When an intern, former co-worker or employee asks you for a letter of recommendation or reference, take the task seriously. Your words could potentially mean the difference between the employee getting what he or she wants or not.
Follow these guidelines:
• Know the person. You should have spent a good bit of time working with the person and have a real understanding of his or her skills and know-how.
• Tailor the recommendation for the position. Rather than write a canned letter, ask the person to fill you in on details about the job, school program, award and so on for which you are writing the reference.
• Stick to professional details. Avoid discussing any personal issues specific to race, religion, age, disability or marital status.
• Be concise and direct. Most recommendations and letters call for a standard business letter format, and you should limit the length to one page.
• Introduce yourself. In two to three lines max, describe how you know the candidate and include your credentials to show that your recommendation is meaningful.
• Focus on the person’s successes. The bulk of the letter should highlight the person’s strengths and provide evidence of how you have witnessed the person succeed. That could include promotions, awards, rewards or outcomes of key projects the person worked on.
• Share your assessment of the person’s talents. Describe your opinion of the person’s job and, including communication, and work ethic. Note whether you would hire or rehire the person if given the chance, and how much you valued working with the person.
• Grant permission for a follow-up. At the end of the letter, tell recipients that they may contact you if they have additional questions.
— Adapted from “How to Write a Letter of Recommendation,” Jaimy Ford, Docstoc, www.docstoc.com