A member of your team asked you to write a letter of recommendation for her. While it is sad when a valued colleague moves on professionally, you want to showcase her talents in the most effective manner possible. However, you do not want to spend hours writing a recommendation letter for medical school or a new position.
There are several steps you can take to quickly write an effective letter of recommendation for someone pursuing a new position or graduate education.
1. Remember Letter Writing Basics
In this era of email communication, you probably need a refresher in letter writing conventions. Put your name and business/school address at the top if you don’t use letterhead. Make sure to type the date under your contact information.
Ask the requester to provide you with the names and addresses of the recipients. You should always put the recipient’s name and full address under the date if you have that information. If you’re writing a letter for a job seeker and you don’t have specific contact information, address the letter to ‘Dear Sir of Madam’ or ‘Dear Hiring Executive.’ A phrase such as ‘To Whom it May Concern’ is considered outdated by many people.
2. Ask for a Job Description/Program Information
People do not like to read generic recommendation letters. If someone asks you to write a recommendation letter for a job, ask for one or two job descriptions of interest. Make sure your letter emphasizes that the candidate has the credentials and experience to quickly make a contribution to the hospital/clinic.
3. Start Your Letter Strong
Instead of florid language, start your letter with a straightforward recommendation. Also, describe your relationship and state how long you’ve known this person.
Example: I strongly recommend Emily Smith for the Family Nurse Practitioner program at Loyola University. I supervised her for the past five years at Local Hospital. She built a reputation for dependability and strong patient relations among co-workers and doctors.
4. Highlight What Makes the Person Unique
Whether you’re writing a recommendation for a job, medical school, or graduate school, you need a paragraph that showcases the applicants’ accomplishments. Feel free to ask the applicant if there are any awards, projects, or other achievements that they want you to include in the letter. You don’t always know (or you forgot) interesting facts in the person’s background.
5. Rank the Candidate
The reader is someone who must evaluate many candidates for an opening. He/she wants to quickly know why they should consider your candidate over other applicants. A paragraph that contrasts your candidate to other students or workers is critical.
If someone is in the top 5% of students you taught, tell the reader that directly. Back that statement up with at least two sentences that describe their achievements in detail. If you’re recommending someone for a professional position, tell the reader how the candidate’s performance contrasts with other workers.
Example: Emily Smith is the top 5% of people I have supervised over the course of my career. She establishes excellent rapport with patients and always delivers high quality care. I selected her to assist with a research project based on her outstanding work.
6. Use a Different Style for Work vs. School
If you’re writing a letter for a job applicant, succinct is superior. It should not be more than one page. You can also use bullet points to highlight an applicant’s special accomplishments.
A recommendation letter for medical school or graduate school needs a different format. Employ traditional paragraphs throughout the letter. If 400-600 words is the norm for a letter, use closer to 400 words if you’re recommending someone for a job and stay around 500-600 words when the audience is a university.
7. Feel Strongly About the Candidate
If you don’t believe in the candidate, you’ll end up writing an unconvincing letter. You’re persuading others that someone’s background and skills are stellar.
The vast majority of people who approach you for a letter of recommendation for medical school or a job will be worth it. Politely turn down any candidate who is not worth the effort.