How to write good letters of recommendation with PandaDoc

How to write good letters of recommendation with PandaDoc

Letters of recommendation have a lot of weight in today’s admissions process because of the very competitive candidate pool.

A well-written letter for a strong candidate might reveal qualities that go beyond their own self-promotion.

PandaDoc is exploring ways you can use a letter of recommendation to your benefit, how to put it together properly so it advances your job search, the best tips, and tricks for writing letters of recommendation, and plenty of other useful advice.

How to write good letters of recommendation

  1. What is a letter of recommendation?
  2. When and why do you require a letter of recommendation?
  3. How many types of recommendation letters are there?
  4. How to ask for a recommendation letter
  5. What should a letter of recommendation include?
  6. Reference letter vs. Letter of recommendation
  7. What is a personal reference?
  8. Why is a personal reference needed?
  9. When are personal reference letters needed? 
  10. What to include in your reference letter?
  11. Who to ask for a reference letter?

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a formal document that recognizes an individual’s work, abilities, or academic performance.

You can ask someone to write a recommendation letter for you if you are looking for a job, an internship, a college or university, a leadership role, or a volunteer position.

You, too, can write a letter of recommendation for someone, with the same intent.

What is the objective of a recommendation letter?

If you are the one writing a recommendation letter, its objective is to confirm what you’ve learned about the candidate and add favorable details about their performance or habits.

An honest recommendation gives the recipient a firsthand perspective of your interactions with the candidate.

You should have some understanding of how the candidate acts and performs in a professional setting.

Before you accept a request for a recommendation, think about the following:

  • Have you worked with or personally supervised the applicant?
  • Do you know any of their relevant abilities and skills that you can share, something why you believe they stand out among others?
  • Can you provide specific examples of the person’s work?
  • Are you able to give this person favorable feedback?

Before accepting a request, think about whether or not you can produce a good recommendation to this person.

If you don’t have a strong working relationship with the applicant, lack experience collaborating with them, or don’t have too many positive things to share, communicate this as soon as possible.

Once you tell them that you won’t be able to meet their request, you’ll give them enough time to come up with a different solution or find someone else to write their letter of recommendation.

When and why do you require a letter of recommendation?

A recommendation letter is usually necessary for the following situations:

  • University applications
  • Opportunities for fellowships or internships
  • Applications for jobs
  • Volunteering options

You should write a recommendation for someone you know well, such as a coworker, a student you’ve taught, an employee, or someone you’ve managed at work.

If you’re seeking for a recommendation letter, make sure it comes from someone who can vouch for your professional or academic achievements.

How many types of recommendation letters are there?

There are three different types of recommendation letters:

  1. Letters of academic recommendation
  2. Letters of recommendation for employment
  3. Letters of character recommendation

Here’s a breakdown of what each sort of recommendation letter entails:

1. Letters of academic recommendation

It is customary for students to submit academic recommendation letters throughout the admissions process for graduate and undergraduate schools.

In general, each prospective student is asked to submit up to three strong letters of recommendation, which can be prepared by any educator familiar with the candidate’s academic background.

  1. Letter of recommendation for undergraduate/graduate school
  2. Letter of recommendation for a scholarship
  3. Letter of recommendation for a fellowship program

2. Letters of recommendation for employment

The most common sort of recommendation letter is this one as it validates a person’s work experience, positive attitude towards projects, and helps to hire managers to slide easier through the application process.

As part of your job application, companies may require you to submit up to three recommendation letters.

Recruiters or admissions officers are more likely to request recommendation letters if they like your resume and want additional information about you that would help them learn more about who you are as a person and an employee.

Former or current coworkers, employers, or bosses are those who typically write employment recommendation letters. If you have the option, choose someone with greater experience than you.

After all, the higher their rank, the greater the weight of their suggestion.

