How to Best Make True and Comprehensive Letters of Recommendation

How to Best Make True and Comprehensive Letters of Recommendation

This is what I do when one of my employees asks me for a recommendation letter, usually after resigning from their employment.

When I am asked, I turn the request around and ask the employee to write his or her own recommendation letter, and to then show it to me so that I can edit and sign it.

Good Reasons for Writing their Own Letter of Recommendation

My reason for this procedure is that I want to avoid any disagreement about the recommendation letter. I want the employee to leave such that he or she can always come back. Another reason is that I want to save time in the preparation of the recommendation letter. Yet another reason is that I want the employee to become more realistic about himself. And finally, I want to make sure that the employee leaves a detailed job description of what he has been doing.

The initial response from the employee, when asked to write his or her own recommendation letter, is surprise. It usually turns out that the employee has never actively thought about his own job description and about how well he has done when he worked for me.

The second surprise is that it turns out that most employees cannot provide an accurate write-up about themselves. They often do not realize their value to our firm.

After they have given me their own version of the recommendation letter I come in, editing it to reflect my opinion. Which is usually very positive. I am also open to providing more details.

Best is when we end up with two recommendation letters, a long and detailed one and a short and generic one.

Steps for Writing a Recommendation Letter

These are the steps that I recommend to my employees when writing their own letter of recommendation:

– write your own letter in the third person: “he” or “she”, but not “I”.

– make sure that you think about your recommendation from my point of view. What am I in a position to know about you?

– Keep it factual. What evidence can I give, if I were asked specifics?

– Start with the description of the daily routine jobs that you have been doing.

– Then list the projects that you have completed, the more the better. You started it (date). You reported back. You finished it (date). Things worked better after you finished. How much better? Supply facts.

– The detailed letter should be no more than two pages. This means that you have only limited space for your examples. Choose two or three good ones.

– Please note that the future recipient of the recommendation letter will think: “Why is this person supplying the recommendation?” Provide a good reason why in the letter.

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I am now thinking of doing this as an exercise for preparing our next annual company retreat, done during work time. Although this might be cumbersome for some, it will increase their awareness for our team´s personal development and their self-esteem.


Martin “Team Player” Schweiger

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