Recommendation Letters: Definition and Types

An Overview of Recommentation Letters

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What Is a Recommendation Letter?

A recommendation letter is a written reference that offers information about your character. Recommendation letters may include details about your personality, work ethic, community involvement, and/or academic achievements.

Recommendation letters are used by many people for many different occasions. There are three basic categories or recommendation letters: academic recommendations, employment recommendations, and character recommendations.

Here is an overview of each type of recommendation letter along with information on who uses them and why.

Academic Recommendation Letters

Academic letters of recommendation are typically used by students during the admissions process. During admissions, most schools - undergraduate and graduate alike - expect to see at least one, preferably two or three, recommendation letters for each applicant.

Recommendation letters provide admission committees with information that may or may not be found in a college application, including academic and work achievements, character references, and personal details.

Students might request recommendations from former teachers, principals, deans, coaches, and other education professionals who are familiar with the student's academic experience or extracurricular achievements. Other recommenders may include employers, community leaders, or mentors. Learn more about requesting recommendation letters.

Employment Recommendations (Career References)

Letters of recommendation are often used by individuals who are trying to get a new job. Recommendations can be put on a website, sent in with a resume, supplied when an application is filled out, used as part of a portfolio, or handed out during employment interviews.

Most employers ask job candidates for at least three career references. Therefore, it's a good idea for jobseekers to have at least three recommendation letters on hand.

Generally, employment recommendation letters include information about employment history, job performance, work ethic, and personal accomplishments. The letters are usually written by former (or current employers) or a direct supervisor. Co-workers are also acceptable, but not as desirable as employers or supervisors.

Job applicants who do not have enough formal work experience to secure recommendations from an employer or supervisor should seek recommendations from community or volunteer organizations. Academic mentors are also an option. Get more tips on requesting career references.

Character References

Character recommendations or character references are often used for housing accommodations, legal situations, child adoption, and other similar situations where character may be called into questions. Almost everyone needs this type of recommendation letter at some point in their life. These recommendation letters are often written by former employers, landlords, business associates, neighbors, doctors, acquaintances, etc.

The most appropriate person varies depending upon what the letter of recommendation will be used for.

When to Get a Recommendation Letter

You should never wait until the last minute to get a recommendation letter. It is important to give your letter writers time to craft a useful letter that will make the right impression. Start seeking academic recommendations at least two months before you need them. Employment recommendations can be collected throughout your work life. Before you leave a job, ask your employer or supervisor for a recommendation. You should try to get a recommendation from every supervisor you have worked for. You should also get recommendation letters from landlords, people you pay money to, and people you do business with so that you have character references on hand should you ever need them.