Writing Letters of Recommendation  

Each year we receive request for guidelines about credential files and writing letters of recommendation. The following information may be helpful as you approach this task:


Credential Files

Career Services discontinued its maintenance of student credential files in 1996. The majority of reference letters are now non-confidential which gives students the opportunity to maintain their own "credential file." Students copy letters of reference and mail them out under their own cover letter. This has eliminated the administrative costs associated with maintaining the files as well as the turn-around time for sending out references to employers or graduate schools. Unless specified by the employer or graduate school, letters written on your letterhead are preferable to standard forms. Below are some tips for writing letters of reference for students:


Writing Reference Letters: Before You Begin:

  • When the student asks for a letter, understand what is being asked of you
  • What is the purpose of the letter?
  • What does the student expect from you?
  • Tell the student honestly how you feel about writing the letter for him/her
  • You are under no obligation to write a letter for anyone. If you feel uncomfortable honoring the request, please say so.
  • If you are comfortable writing the letter, ask the student for a copy of:
        -his/her resume
        -a transcript
        -a statement of purpose
        -an outline or list of accomplishments
        -contacts you have had with the students (courses, projects, advising, etc)
  • Whenever possible obtain the name and contact information of the person receiving the letter and send a personalized letter as opposed to a generic "To Whom It May Concern" letter.


Writing the Reference Letter:

  • Explain your relationship with the candidate
  • Make clear how well you know the person and under what circumstances. Include dates
  • Know the candidate's career goals and objectives
  • Tailor the letter of reference to a specific position or career field based on the candidate's goals
  • You may wish to set an appointment to discuss the letter
  • You might want to cover specific characteristics of the candidate including:
        -oral and written communication
        -sense of responsibility
        -ability to plan and organize
        -research skills
        -tact and ability to relate to others
        -group interaction and team-working skills
        -analytical/problem-solving skills
    -interpersonal skills
    -flexibility and adaptability
  • Give specific illustrations and examples rather than vague generalities

Some More Tips: 

  • Avoid sexist or racist remarks or physical descriptions. (Example: "Sara is a pretty, sweet young lady" -is not appropriate)
  • Keep your letter brief. Experts agree that a page to a page and a half is long enough for most letters
  • Use your business/organization stationery. The letter is much more impressive when typewritten/wordprocessed on stationery with your organization's letterhead
  • Volunteer to provide further information on the phone. This offer indicates that the candidate is a person about whom you feel strongly
  • End on an upbeat note. If catchy language is your style, use it to emphasize your enthusiasm (i.e. "hire her-you won't be sorry!") Otherwise an overall endorsement is helpful. 

Links to Internet Sites: Writing Letters of Recommendation




Sample Letter Of Recommendation : Employment #1

National Standards University
123 United Blvd.
Anytown, Florida, 32265
(904) 234-1234    Fax (904) 234-5432 

 July 24, 2011


Dr. Ellen D. Jones
Director of Career Services
University of North America
123 Apple Tree Lane
Collegetown, North Carolina 22334


Dear Dr. Jones:


I am delighted to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of Florence Nightingale. I have known Florence for more than four years. She first came to me as a work study student to organize our year long career panel series while I was still Assistant Director at National Standards University (NSU). I would have to say Florence was one of the most thoughtful, thorough, and independent program planners that we had had at NSU. She encouraged us to pay special attention to such issues as minority representation as well as to produce a balanced and interesting set of events.


In 1999, when I took over the position of Director of Career Planning and Placement for the All American University, I had no professional staff to help me in the rather large task of offering direct services to 1000 students and several hundred active alumni/ae. The first student counselor I hired did not work out, and I immediately thought of Florence. Although she already had a heavy work schedule at NSU in addition to being a full-student, she accepted the position here to handle a full range of professional responsibilities, including career counseling, workshop leadership, and materials design. In these and in all of her endeavors, Florence has demonstrated creativity, adaptability, and abundant enthusiasm. I must say I would have had great difficulty “surviving” my first year on this job without Florence’s help and support.