Recommendations for employment include:

  1. Letter of recommendation for a coworker
  2. Letter of recommendation for a (former) employee

3. Letters of character endorsement

Character recommendation letters, also known as personal references, are written by someone who knows an individual well, such as close friends, coworkers, or employers, to characterize their personality.

Personal references are used in various scenarios, the most common of which are court trials involving criminal matters such as drunk driving crimes or legal matters such as child adoption procedures.

However, it is not unusual for a possible landlord or even immigration officials to request a personal reference.

Personal references include:

  1. Letter of recommendation for a friend
  2. Letter of recommendation for a renter
  3. Letter of recommendation for a patient

If you’re seeking a recommendation letter, make sure it comes from someone who can vouch for your professional or academic achievements.

How to ask for a recommendation letter

Need a letter of recommendation from someone? Here’s everything you need to know.

The person who will write your recommendation letter should be determined by the type of reference you require.

Suppose you need a job reference letter. In that case, your top candidates should be familiar with your work ethic and professional abilities while also having a favorable professional relationship with you.

Consider the following:

  • Your TL
  • Department head
  • Company CEO
  • Direct manager
  • A coworker with whom you’ve collaborated on a project

If you are a recent graduate with no or minimal work experience, you can request a professional reference from a mentor or college lecturer.

If you need an academic recommendation letter for a college application or a graduate program, consider asking a professor you’ve worked closely with, and who has witnessed your academic potential and achievements.

For example, your thesis advisor may be a suitable person to write an academic reference for you.

If you’ve written a Bachelor’s or Master’s thesis, any professor who recognizes you as more than simply another student should be a good choice to write your academic recommendation letter.

Finally, bear the following in mind while requesting a letter of recommendation

If you’re going to ask someone, chat to them about it ahead of time

After that, send a formal email with all reference-related information, such as the submission details and deadline. A description of your current professional, academic, or independent engagements, can also be included in the email.

Include your CV and job description in your follow-up email if you’re requesting a professional recommendation letter.

Extracurricular activities you’ve been engaged in are additional points

You can ask your recommender to include, things that qualify you for the position, and some relevant skills, achievements, or notable information about you and your work ethic.

By customizing your skills to the job or citing some of your (related) successes, you are helping the person writing the letter to get more familiar with you and your new position.

This should give them reasonable grounds for putting together a more relevant recommendation.

Notify the people you’ll be asking for the recommendation at least two weeks ahead of time

This will allow them to prepare and write a strong recommendation letter.

The two-week timeframe is particularly important for academic references, as professors usually write many recommendation letters simultaneously.

Send thank-you notes to everyone who writes you a letter of recommendation

Sending a letter of thanks is a kind gesture that shows you appreciate their time and effort in recommending you positively.

What should a letter of recommendation include?

An important part of the application for a job is sending a letter of recommendation that follows the right format and layout.

Letter of recommendation format

The sections of a recommendation letter are as follows.

The salutation

If you’re sending a personal recommendation letter or addressing someone whose name you know, the salutation might be directed to “Dear Mr./Mrs./Dr. [Surname].” If not, you can use the generic “to whom it may concern” instead.

The first paragraph/introduction

This paragraph includes your statement of recommendation (e.g., “it is my pleasure to recommend…”).

It is customary to say who you are briefly and your area of expertise.

The summary/overview

An overview or a summary is the part that communicates the applicant’s most important abilities, traits, and strengths.

A personal story

The part of a letter describing the applicant’s talents and qualifications in greater detail.

The closing statement

The closing remark, also known as the final call to action, is when you tell the recruiter that if further information is needed, he/she should contact you.

The signature

The final part of the letter includes your contact information and your name, followed by a signature.

Letter of recommendation layout

You only need to follow a few basic formatting standards when it comes to the layout of the recommendation letter. The following are the most important.

One-page length

This criterion also applies to resumes, but it is especially important for recommendation letters. Recruiters read hundreds of letters each day.

Make sure you don’t waste their time and send a short, to-the-point letter. A strong recommendation letter doesn’t have to be an essay to pique the recruiter’s interest.

