What should a letter of recommendation contain

By Gunnar Szymaniak

1. What is a letter of recommendation?

2. What are the advantages of letters of recommendation?

3. Who can issue a letter of recommendation?

4. What is the content of a letter of recommendation?

5. What is the form of a letter of recommendation?

6. Are there any "negative" letters of recommendation?

1. What is a letter of recommendation?

In the professional area, it is a voluntarily issued written recommendation through which the exhibitor wishes to support the career or a specific application of the person recommended. Letters of recommendation can also be issued for someone who is applying for admission to a business school, rental apartment or membership in a golf club. The letter of recommendation was already an important communication tool in antiquity and was used by travelers in particular until the invention of electrical telecommunications, in order to receive accommodation and support from afar or to receive money from friends or business partners of the exhibitor. Letters of recommendation have always played an important role in the academic field.

In a letter of recommendation, which is enclosed with application documents, the issuer of the letter usually briefly describes his relationship with the applicant, evaluates or praises his work and personality and makes a recommendation. The letter of recommendation should, if possible, be characterized by a benevolent or even friendly attitude and convey to the reader that there is a relationship of trust between the exhibitor and the applicant. Some letters of recommendation ask the reader to contact the exhibitor if they need further information and provide their contact details. They serve as preparation for establishing contact between a potential new employer and a previous employer of the applicant.

> Back to the topic selection

2. What are the advantages of letters of recommendation?

The fact that recognized personalities volunteer for an applicant with a letter of recommendation and put their good reputation "in the balance" creates trust and testifies to the social competence and good networking of an applicant.

If it is not legally possible to issue a job reference (e.g. in the case of a self-employed consultant or a managing director who was also the majority shareholder of the company he runs) or if only a meaningless text module certificate was issued, a letter of recommendation can state the work successes, professional qualifications and prove an applicant's social skills.

In a convincing presentation of the previous performance of an applicant in the letter of recommendation, a potential employer or client can recognize his own problem and ask the applicant to solve it as well.

A letter of recommendation is a good preparation for a conversation between a potential employer and a previous employer or client, as it already defines the topics of the conversation.

Since letters of recommendation are issued voluntarily and therefore require a relatively good relationship between the exhibitor and the applicant, employees are usually more able to influence the content of a letter of recommendation than the content of a job reference.

> Back to the topic selection

3. Who can issue a letter of recommendation?

In principle, anyone can write a letter of recommendation. However, the issue of a letter of recommendation for professional purposes by friends or relatives is usually not useful and possibly even harmful, unless the person concerned is particularly well-known.

Who is eligible as an exhibitor depends on the applicant's situation and profession. Teachers or professors can write letters of recommendation for schoolchildren or students, customers or project partners can do this for freelancers, and the company's shareholders or well-known personalities from the industry can write letters of recommendation for managing directors or board members.

The exhibitor should meet the following requirements:

A. He should have worked as closely as possible and over a longer period of time with the applicant and know him so well that, for example, he remembers the applicant even months later and can confirm the information in the letter of recommendation.

B. If possible, he should have more knowledge and experience in the applicant's area of ​​competence so that he can credibly assess the applicant's performance and potential.

C. He should be trustworthy based on his professional or social position and independent of the applicant.

> Back to the topic selection

4. What is the content of a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation usually contains the following information:

A. Heading: Reference, Recommendation, Letter of Reference, or Letter of Recommendation
B. Applicant's full name
C. Reason for issuing the letter of recommendation
D. Period in which the exhibitor observed the applicant or worked with him
E. Type of cooperation or relationship of dependency of the applicant on the exhibitor
F. Essential tasks or areas of activity as well as integration of the applicant in the organization
G. Skills and knowledge of the applicant related to his area of ​​responsibility
H. Work results or particular successes of the applicant from the point of view of the exhibitor
I. Typical characteristics of the applicant
J. Potential statement: what does the exhibitor trust the applicant in the future?
K. Possibly a statement of satisfaction, similar to that in the job reference
L. Recommendation and, if necessary, a request to contact us by telephone and telephone number of the exhibitor
M. Thanks and, if necessary, wishes for the future
N. Date of issue
O. Signature of the exhibitor and also his name (and, if applicable, his position in the organization)

> Back to the topic selection

5. What is the form of a letter of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation in German-speaking countries tend to be shorter than job references and are often issued on one A4 page, or on two A4 pages for a longer period of employment or a more complex job profile. The letter should be created error-free and properly formatted in accordance with the customs of written business transactions and should not distract from the content by an unusual design. The name and address of the exhibitor, and possibly also the telephone number, should be given, if possible in the letterhead. If the letter is written on behalf of a company by a representative of the company, it should be drawn up on business stationery. The letter is dated and signed.

> Back to the topic selection

6. Are there any "negative" letters of recommendation?

It is possible for companies to obtain information from previous employers of an applicant and to receive verbal or written warnings about the recruitment of the applicant. Such information is possible in Germany, whereby according to the BAG the following applies: "[...] the employer must be able to obtain information about the applicant. In such a case, the employer's interests in the necessary information and the limits of the applicant's area of ​​protection apply to be weighed against each other, and it is to be determined whether the general personality rights of the applicant deserve priority. " (BAG, 06.06.1984, BB 1984, p. 2130.)

However, they contain letters of recommendation that are issued to an employee or contractor at his request in order to support him with applications, or that at the request of the employee or contractor are sent directly to potential new employers or clients by the previous employer or client Usually no criticism or only benevolent criticism regarding unimportant areas in which the applicant still has development potential. Particularly in the academic field and in letters of recommendation from career starters, a combination of praise for performance in core areas with indications of development potential in less important areas can help ensure that the letter of recommendation conveys a particularly credible impression of the person, based on the motto "Nobody is perfect". If a letter of recommendation is issued by a company and formulated like a job reference, it should, if possible, not contain any criticism, since direct criticism in references is very rare and a critical statement in such a letter of recommendation could put off readers.

In principle, the applicant's strengths should be emphasized in a letter of recommendation; he can comment on his weaknesses himself in discussions with potential employers or clients. Issuing a letter of recommendation to a person whose performance and personal integrity one is not entirely convinced of should be declined rather than a cautious recommendation.

> Back to the topic selection