. Thus, when determining the ideal length of a letter, the writer should consider his/her knowledge of the person being recommended and what it is going to be used for. For example, if someone is applying for an MBA program, a one or two-page document should suffice.
The truth is, it can be as long or as short as you want
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing a letter of recommendation. The average length that most people aim for is a side of A4 paper though – that’s usually enough to get a decent representation of your thoughts on a person down.
The key to letters of recommendation is marrying your opinions about a person with their job description, and how their traits enabled them to excel in that particular role.
Focusing on the job description is also a good way to reduce the amount of work that you have to do – you can just copy and paste particular sections, editing them slightly to personalize them.
Whilst this might seem a bit robotic, by their nature, letters of recommendation are read in a very analytical, robotic way, so you might actually be helping the person by using this method.
Keep the letter to three paragraphs.
A good letter of recommendation includes three things: an introduction, an assessment of abilities, and an example of great work the subject did.
The introduction explains who you are talking about, while the assessment is a strong sales pitch for the person you are writing about. The example is a nice way to get specific and adds weight to the rest of the letter. You should not include anything more than these three parts because additional information will distract from your message.