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In a recommendation letter, the first time I mention the person the letter is for, I would use the full name (e.g. Mr John Sawyer).

However, for subsequent mentions of the person, the last name (Mr Sawyer) looks a little too distant and archaic to me as opposed to using the person's given name (John).

Is there is a cultural difference between European and American letters in this regard?

  • Which country are you working in? – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 9 '14 at 19:56
  • Germany. But the recommendation letter might be used all over Europe and perhaps even in the US. – Bentley4 Oct 9 '14 at 20:08
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From my point of view (UK): I really don't care if you call him "John", "Mr Sawyer" or anything else so long as it's not "that idiot who I'd never hire again". It's the candidate I'm evaluating, not you. Sure, you don't want a recommendation letter which is barely readable, but as long as I can understand from the letter how good the candidate is, that's all I care about.

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I understand that you Europeans are far more formal than we Americans (and Australians and Canadians), so you might consider writing two versions of your letter: one for EU consumption and one for us. However, if you write us formally, we are VERY unlikely to hold it against you :) Come to think of it, your writing style might even be a welcome change of space from some of our university graduates who couldn't spell even with a spell checker :)

  • Thanks for your perspective. I got the impression (from SO, fora and blogs) that considerable European tech startups have hiring procedures more closely to the American ones now. I've heard e.g. about some companies who provide a code challenge in a job application and don't even want to look at the resume to not be biased in their interpretation of the results. I thought such companies would be a little bit repelled of the formalism. But then again, would a company not consider checking out someone more closely just because his last name was used to refer to him in a recommendation letter? – Bentley4 Oct 9 '14 at 21:35
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    @Bentley4 That's reaching an awful lot of conclusions from a couple of appellations in a single letter :) Everyone is looking for good software engineers, and good software engineers are not a dime a dozen. Would a prospective employer turn down a candidate because he addressed the prospective employer as "Mr. John Smith"instead of "John"? Yes, if the prospective employer is a fool or aspires to be a fool. Personally, I don't see why I should go to war with you because you addressed me as "Mr. Vietnhi Phuvan" instead of "Vietnhi" :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 9 '14 at 21:59
  • #\@Bentley4 People have from time to time treated my full name as an expletive but that's they because they know me :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Oct 9 '14 at 21:59
  • Or rather than 'repelled' (mentioned in my comment), that these potential future employers might infer that the person from which this recommendation letter is coming from holds value to this formalism. This could increase the chance of them thinking the recommending company does not exists out of a group of capable and pragmatic individuals who see through unnecessary rituals. – Bentley4 Oct 9 '14 at 22:00

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