We all know that having a strong professional network is essential to long-term professional success. And skilled networkers know that the key to establishing strong relationships is helping others and doing favors in order to establish good will.

One way to do this is to provide recommendation letters for those whom you’ve worked with upon request. In fact, it’s the ultimate expression of good will towards a colleague and one of the most appreciated professional favors your can do. Hiring managers use these letter to get a more well-rounded view of the candidate including who they know (especially important in sales), what they know and how well they know it. It can provide additional points in common to discuss during the interview.

As an executive recruiter, I guide candidates in gathering recommendation letters for jobs and here is the formula I urge recommenders to follow:

Gather background information
The often-neglected first step in how to write a recommendation letter is absolutely essential. Ask the candidate for information on the position and company, who the letter should be addressed to and also if there is anything in particular they would like you to highlight.

Establish the relationship
Tell the reader what makes you an authority on the candidate’s performance by explaining what your relationship is and in what ways you have worked together.

Evaluate his or her work
This is where you convey the quality of the candidate’s work and any relevant personality traits. There are generally many possibilities here so asking the candidate what you should focus on is useful.

Provide an anecdote
Recommendation letters have far more impact when they are illustrative. Provide an example of an instance in which the candidate’s performance was stellar.

Address potential concerns
The best recommendation letter is one that helps the employer move past any remaining concerns that the candidate is right for the job. If you can guess what those concerns may be – youth, lack of management experience, etc. – then convey why you feel that the candidate is right for the job nonetheless.

Be available for follow up
At the end of the letter provide your contact information and offer to be available for follow-up questions. Let the reader know the best way to schedule a call should they wish to speak.

One word of warning: only write truthful recommendation letters. Your letter is a reflection of your judgment and should never include exaggerations or half-truths. It is rare for a candidate to request a recommendation letter from someone they aren’t sure will have wonderful things to say although it does occasionally happen. If you can’t genuinely rave about the candidate then you may want to delicately decline to write the letter by explaining why you aren’t the appropriate person to highlight his or her talents.

Is there anything else that you like to include in recommendation letters? Share your tips below.