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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Keeping a Recommendation Letter Professional

Maintaining your professional reputation is important for career success and you should keep that in mind, as you go about performing your work every day. Writing a recommendation letter for someone is not the time to become ‘complacent’ about the image of professionalism you put forth for others to see. Complacency is a career killer!

Recommendation letters should be clear and concise. You should stick to the facts about this employee’s performance as an employee in your company. How well they met job expectations, did they work well with others? Did they have independent initiative that helped to get work done more efficiently? Did they have skills that were an asset to the company? Etc.

A recommendation letter is not the time to ‘get back’ at someone just because your personalities never quite meshed. Not unless this person’s personality was so negative that it affected his/her productivity and the productivity of those working with them. In that case, it is far better to be up-front with the person asking for a recommendation letter from you. Honestly offer to them your feedback on their performance as an employee, and whether they really want you to write a recommendation letter that reflects those opinions.

By the same token, you should avoid writing overly ‘glossy’ recommendation letters for those employees you have developed a close working relationship with, and especially with those you have developed friendships with outside of work. Again, stick to the facts about how this employee has performed in their capacity as an employee for your company. Although it is “admirable” that your friend and co-worker picks up stray animals and finds them homes in their spare time-this has no bearing on how skilled they are at work. Not unless the work they are applying for is related to animal welfare.

Always bear in mind that a recommendation letter is not just for the person for whom you write it. It also reflects upon you as a professional. If you write an overly “aggressive” recommendation letter, either with a positive or negative tone, this will ‘diminish’ your professional reputation among the other professionals. Don’t insult the intelligence of those that a recommendation letter is meant to be forwarded to eventually. Such actions will ultimately do more harm than good. Both to your professional reputation, but possibly to the reputation of the person for who you wrote the recommendation letter for.

Monday, May 15, 2006

How To Write A College Recommendation Letter

Prospective college students are usually required to submit personal recommendations as part of their application. These recommendations often come from teachers and guidance counselors. Sometimes, however, students ask others such as employers, volunteer coordinators, clergy, family friends and neighbors to write recommendations for them. If you are asked to write a college recommendation for a student, here are some guidelines to help you write a useful letter.

1. Ask the student questions before writing the letter. Ask what colleges he is applying to and what he will be majoring in. Also, ask if there is anything specific he would like you to include in the letter. You don’t have to put it, but he may have some ideas that you think are good that you may not have thought of on your own.

2. College admission officers mainly want to know that the prospective student has the skills necessary to be successful in school. When writing your letter, focus on the positive qualities that you know the student has that will help him succeed. Organizational skills, determination, time management, problem solving skills and responsibility are all good areas to focus on. If you can, give concrete ways in which you’ve seen the student display these skills.

3. Focus mainly on skills that are relevant to success in college and the major. If your babysitter asks for a recommendation and she is planning to major in economics, focus on skills such as reliability and problem solving skills, not on her great ability with kids. However, if she is majoring in early childhood education, focus on her skills with children.

4. Once you know what you want to say, here is how to organize a one page letter. First, introduce how you know the student and how long you’ve known her. You can say something like, “I have been Jane Doe’s manager at McDonalds for two years, and I am glad to recommend her to your school.” Then, get right into the qualities you see that she has that will make her a successful student and an asset to their school. Finish up with a paragraph that includes a sentence like, “If have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at...” Rarely will a school call, but they like to have the option.

5. One big don’t – Don’t allow the student to write the letter and have you just sign it.

How to Request a Recommendation Letter from a Former Employer

The best time to get a recommendation from an employer you’re leaving on good terms with is once you’ve given notice of your intent to leave your position. However, it is not uncommon to request a recommendation letter from a former employer, even 6 months to a year after you have left the company. It isn’t advisable to request a recommendation letter from a former employer if it’s been more than 2 years since you worked for them. Time has a way of causing memory to ‘fog’ and this is especially true in large companies wherein the employer has numerous ‘present day’ employees to keep tabs on.

If you had a super-close working relationship with your former employer: you might get away with a simple phone call to him or her requesting a recommendation letter from them. Keep in mind that it is much more professional to send your former employer a letter of request for a recommendation letter, and unless you are absolutely certain that your busy, former employer will be receptive to an incoming call, send a letter instead.

