Monday, May 8, 2017

4 Keys for a Recommendation Letter

I recently helped a colleague whittle down the number of resumes for a new position.

As I sifted through dozens of cover letters and online applications, I noticed that only a few included letters of recommendations.

As I read the letters, I wondered why more of the job prospects didn't offer something similar. Why? Because the letters provided something that was critical: A professional perspective of the applicant's ability to perform in a workplace and get the job done.

For me, it put the skills of the applicant into perspective. For example, one applicant said that she had experience with project management. But a former supervisor wrote a recommendation letter, outlining how those project management skills kept the entire team on track, and were so critical to meeting customer deadlines.

Now, that's something that stood out because it helped me see how she could transfer those skills into a new job.

With the competition for jobs (especially with new graduates entering the marketplace), consider how to help your recommendation letters stand out. Here are some ideas:

  • Get specific.  Think back on an instance that you felt showcased your best skills. Perhaps you helped resolve a big customer dispute; you came up with a new idea that launched a successful product; or you were seen as the "quality control" person for the team. Remind your references of such situations -- they'll appreciate not having to dig through their own memories.
  • Highlight important skills. Sometimes job seekers get such generic recommendations the letter writer could be talking about anyone. Let the reference know the key skills that are being sought in the position, so they can target things like being a team player or being able to work under the pressure of deadlines.
  • Cast a wide net. Don't think that references can only come in the form of former employers or teachers. If your pastor or rabbi has worked closely with you on a spring break project, for example, then think about having him or her write a letter outlining your ability to work collaboratively. In addition, the more diversity you have in your references, the better able you will be to offer the right reference for various employers or jobs.
  • Offer a template. If you think your reference is fine with recommending you -- but uncomfortable in writing the letter -- offer a template. There are several offered online, such as here. 
What do you like to see included in a recommendation letter?

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