Ask HR: How Do Colleagues Write Letters of Recommendation?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP September 22, 2023

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. 

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


One of my former co-workers recently asked me for a letter of recommendation. I've never written one before. How do I write a recommendation for a co-worker? Curtis

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Before writing a recommendation, you'll need to consider a few things. First, be sure you are comfortable with writing them a recommendation letter. If you aren't, be honest with them. You can say something as simple as, "I don't think I'm the best person to write a recommendation for you."

Next, check with your company's policies and procedures. Many employers do not allow employees to give recommendations from a business perspective, which would limit you to making a personal recommendation. If your employer allows them, what you address will depend on your relationship and interactions with your former co-worker.

Now, you'll want to confirm with your co-worker the types of jobs they are seeking and their overall career goals. Armed with this information, you can write an effective recommendation letter that reflects well on your co-worker. Be sure to highlight the positive qualities, qualifications and skills you observed while working with them that would benefit future organizations. Once you've checked all these boxes, you should be ready to write the letter.

Begin your letter with an introduction explaining who you are and how you know the candidate. Include details like where you worked together, for how long and in what capacity. If they achieved anything of note when you worked together, mention those accomplishments. For example, did your co-worker lead a special project, realize substantial organizational cost savings or spearhead a new initiative? Be specific and share relevant anecdotes. End your recommendation letter by highlighting your co-worker's potential and their overall value to any organization.

A couple of editing tips: Remember to use a business letter format and professional language. Address the reader using their title or honorific ("Vice President Smith" or "Mr. Smith"). Or, address the letter with "To Whom It May Concern" if you're writing a generic recommendation letter your co-worker could use when applying to any position. Keep your letter focused; it should be no more than a page long. Finally, edit for spelling and grammar. All of these little details matter, and they reflect back on both you and your co-worker.

I hope this helps! Best of luck to your co-worker in finding their next role!

I've always sent thank-you notes after an interview. In this day and age of automated recruiting and remote interviews, should I still bother sending thank-you letters after an interview? Aria

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: This is a really great question! It's good practice to send a thank-you note, even if it seems "old school." Realistically, showing appreciation never goes out of style. Candidates usually send them within 24 hours after the interview. Some candidates still like to send a handwritten note, while others prefer email. Because the recruitment process is quicker these days, given remote interviews and automation, it may be most helpful to send something via email so the recruiter or hiring manager receives it promptly.

Thank-you notes open an opportunity to connect with interviewers after an interview. Even though this is something that candidates have been doing for quite some time, I don't think it has gone out of style regardless of whether the interview was conducted over the phone, in person, via Zoom, etc. Gratitude and courtesy are timeless. No matter the form, the sentiments expressed are invaluable in cultivating positive business and personal relationships. Follow-up messages are not required or even expected, but they sometimes help keep your name in the forefront of an interviewer's mind.

If you choose to write a thank-you note after an interview, highlight what you learned during the interview and how you can bring value to the position you interviewed for. Great thank-you notes encapsulate why you are the right candidate for the job and an asset to the organization. As part of the message, candidates usually:

  • Acknowledge the interviewer's time.
  • Emphasize why they are interested in the position.
  • Highlight what they bring to the role and the organization.
  • Mention at least one unique point from the interview.
  • End the note with their contact information.

Employers want to hire candidates they feel will connect with their organization's culture and fit its mission and purpose. Details matter, and a simple gesture of gratitude can help you stand out among a sea of candidates. In a world of virtual and remote interactions, human connection can have an even greater impact.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!



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