The Lowdown on Recommendation Letters

Posted on Aug 1st, 2016 | Career, College

We all know that recommendation letters can play a pivotal role in the college application process. But do they work the same way in the professional world?

Some hiring managers will tell you that they’re not interested in recommendation letters. Others may prefer to speak to your former bosses and colleagues and ask questions rather than just read what they have to say.

But then there are those for whom recommendation letters are instrumental when making hiring decisions. And since you never know what the situation will be when you go to apply for jobs in the future, it’s a good idea to get your hands on some recommendation letters along the way.

Who to Ask
If you’re a student and have yet to hold a job, your best bet is to ask a teacher or professor who knows you well to write a recommendation. But if you’ve worked at all, even part-time, feel free to hit up your current or former supervisor to write a letter on your behalf.

If you’re already part of the working world and have a good relationship with your manager, he or she is a great candidate to author your letter of recommendation. But don’t limit yourself to your superiors; it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your colleagues to write recommendation letters as well.

When to Ask
Though it’s fine to go back to former colleagues or managers and ask for recommendation letters, you may be better off requesting them while your working relationship is still going strong. Remember, it takes time to write a good letter of recommendation, and some companies ask for written references up-front as part of the job application process. If you have a letter on file, you’ll be able to offer it up as needed.

Now if you’re thinking it could be awkward asking your current boss for a recommendation, well, you’re right. When approaching a manager, be sure to emphasize the fact that you’re not looking to leave your job, but rather just want something on file that speaks to your work ethic and capabilities. A good manager will understand where you’re coming from and will likely comply.

On the other hand, don’t be surprised if your boss or colleagues turn down your request. Unfortunately, some companies have policies that prohibit the endorsement of fellow employees in writing.

What You Want Your Letters to Say
Ideally, any letter of recommendation you get should be as personalized as possible. The person who authors the letter may throw in some buzz words or clichés, and that’s fine, but make sure the bulk of what’s written doesn’t come off as generic. A recommendation that reads like a form letter isn’t likely to do much for your career. What you really want is an endorsement that highlights your best traits as an employee and shows others why it’s a great idea to hire you versus someone else. If, for example, you’re good at staying calm under pressure or managing multiple projects at once, those are the sort of things you’ll want in a recommendation letter, along with specific examples that drive the point home.

Not Just on Paper
Your recommendation doesn’t have to come in the form of a formal letter. Sites like LinkedIn are also helpful for sourcing and displaying recommendations.

Finally, don’t discard older recommendation letters once you get new ones. A steady stream of accolades shows that your stellar performance is not just limited to a particular project or job, and if there’s one thing hiring managers are big on, it’s consistency.

Photo by frankieleon via cc.