Letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation is an evaluative letter in which an employer or recruiter comments favorably on an employee's performance and attitude to work. Its content focuses on soft skills. The letter of recommendation is an optional attachment to the application and does not have to be issued by the employer. Unlike the employer's reference, the letter of recommendation does not follow a clear structure and is formulated in a more individual and personal way. The purpose of the letter of recommendation is to recommend the former employee for a desired position.

Elements of a letter of recommendation

Address of the issuer: Name of the referee, company name, address, contact details for better accessibility

Address of the recipient: Name and address of the recipient (i.e. the potential new employer) who is to receive the letter of recommendation

Place and date

Subject line: "Letter of recommendation for (name of recipient)"

Introduction: Introduction of the recommender and explanation of the reason for the letter, e.g. a change of job, the completion of a project or an application for a scholarship, internship or study

Example of an introduction to a letter of recommendation in the case of a planned job change: "Dear Sir or Madam, Mr/Mrs XY was employed by us as a mechanical engineer and, after many years of employment, is now leaving our company at his/her own request in order to take up a new professional challenge. We regret this decision very much, as he/she has always discharged his/her duties very diligently and has been a valuable asset to the team."

Main body: This section contains a qualitative assessment of the recipient, detailing the length of service, listing the recipient's successes and achievements and naming soft skills that the addressee particularly appreciated. It conveys a sense of personal appreciation.

Example of the main part of a letter of recommendation for a planned job change: "Mr/Mrs XY has been employed with us since 01.01.2015 and will be leaving our company on 01.10.2021. His/her tasks included the conceptual design and specification of multiple construction systems as well as the calculation, development, construction and control of layouts and production drawings. Furthermore, he/she was responsible for project handling and the coordination of project teams. Mr/Mrs XY always fulfilled his/her tasks very conscientiously and to our complete satisfaction. The motivation and commitment shown by Mr/Mrs XY in the execution of his/her daily tasks consistently exceeded our expectations and always had a very positive effect on cooperation with other members of the team.
When working in the team, Mr/Mrs XY always showed himself/herself to be a very helpful and communicative colleague. We particularly appreciated his/her initiative and problem-solving approach. Mr/Mrs XY also enjoyed a good reputation among team colleagues. From a technical point of view, he/she was an extremely valuable member due to his/her many years of experience in mechanical engineering. He/she was always available to advise his/her team colleagues. On an interpersonal level, Mr/Mrs XY was always evidenced constructive behavior."

Conclusion: Reasons why the recipient is particularly well suited for the new position, salutation and signature.

Example of the conclusion of a letter of recommendation in the case of a planned job change: "Due to his/her professional qualifications, dedication and exemplary behavior in the team, we consider Mr/Mrs XY to be ideally suited for the position as XY and can therefore recommend him/her unreservedly.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me by phone.
Yours sincerely,
First name Last name"

Formal requirements for a letter of recommendation

  • Printed on company paper
  • The letter of recommendation should include the name and contact details of the referee in case the potential employer has questions about the applicant.
  • No more than three letters of recommendation should accompany an application.
  • Neatly formatted and without mistakes
  • No more than one A4 page
  • The letter should be formulated from the perspective of the referee, as the recommendation expresses appreciation of the former employee.

For whom are letters of recommendation suitable?

Career starters: In certain industries, it is often difficult for career beginners to stand out from the crowd due to their lack of professional experience. A letter of recommendation from internships or activities as a working student can be helpful for career beginners and help them get started in the professional world.

Scholarship holders: Those applying for a scholarship must present reasons that justify financial support. In this case, letters of recommendation from former professors or former employers (where training courses or internships have been completed) can also be beneficial.

Students: A letter of recommendation can also be beneficial for students applying for a master's degree, for example. If former professors confirm good academic performance and an aptitude for the advanced degree program, the letter of recommendation can be a bonus when it comes to the allocation of study places.

Freelancers: To be able to prove the quality and performance of services and products, letters of recommendation are essential for freelancers. It is usually recommendations or references that secure upcoming jobs. Moreover, freelancers have no option of requesting references from their clients. It follows that recommendations or references are the only way to prove the quality of their services and products and the satisfaction they deliver.

Applicants applying for a management position or internally for a new job: When applying for a management position, prospective candidates usually find themselves competing with a large number of other applicants. Here, too, a letter of recommendation can have a positive impact on the application process, especially if former supervisors highlight the applicant's leadership qualities and provide positive feedback on the candidate's work ethic and interpersonal behavior.


How are letters of recommendation requested?

