A letter of recommendation has an important role in validating applicant's academic performance, qualifications and personal character. It is a formal document carrying a lot of weight, in comparison to casual references exchanged in a spontaneous conversation or over the phone. Producing a well-written, balanced feedback on the accomplishments and work ethic of a person might prove a no easy task.
If you do not feel you are the right person to write such account, do not have sufficient experience or positive things to say about the applicant, you should not take on the task, as the letter of recommendation must be positive and comprehensive. Therefore, consider your previous professional experience with the applicant to make sure you will be able to describe their relevant strengths and skills, give specific examples and the details of the projects you collaborated on.
Before setting out a plan what to include in the letter, make sure that you are provided with all the necessary details - the candidate’s current resume, description of the position in question and the timeframe for completing the letter. A standard formal letter format and tone should be used, ideally one or two pages long.
A well structured recommendation letter covers the following major points.
Upon introducing yourself and clarifying your expertise, it is important to define the type of collaboration you had with the candidate. Did they report to you? Or did you collaborate on a project in the same department?
Focus on the applicant’s strengths and accomplishments essential for the position they are applying for. Highlight the skills used in previous projects that can be quantified by illustrating the final results.
In this key section you should try to describe in what way the applicant stood out from the rest of the colleagues, whether it be willingness to take initiative or ability to work independently. Make sure to provide concrete examples in which the applicant demonstrated admirable qualities that make the applicant an ideal candidate for the position.
At this stage, when all structural points have been covered, it is up to you to decide how you will use your personal style and creativity to add authenticity to the letter, so that it does not sound like a template. Alternatively, by using a free online sample of a recommendation letter as an inspiration and customizing it to incorporate your style can get you quick to the point.
In the end, the letter should be complimentary to the applicant (otherwise there is no point in even accepting the task!). Just make sure everything you write is honest, without exaggeration, and that it showcases the applicant's advantages in a personal, yet professional manner. In that way you can rest assured that you did your best and that the likelihood of achieving real impact with your letter is high.
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