Individual and small-group work with students and alumni enabled Florence to enhance her counseling skills. Her administrative capabilities have grown, too, as she has sought new responsibilities and assumed new projects. Her contributions to staff development and her suggestions relating to programming have been impressive.


As a colleague, Florence is very enjoyable. She establishes rapport easily with all clients and fellow workers. She has succeeded in creating enthusiasm among all who work alongside her. Her sense of humor and easy-going personality have been much appreciated.

Florence has also been involved in the organization, “American School Women” and has single-handedly kept the organization alive through a series of well-planned programs. She is currently planning a panel of discussion on “Women in Educational Leadership.”

Florence Nightingale is an extremely capable professional who is ready to assume managerial and supervisory responsibilities. She has my strongest recommendation. If you wish to know more about this competent and energetic individual, do not hesitate to contact me at (617) 495-3427).




Anabelle Jones 


Anabelle Jones



Sample Letter of Recommendation: Employment #2

The University of North Florida
4567 St. Johns Bluff Road South · Jacksonville, FL 32224
(904) 555-0000 Fax (904) 555-0001

November 19, 2011


Dr. Anita Hiresomeone
Counseling Center
Schultz Hall, Room 2121
University of North Florida
4567 St. Johns Bluff Road South
Jacksonville, FL 32224-2645


Dear Dr. Hiresomeone:


It is with great pleasure that I find myself writing this letter of recommendation for Janie Jobseeker. Janie is an outstanding employee who on a daily basis goes “above and beyond” in her administrative support to Student Government and continuously exceeds the performance standards for her position of office Manager. Laurel willingly accepts new assignments and offers to help wherever she can. Student Government is a frenetic environment that presents many competing demands on the staff there. Mrs. Kendall remains steadfast in her cheerfulness, calmness, and dependability. She is an extraordinary employee and a vital member of the team in Student Government. Laurel has demonstrated excellent managerial and decision making skills. She is attentive to tasks and works tirelessly to achieve the goals of the department. She is an extremely positive and dependable employee, and performs her duties in an extremely timely and conscientious manner.


I’ve received many compliments from the many students that she’s assisted as well as the staff members who rely on Laurel’s direction. Management and personnel in Academic Affairs, Enrollment Services, and other departments praise her work. Laurel is an innovative self-starter, who rarely needs supervision. She is punctual and typically exceeds expectations. She handles pressure well, and will voluntarily work overtime and take work home to meet a deadline.


Laurel is an invaluable asset to any department, and I highly recommend hiring her as your new Associate Director for Student Affairs. If you’d like to discuss her attributes in more detail, please don’t’ hesitate to contact me.




Emma Feelgood 


Emma Feelgood




Sample Letter of Recommendation:  Graduate School 

National Standards University
123 United Blvd.
Anytown, Florida, 32265
(904) 234-1234    Fax (904) 234-5432 

July 27, 2011

Ms. Debra Admit
Office of Graduate School Admissions
New University
123 College Avenue
Collegetown, Missouri, 12345


Dear Ms. Admit:


This reference letter is provided at the written request of Janie Studyhard, who has asked me to serve as a reference on her behalf. It is my understanding that Janie is being considered by New University for admission to the Counseling Psychology program.

I have known Janie Studyhard for the past three years as she has taken the following courses which I teach: [list courses, give brief description of content of course]. As her professor, I have had an opportunity to observe the student's participation and interaction in class and to evaluate the student's knowledge of the subject matter. I would rate the student's overall performance in these subjects as superior. This is evidenced by her grades--[state the grades].  


[One or two specific examples of the student's performance may be appropriate.] As part of her grade in [name of course], the student was required to prepare a paper. The paper was designed to measure the student's ability to research, to analyze the results of the research, and to write. [Discuss how the paper submitted by the student indicated to you the student's skills in these areas.] Based upon this, I rate the student's skills as excellent.


Based upon the student's academic performance and my understanding of the position for which the student is applying, I believe the student would perform (place overall evaluation here).

If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me.




Karen Forstudents 


Karen Forstudents, Ph.D.




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