Inspiration and Information for Starting Your Business

Returning the Favor with a Great Letter of Recommendation

By Matthew Toren

Writing a reference letter should not be seen as an inconvenience. Firstly, you should be happy you’re in a position to be asked in the first place. And secondly, if a former employee or freelancer did an awesome job for you, the least you can do is help them down their personal road to success. After all, they contributed to your success with their valuable performance. Luckily, writing a letter of recommendation is pretty simple, and you may even gain some networking opportunities in the process.

Ask Questions

Firstly, you must consider thoughtfully if you can honestly recommend this person for a position. If their performance was subpar, or they didn’t work with you for long enough to make a significant impression, politely refuse. If you accept, do a bit of research before you write your letter. Ask the person you’re going to recommend about their personal goals and what kind of image they’d like to convey. Gather some information about the specific position and what kind of work and qualifications it entails. Have the resume of the person you’re recommending on hand, as well information you feel will be valuable.

Be Personal

When your write the letter, which of course should be in standard business format, be detailed and focus on the capabilities and qualifications of the person you’re recommending. Don’t make broad statements like “Samantha is a fantastic worker, a great team player, punctual, and efficient.” Though those are kind words and fantastic traits in any employee, they don’t offer precise qualities that a prospective employer can use to make an informed decision. Instead, highlight specific instances that exemplify these qualities. Hopefully, you have some records on hand that will allow you to document these unambiguous cases. Focus on professional traits but don’t be afraid to throw in some personal characteristics that made the person you’re recommending such a pleasure to be around.

Be Honest

If the person you’re recommending really pleased you with their performance, you may feel the tendency to lavish them with praise. Don’t. Remember, the letter of recommendation is supposed to be an honest assessment of someone’s performance, not a list of one fantastic description after another. Obviously your goal is to help get this person hired, but if you overdo it, your letter will come off as insincere and ultimately be counterproductive to both your goals. Finally, if the person you’re recommending had a work-related issue, address it in the letter and mention any improvement they’ve made in this area. Everyone has weaknesses, and being forthright will humanize your letter.

Be Specific and Communicative

Don’t make your letter a short paragraph full of statements like “William will make a great addition to your team.” Your letter of recommendation should be lengthy without being long-winded; just under a page is great. Address the prospective employer directly and highlight specifically how the person you’re recommending will contribute to their business. Finally, at the end of your letter, offer to make yourself available for any questions or concerns the prospective employer may have. Be there to offer feedback.

Matthew Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur, and Investor. He Co-Founded YoungEntrepreneur.com along with his brother Adam. Matthew is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: “Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right” and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.