Writing a Letter of Recommendation

As a Purdue University Calumet faculty or staff member, you may be called upon to write a letter of recommendation for a student who is applying for a job or pursuing admission to a graduate program. You will need to determine if you can honestly write a supportive letter for the student. If the answer is no, decline to write the letter with an honest explanation. In the long run, doing so will be in the student’s best interest. If you decide to provide a letter of recommendation, here are a few suggestions to assist you in this effort.

Gather Supporting Information From the Student:

  • Resume and Transcript – The resume serves as a summary of the student’s accomplishments, academic and career activities, and the dates of these achievements. The transcript may also be helpful when writing a letter of recommendation targeted toward graduate school admission.
  • The Purpose of the Letter Ask the student about short-term and long-term goals, and the reasons behind pursuing a particular job or graduate program.
  • Additional Information Ask the student if there is anything specific pertaining to a particular job or graduate program that should be addressed in your letter. In addition, are there key qualities or skills the student would like you to comment on in your letter? A copy of the job description can also prove helpful.
  • Practical Information Be certain you know the recommendation deadline, how many copies/versions of the letter the applicant needs, and to whom the finished letters must be sent. Allow enough time for the student to comfortably meet his or her application deadline.

Write the Letter

When writing the recommendation, use a standard business letter format on department stationery or university letterhead. Letters are generally one page, produced on a laser-quality printer, and contain the following information:

Your relationship to the applicant and length of time you have known him or her. Specify details about the applicant’s skills, academic and student teaching performance (if appropriate), past work history or present job responsibilities, strengths or weaknesses, personality traits, any unusual aspects that might contribute to the applicant’s performance, evidence of energy level, and motivation. Be specific and concrete, but do not exaggerate or inflate your comments. You want to help the student stand out, but you also have to preserve your credibility as the author of the recommendation.

Elaborate on how the student’s skills and experiences relate to his/her choice of position, organization or graduate program. When the student is applying for a job, try to translate academic skills into business skills (i.e., the presentation and public speaking skills the student used in class demonstrated her ability to communicate with a wide variety of audiences). Emphasize the student’s potential and why you believe that person is qualified for the job or admission to a graduate program.

Your telephone number and email address.

Follow Through
Save a copy of the recommendation for your files and provide a copy to the student. Students always appreciate receiving a copy of the recommendation that has been sent on their behalf. You may be called upon to write another letter for the same student, so retaining a copy in your files will help you to create a new letter without starting over. Also, clearly note the date when you send a letter so that you can respond to the student’s inquiry regarding the status of the recommendation.

Ask the Student to Let You Know the Outcome of His/Her Application

Here is a sample letter of recommendation provided by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

10 tips for recommenders

Writing Letters of Reference–The University of Michigan Career Center’s comprehensive guide

Back to the Faculty & Staff page.