Writing a letter of recommendation for a former employee is more than just an afterthought. Indeed, a well-written letter of recommendation is not only an asset to the employee, but to their former company as well. A letter demonstrating professionalism and respect for the employee will reflect positively on the company, and as an employer, you owe such a courtesy to your former employees.
With that being said, there are two main factors to consider when writing a letter of recommendation: the format and etiquette of the letter, and the avoidance of inflated language.
A letter of recommendation should consist of approximately 200 words, including the greeting and closing. Truly professional letters always follow the same formula: a salutation, an introductory paragraph, two body paragraphs, and a short conclusion followed by a signature. Your language should be precise and to the point, and you should not mention anything negative about the employee.
Salutation and Introduction
Begin the first line with "To Whom It May Concern:" and start a new paragraph for the introduction. Briefly establish that the letter is a professional recommendation, and state your relationship with the employee. The introduction should not go into great detail on anything but these matters.
First Body Paragraph
This is the cornerstone of the letter. Briefly touch on the employee's specific duties at the company, but do not give a full job description. Instead, focus on broad character traits, such as leadership skills and work ethics.
Second Body Paragraph
Focus on the individual's impact on the company itself. Did they increase profits? Did they improve the morale of the other employees? Again, be broad in your descriptions, and reaffirm the traits established in the previous paragraph.
Conclusion and Signature
Restate the fact that you recommend the employee in question for any organization. Start a new line, begin the signature with "Sincerely," and include your job title and company.
Two recent University at Albany studies found that "inflated" language, such an unnecessary exaggerations and descriptions of attractiveness, directly affected the hiring process. Individuals with exaggerated traits and physical descriptions were hired more frequently than others.
However, you owe it to your employees to be honest and fair. Never mention physical characteristics, and be honest about their abilities. Doing so will reflect better on both the employee and your company in the future.