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Letter of recommendation: templates and structure

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A certain distance of the writer is necessary

A letter of recommendation composed by a third party gives information in a written form about the work habits and skills of the person being evaluated. Yet it’s not stated anywhere who may or should issue such a letter. Generally speaking, letters of recommendation are significantly more meaningful, though, when they are written by people considered to have neutral judgement. Parents or other close relatives and friends are certainly not in this group. Therefore, recommendations from teachers or superiors, for example, who are not thought to have all too close personal contact, are thought of as much more objective. Basically, of course, you shouldn’t choose a writer who wouldn’t wish you well.

Letters of recommendation can make the difference

Originally from the USA and Southern Europe, letters of recommendation are not very widespread in the German-speaking world. That’s why they present a good opportunity to stand out from other applicants. It can be assumed that two to four good letters of recommendation, which can be attached to the usual application documents, will certainly improve your chances of being hired.

There are many occasions for letters of recommendation

Normally, letters of recommendation are used when looking for a new job. However, there are various other occasions, as well, when recommendations can improve your chances. They are also advisable when applying for an internship or scholarship, when looking for a new apartment, or to underline your request for a promotion. Freelancers also improve their prospects for success in an acquisition with convincing letters of recommendation from satisfied customers.

A letter of recommendation is not a reference letter

The terms ‘letter of recommendation’ and ‘reference letter’ are frequently interchanged. A letter of recommendation is tailored to a certain extent to the recipient. Ideally, it attests exactly to the competences desired for the position in question (language skills, social skills, expert knowledge and so on). A reference letter, on the other hand, is written in a much more general way. It basically gives an opinion of the person being described and can therefore be addressed very easily to many recipients. That’s why a well-written reference letter can also be kept in the drawer and taken out for the right occasion.

Pay attention to formal criteria

Regardless of the content, a letter of recommendation should of course also comply with certain formal criteria. Thus, the letterhead should include the writer’s first and last name, his organization or company, and his telephone number for any possible questions. The date, the name and address of the recipient, and a subject line with the information “Letter of Recommendation for XYZ” should also be included. The main part consists mostly of the writer introducing himself, his opinion of the person being recommended and a general description of his qualifications, his special achievements and competences, and the assessment of his personality. A closing and signature make up the conclusion. The letter of recommendation should not exceed one standard page and if possible be written on the official letterhead of a company or institution.

A personal touch is preferred

While formal testimony is shaped by objectivity, personal and at times emotional tones are honestly desired in a letter of recommendation. Although they, of course, shouldn’t be exaggerated, but rather should credibly underline the individual connection to the person being recommended.

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