Monday, February 8, 2021

Why You Need a Letter of Recommendation Now

Since the pandemic began, many people have been laid off, or taken positions that "underemploy" them. In other words, they haven't been in their "real" job for some time.

As the job market starts to improve this year, many people will want to return to their "real" jobs. The competition will be keen, of course, so that means those who are well-prepared, focused in their search efforts and finding ways to stand out will have a better chance of landing a new job sooner rather than later.

One way to get an edge on the competition is through a recommendation. While some employers don't ask for a recommendation until a job candidate is in the final stages of consideration, you can also offer a letter of recommendation when you apply for a job.

Even if the application is made online, there's no reason you can't send a letter of recommendation to the hiring manager or even the company's human resources department as a way to open the door a little wider. 

Some may feel a little reticent about asking for a letter of recommendation, but that's negative thinking. First, managers tell me they get such requests all the time, even from employees that they may have supervised decades ago. Second, the only thing that can happen is the person ignores you or declines to write the letter. If that happens, you're no worse off than before.

Still, there is a proper way of asking for a recommendation. Do it well, and the person may come through for you. Do it poorly, and you're likely to not get a letter.

Here's how to ask:

1. Choose your targets. A former boss makes sense -- especially from your last job -- as this person can speak directly to your work ethic, talents, soft and hard skills, etc. But also think about those who have watched you work, such as someone at a volunteer organization or colleagues that worked closely with you. Family and friends aren't good choices as employers will see these as biased.

2. Make contact. Send an email or make a phone call to the person to make your request. Tell them that you're applying for jobs and you are trying to be proactive by also supplying employers with a recommendation letter.  

3. Prepare. Don't just expect someone to write a letter of recommendation about you without some context. If you do, you're risking a very generic, uninspiring letter. Instead, you want to supply key information so the letter is targeted and favorable. Send the person your current resume and remind them of your key skills that also match the job you're seeking. For example, you may want to remind the person of how you're detail-oriented, have the right technical skills, are a team player and have a great work ethic. You might want to even mention one or two examples of these skills to jog the person's memory. (You can even attach examples of recommendation letters.)

4. Deadline. Mention the deadline in your initial call and then post it in bold in your email.

5. Send a thank-you note. Always follow up with an appreciative email -- a handwritten note is even better -- once you receive the recommendation.

Start getting prepared now to be proactive once jobs start to become available in your chosen field. Make sure your resume is polished, your interview suit still fits and letter(s) of recommendation are ready to go.

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