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Letter of recommendation: Content, structure and template

In many job application processes today, people are asked to submit a so-called letter of recommendation. But how do you as an employer create such a letter when a former employee asks you to do so and what information does it contain? We want to answer these and other questions in our article and support you in creating a recommendation letter sample.


What is a letter of recommendation?


A letter of recommendation, also called a reference letter, is a document that is created by a third party as part of an application and then sent to the potential new employer. In principle, this document can be written by any person and therefore differs from an employer's reference. The letter provides a personal recommendation and assessment of a person and is intended to justify whether and how the person is qualified for the vacant position. In addition to the person's experience, the contents of the letter of recommendation are above all the applicant's character traits and positive qualities.


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Such letters of recommendation are becoming more and more common in job applications, and they are most common in European countries and in the United States of America. In our article we explain to you how a letter of recommendation is structured, what information it contains and how you as an employer can prepare the letter.


What is the difference between a letter of recommendation and a reference?


In order to define what constitutes a letter of recommendation, we must first clarify what the difference is between a letter of recommendation and a reference. An employer's reference is a document issued by you, the employer, which cannot be issued by anyone else. This usually happens after an employment relationship has been terminated and the person is looking for a new job. In order to prove what tasks and activities the person did in the last employment in your company, a reference letter is issued, which every employee is entitled to after the end of an employment relationship.


The letter of recommendation is also designed to help the person find a new job. Through the letter, the potential new employer learns what makes the applicant tick. The difference is that the letter of recommendation can potentially be written by any third person. However, it makes sense for applicants not to ask their friends, but rather you as a former supervisor or possibly your colleagues. In addition, in contrast to the reference, the text does not specifically address the tasks in the last job, but rather the general experience, the soft skills and the personality traits of the person.


Who needs a letter of recommendation and why?


Letters of recommendation are written by the referee to recommend a person to you as a new employer based on their experience and work attitude. Such a letter is especially useful for job starters, as they often do not yet have many references and work experience to show. 


But a letter of recommendation can also be worthwhile for employees with experience. In some cases, this is explicitly required by you as the new employer. Sometimes, especially when it comes to promotions or jobs with personnel responsibility, it is useful to submit such a letter of recommendation without being asked in order to convince the new employer of your skills and soft skills in advance.


How is a letter of recommendation structured?


Before dealing with the content and structure of the letter of recommendation, you should first be sure what the formal requirements of a letter of recommendation are. Please note that a letter of recommendation should not be longer than one A4 page. If the letter is written by you as a former supervisor, you should write it on company paper.


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The letter should also be formally error-free and if the document is used for an application, then this should not contain more than three letters of recommendation. Applicants can remember this: The more sparingly one uses letters of recommendation, the more effective they are. Therefore, you should also clearly choose which references have the strongest effect. The praise in the letter should also be used in moderation.


How to write a letter of recommendation


In order to write a letter of recommendation, one must be aware of the structure of such a document. What information belongs in a letter of recommendation and how is the document structured? Here is a clear list of all the components of a letter of recommendation:


  • The letterhead must contain the first name, last name, company and address of the person giving the reference.
  • In addition, a telephone number should be provided for queries.
  • A current date must not be missing.
  • The name and address of the addressee, i.e. the person to whom the recommendation is to be sent later and not the applicant, also belongs in the letterhead of the letter.
  • The subject line must state what the letter is about. A simple example: "Letter of recommendation for [name of applicant]".
  • Then the referee first introduces him and tells about the relationship between the referee and the applicant.
  • Next comes the reason for issuing the letter, which can be, for example, a terminated collaboration or a previous employment.
  • Then follows a factual recommendation, in which one should always be careful to stick to the facts.
  • Now the skills and knowledge of the recommended person are listed and, if necessary, individual examples from the world of work are brought in in which the applicant has used them.
  • Furthermore, qualifications achieved, such as training courses or a degree, are listed and successes in the world of work are named.
  • Finally, the subjective recommendation follows, in which the soft skills, the character and the personality of the applicant are described.
  • An invitation to contact the applicant by telephone concludes the letter of recommendation.
  • The document ends with the date and the reference's signature.


Sample letter of recommendation 


As soon as it comes to writing such a letter of recommendation, be it for a former employee or one is privately asked to write such a letter for someone else, the question of a recommendation letter template often arises. One can then take care to create the recommendation letter sample oneself, but often lacks the experience in creating such documents.


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Kenjo, the all-in-one HR software solution, provides a remedy: We have created a recommendation letter template for you as an employer, which already contains all the required information such as the address, the subject line and the recommendation letter wording. This saves you the time and effort of having to create the letter of recommendation template yourself.


What mistakes should I avoid when writing a letter of recommendation?


Writing a recommendation is an important matter for the potential applicant and should therefore be taken seriously, as many mistakes can happen. To avoid this, we have compiled a list for you as an employer to identify the most common problems when writing a reference letter for the first time. This is how you can easily create your personal letter of recommendation example:


  • Incorrect reference provider: If the reference provider does not have a good reputation, is not a specialist or has no competence in the working world, the letter of recommendation can quickly achieve the opposite effect.
  • Incorrect spelling: No matter how clear the content of the letter of recommendation is. If the spelling is faulty, this puts the applicant and the reference in a bad light.
  • Too many letters of recommendation in an application: Too many letters in an application should also be avoided. Applicants should focus on their strongest references.
  • Clichéd language: The language of the reference should be clear and understandable.
  • Too much praise and exaggeration: If the letter of recommendation contains too much praise and exaggeration, you as an employer will quickly get the feeling that the reference provider is not concerned with objectivity.
  • Lack of professional competence: If the reference writer lacks professional competence, this reduces the authority of the reference and the addressee will hardly take it seriously.
  • Text too long: If the text is too long, this can also have a negative effect on the application. Applicants and referees should limit themselves to the most important statements in the text.


How can Kenjo help you?


Letters of recommendation and references are important documents in the world of HR. These and other HR issues are part of your company's success story. But where should you get the expertise to do this if this knowledge has not yet been built up in the company? The answer is simple: Let Kenjo, the 360 degree solution for all HR topics, help you!


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With Kenjo, you have the topics of HR management, such as recruitment and performance management, firmly in view at all times. Our tool covers the entire lifecycle of an application: from the application letter to onboarding. You can support candidates who have already been hired through performance management and help them identify their strengths and weaknesses. Try our HR software today - 14 days for free!

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