University or other institute of higher education

If a letter of recommendation from a professor is required, it should be requested in good time so that the recommender has sufficient time to formulate it. Accordingly, students should give professors at least two weeks' notice. It is better if students contact the professor up to two months before submitting the letter of recommendation. To ensure that the letter is as effective as possible and will actually be of benefit to the applicant’s next professional step, all relevant information should be given to the professor in advance. For example, it is important for professors to know whether the letter of recommendation should be formulated in German or English, which degree program and which number of semesters are involved, and whether academic achievements or practical projects should be evaluated. Anyone who wants to use a letter of recommendation to apply for a scholarship or further studies at a domestic or foreign university should also bear the administrative processes in mind. Many colleges and universities require a very specific form for the letter of recommendation. This should be researched in advance and communicated to the professor when applying for the letter of recommendation.

 

Requesting a letter of recommendation from your current employer

Asking for a letter of recommendation from your current employer must be carefully considered. It is not advisable to ask your direct superior for a letter of recommendation, especially if the new job is not yet certain. Asking for a letter of recommendation could give the direct supervisor the hint that you are looking for a job and close doors for you at your own company in the future – when the next promotion is at stake, for example. It is better to approach another top performer in the company, e.g. a former supervisor who now works in another department or, for example, the head of a project to whom you were subordinate for a while. You should be able to trust the top performer and be sure that the latter can keep the planned job change to himself or herself. It goes without saying that you should have worked closely with that in the past and should have a positive recollection of him or her.

Make a personal request: Your request for a letter of recommendation should always be made in person. A binding appointment should be made with the person concerned several weeks in advance. It is best to contact the person in advance by telephone to explain what the meeting will be about. It is not advisable to request a letter of recommendation by e-mail. After all, the person concerned is under no obligation to issue such a letter. Moreover, this approach may seem impersonal and distant. In addition, requests via e-mail can be documented, which in turn could be interpreted to your disadvantage.

State the reason for the letter of recommendation: The reason for the letter of recommendation should be clearly explained in your conversation with the top performer. Attention should be drawn to your own positive achievements, such as completed projects and successes within the company. In addition, strengths and skills should be named. This gives the writer an idea of the direction the letter of recommendation should take.

Allow sufficient time in advance: Writing a letter of recommendation always involves a lot of work. It is therefore sensible to ask the person concerned for the letter of recommendation with sufficient lead time. This way, the person can review your work performance and work ethic and write a high-quality letter of recommendation that is personalized around your activities.

Offer a template: You know best what successes have been achieved and projects completed. To make it as easy as possible for the writer at this point, you should summarize all major projects, successes and other information in a document and make it available to them. This gives the person a good source of orientation, and you will receive a letter of recommendation that aligns with your expectations.

 

Requesting the letter of recommendation from your former employer

If you are no longer employed by the company, you should contact your former employer by phone. It makes most sense to have the letter of recommendation issued by a superior on whom you have made a good impression in the past. To provide guidance to the person writing the letter, it is worthwhile preparing a document with all the necessary information that the letter of recommendation should contain. In this way, you can ensured that the right strengths and achievements are indeed highlighted in the letter of recommendation.


Freelancers

If a freelancer has their own website, they can specifically ask selected clients to provide an honest review/recommendation. For this purpose, clients who are well-disposed toward the freelancer should be contacted by phone or asked during a personal client meeting to either leave a review on the website or send a written review by e-mail. If the recommendation or reference is also to be printed in a client magazine, additional permission must be obtained from the client.

Positioning of the letter of recommendation within the application

The letter of recommendation is part of the attachment to the application. If it is included, it will also feature in the list of attachments. It should come directly after the CV. A reference to the letter of recommendation within the cover letter ensures that it is not overlooked by the recruiter. Some companies decide not to include a letter of recommendation, e.g. due to time constraints, but agree to include their contact details in the application. In this case, it is a good idea to include the following information of the recommender on a separate A4 sheet:

Title (if available), first name, last name
Position
Company
E-mail
Phone number/mobile number


What is the difference between this and a job reference?

Letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation is voluntary. The employee has no entitlement to a letter of recommendation, which is an individual, personal and appreciative letter. There is no concealed use of language (unlike in references) and there are no specifications regarding wording, structure and content.

Job reference

Every permanent employee has a legal right to a job reference. This is an objectively worded document and must be written in a benevolent manner. Covert codes are used to assess an employee's performance, and the use of customary reference language (e.g. "to the employer's fullest satisfaction") is mandatory.

How does the letter of recommendation differ from the letter of reference?

In practice, both terms are often used in the same context. In fact, however, there is a significant difference between the two terms. Compared to the letter of recommendation, the letter of reference is formulated in a more general manner. By contrast, the letter of recommendation has a very individual touch and is tailored to the recipient. In terms of structure, however, the two letters do not differ from each other. Further detailed information on the reference can be found here.