The thought of writing letters of recommendation may be one of the last things you contemplate. However, how many times have you, as a job seeker, needed a letter of recommendation and had to reach out to someone and ask for such a letter not knowing when you will get it or what will it look like?

I have written hundred letters of recommendation, in many different contexts, with the reasoning being scholarships, jobs, admissions into academic programs, awards and even leniency for someone who has run afoul of justice (not the point of this article, of course).  Most of the requests of me were made well in advance of the deadline for the goal the person asking was trying to achieve; however, occasionally I have one floated to me in the last minute, which puts pressure on all parties involved. Whether the timeline is reasonable or not, the requester can help the recommendation author by drafting the letter themselves and sending it to the author for edits. This takes far less time and has a greater degree of timely success than putting it in the hands of someone extremely busy who may not have it at the top of their lists of things to do.

Five Tips for Writing a Letter of Recommendation

Here are five tips that may make the letter of recommendation process go smoothly and hopefully, effective in its objectives.

1. Talk about yourself.

Before accusing me of being narcissistic, one must understand the person or agency who is the intended target of the recommendation probably does not know you. Therefore, you must sell them on why they should pay the least bit of attention to your opinion. Introduce yourself and talk about your experience with government, academia, the private sector or whatever else is relevant. Do not be bashful-take the same approach as if you were applying for the job. However, be brief. Two or three lines is enough.

2. Keep the letter to one page.

I use this format: a) who are you supporting or why are you writing it; b) why you should be listened to; c) why that person is so great and d) a summary.

3. Don’t recite their resume.

Talk only about your observations of their work ethic, intelligence, communication skills, and whatever else you may feel comfortable giving your opinion on.

4. Nonfiction, please.

If you do not know the person that well or cannot honestly say whether they are qualified for the job, either decline to write it in the first place or qualify your statements with something like: “while I have only interacted with Abby a few times this year, feedback I have heard from her coworkers and supervisors about her indicate she has a great work ethic”. While it is a bit weak, at least you are being honest.

5. If possible, stratify.

I am convinced, more often than not this works, especially when the reader is part of an organization that understands the power of stratification. If you are old, like me, and have a long history of supervising, teaching, observing and mentoring people, use that history for a powerful conclusion. For example:

“Of the nearly 10,000 airmen I have led or supervised in my thirty year military career, Abby ranks in the top 5% as far as work ethic and overall performance”

Whether writing the letter on your behalf or a person seeking your recommendation, this is essentially the blueprint and the rules I follow. While I cannot say what my success rate is of these letters meeting the requestor’s end goal, I can say they were delivered punctually, professionally and are consistent in format and style.


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Joe Jabara, JD, is the Director, of the Hub, For Cyber Education and Awareness, Wichita State University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty at two other universities teaching Intelligence and Cyber Law. Prior to his current job, he served 30 years in the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Kansas Air National Guard. His last ten years were spent in command/leadership positions, the bulk of which were at the 184th Intelligence Wing as Vice Commander.