Sending a letter to request a recommendation letter from a former employer is a professional ‘courtesy’ that demonstrates that you respect the demands placed upon his or her time and how ‘valuable’ the time to respond to your request for a recommendation letter is. Most employers will tell you that they are more receptive to receiving letters requesting recommendations because letters can be put aside until time allows for them to be considered, written, and sent.

When you send your letter requesting a recommendation letter from a former employer it is advisable to mention some of the work you completed for the employer in your position with them., just to ‘jog’ their memory a bit. If you were responsible for the successful completion of some important projects, by all means: mention them.Don’t forget to share with your former employer your appreciation for the skills you gained while in their employ. If possible, illustrate how you intend to use those skills in the new position you’re seeking.

Include a SASE with your letter requesting a recommendation and respectfully request that your former employer send a response even if they decide that they are unable to grant you a recommendation letter. Remember that the more ‘courtesy’ you show to your former employer, the more likely you are to receive a positive recommendation letter from them.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Being Thorough In Your Letter of Recommendation

If you have ever been asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone who is applying for a new job, you may be experiencing the feeling of dread as you are not exactly sure what this person has accomplished or what their goals might be. In order to be thorough in your recommendation letter, it is best if you sit down with the applicant who wishes the letter to be written and interview them to get all the information to help you to write a thorough letter of recommendation.

The first thing you will want to ask is what they have for short term and long term goals. This may be going to a certain school or finding the career that best suits them. You will also want to question what they have achieved so far and what they feel is their biggest accomplishment so far. You may also want to ask them for any copies of employee reviews they may have from previous employers, as well. All of this information will be helpful for you to write the recommendation letter.

Another thing you will want to get is a list of adjectives of how the applicant describes themselves. For example, what adjective would describe your work style best? What adjective would describe your personality? Find out what they consider their strengths to be, as well as their weaknesses. You may also ask how they feel previous co-workers or peers would describe them. All of this information that you gather from the interview may not be used, but it will help you to write a thorough letter of recommendation.

Once you have finished interviewing the applicant, you will also want to find out how many copies of the letter he or she needs, as well as when they need the letter done. The applicant should provide you with a list of where the letters should be sent to, although it is preferred to get addressed, stamped envelopes. Do not be afraid to ask this of the applicant as they are the ones requesting you to do them a favor.

Writing a letter of recommendation does not have to be difficult. If you are worried that you may not have enough information on the applicant to write a thorough recommendation letter, it is very important to sit down with the applicant and gather enough information for you to do so.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tips For Obtaining Recommendation Letters

If you are just out of school and entering the workforce, or simply changing jobs, chances are you’ll need a few recommendation letters. Any business person who is high in the corporate ladder knows that writing recommendation letters is a normal part of business. Don’t feel bad or afraid to ask your boss, supervisor, or professor to write you one. There are, however, certain things you can do to make sure the recommendation letters you receive are the best they can be.

When choosing who to ask to write you a recommendation letter, choose someone who knows you well. Honestly ask that person if they’d be able to write you a positive one. It will save you both a lot of time if you ask upfront if they see you as being qualified enough to get a recommendation from them.

Make sure the letter writer knows exactly what you want the recommendation letter to highlight about you. It goes without saying that you should choose people who are satisfied with your work to write the letters. So if there is anything you want the letter to reference, such as a promotion or award you won, don’t hesitate to ask them to include it.

You should have at least three recommendation letters. They don’t all have to be former employees. Professors, teachers, advisors, and even clients make good candidates (This is why you never want to “Burn Bridges” with anyone). Provide the letter writer any updated information about you (such as a resume) especially if time has passed since you last worked with them.

Make sure you give the letter writer ample time to write it. Writing recommendation letters isn’t on the top of a busy person’s list. Asking for a completed letter by the end of the week (or worse, by the end of the day) is simply unprofessional. Give the person at least a month and let them know the exact deadline well in advance.

Don’t ask to read recommendation letters. The writer will either mail it to the appropriate place (in which case you should provide a pre-addressed stamped envelope) or give it to you sealed. Try not to agonize over it. If you have a good relationship with the letter writer, you should have nothing to worry about.

Recommendation Letters

Welcome to my recommendation letters blog. Every month I will post tips on how to write great recommendation letters.