Single-spaced lines

Lines should be single-spaced, with space between paragraphs. You may keep your reference letter under the limit by shortening the text.

Use a classic font

Don’t opt for something too unique; instead, go for a tried-and-true classic. Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial, Ubuntu, Roboto, or Overpass are among the fonts we recommend.

Use 1 inch margins on all sides

This gives the letter plenty of white space around the margins and makes it easy to read. The text should also be positioned to the left, the typical orientation for most papers.

Don’t go over 10-12pt font size

This is the range of font sizes that makes the document readable. Another clever technique to keep your recommendation letter under the length restriction is to change the font size.

Reference letter vs. Letter of recommendation

A recommendation letter is more significant than a reference letter because the letter writer recommends you for a job and, in a way, guarantees you won’t disappoint in your role.

A reference letter is broader in scope. Generally, it is not addressed to a specific person. Rather, it is a comprehensive evaluation of your traits, knowledge, and abilities.

Whether you’re writing a recommendation letter for a student or a working professional, the structure of your letter should be the same.

A brief introduction, the applicant’s background and experience, a personal story, and a closing remark.

What is a personal reference?

A personal reference alternately referred to as a character reference, is a brief assessment of you as an individual provided by someone familiar with you outside of work.

This is not the same as a professional reference provided by a previous or current employer. Rather than focusing on your professional skills and abilities, the personal reference will discuss your personality, character, behavior, and ethics.

Potential employers will request references as part of the application process or at some point during the interview process.

Why is a personal reference needed?

When hiring new employees, most companies are looking for someone who will have the necessary skills and experience.

Typically, they are on the lookout for someone who will fit in well with the existing team and have a positive impact on the organization.

When looking at a CV or professional references, it can be challenging to get a strong feeling of the potential employee because both resumes and references focus primarily on abilities and experience.

A personal reference might provide information about your personality, communication skills, and how well you will fit in at the organization.

When are personal reference letters needed?

Personal references, i.e., personal reference letters, are usually required for the application process. This could be for a job, a course, or professional membership/certification.

Employers frequently ask for references during or after the initial round of interviews so they can confirm any information gleaned during the interview.

References available upon request are an excellent line to include in your application or on your CV.

What to include in your reference letter?

A personal reference letter should be addressed to the recruiting manager, hiring manager or whoever requested it. It should highlight two or three of your best traits and provide examples to support them.

It should also cover your relationship with the subject and how long you’ve known each other while providing examples of your personality and work ethic.

Finally, a personal reference letter should contain the referee’s contact information such as phone number or email in case the employer needs to reach out for clarification.

The job description/job title you are applying for usually emphasizes the type of character they would like to hire.

Provide this information to your referee in time so your reference letter can include material that promotes your qualities and demonstrates your ability to do the required job.

In these cases, paying close attention to the smallest details can make a tremendous difference.

Who to ask for a reference letter?

High school teachers, lecturers, group or club leaders, neighbors, friends, and family members are all typical sources of personal references.

Those offering the reference should know you well and support this through examples.

While friends and family members are suitable referees, it is preferable to choose someone unrelated to you. After all, you want to avoid someone pinning your family’s reference as biased.


If you are writing a letter of recommendation, use the advice above to get started and go through the entire process smoothly.

Also, if you need additional help writing a sample letter of reprimand, a technical or project proposal, check out PandaDoc website and browse through our tutorials, 750+ template library, our e-signature, and everything else we’ve got prepared for you.

And, if you’ve got any questions – just contact us via live chat or any other way you prefer, and we’ll do our best to help you out!

Bethany is the Senior Manager, Content Marketing at PandaDoc. She has over 10 years in the sales and marketing industry and loves crafting new stories and discovering new content distribution channels. Outside of the office, she spends her time reading, working out at Orangetheory or trying a new Brooklyn brewery with her husband and two French Bulldogs, Tater Tot and Pork Chop.

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