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Asking Someone to Write a Letter of Recommendation

For those new to the working world and with few contacts, a letter of recommendation can be very helpful. If you have little or no work experience, teachers that you have worked closely with are good prospects to write a recommendation.

How do you ask for a letter of recommendation, and whom should you ask? First think of managers, community leaders, or teachers who know you well and are able to make a reliable evaluation of your character and your ability. Do not expect people to make recommendations unless they know you well enough to make such a judgment.

Meet with your potential reference. Share a copy of your résumé. Describe your career goal and explain why you will succeed in that career. Ask that person if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you. Let him know that the job market is competitive and the recommendation would improve your chances.

If he says no, thank him for his time and tell him you understand. In some cases, it may be a school or company policy that prohibits certain employees from endorsing students or staff members. In other cases, the individual may not feel comfortable endorsing you. Ask him why he declined and ask if he could give you some feedback. If you have truly been close with this individual, the two of you should be able to talk candidly about your career.

When an individual agrees to write a letter, let him know your time constraints, if any. You may offer him a copy of the following guidelines, especially if he is not accustomed to writing letters of recommendation.

Guidelines for Preparing an Effective Letter of Recommendation

  1. Type the letter using a standard business format.

  2. Address the letter to "Human Resources Manager" or "Recruiting Manager." Since the letter will be used for many readers, personalizing the letter is not practical.

  3. Start your letter by explaining your relationship with the candidate. "I was Mary Johnson's professor and academic advisor for two years."

  4. Be honest. If you cannot honestly endorse this person, you must decline. It is not fair to the candidate or the recruiting employer.

  5. Review the candidate's résumé. Talk with him about his accomplishments and goals.

  6. Describe the candidate and support your description with specific examples from your experience with him. Try not to use the same examples that your candidate used on his résumé.

  7. Choose your words carefully. Instead of using generic adjectives such as "excellent," use ones that pinpoint the candidate's character and skills (e.g., innovative, articulate, persuasive or loyal).

  8. Since you know the candidate's career goals, try to use descriptions that correlate to those goals. What kind of skills and values would a Sales Manager want in a Sales Trainee? Which of those skills and values does your candidate possess? That's what you want to highlight.

  9. There are some general attributes that all employers are looking for in a candidate. Here are a few: intelligent, self-motivated, responsible, dependable, skilled communicator, flexible, innovative, confident, trustworthy, and willing to learn and grow.

Letters of recommendation can open the doors for people, especially those without a network of business contacts. If you are the beneficiary of a recommendation, be sure to take the time to support others as you become more experienced.

-Copyright © 2000-03 TD Strategies LLC