Letters of Recommendation – How & Who to Ask?

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation

Recently, I had asked a long-time friend for a reference for myself and our business. When asked, he was more than willing and happy to do so and this was much appreciated! We’ve had a long history as friends/colleagues so he had a pretty good scope to draw from to write on my behalf, but his first response, was “can you write it up and I’ll edit it and send it back?”

Which got me to thinking as I’ve noticed that this now seems to be the new exchange in the way letters of reference/recommendation are being done the majority of the time? I’ve worked with many college students over the years and this was a common theme; they’d ask a professor or supervisor who’d request something to be written and then they’d edit, remark and send it in as a reference.

I wrote back saying, “I really appreciate your willingness to write this up for me, but if I did it that way, it’d be written in my own words?” What I really am asking for is that it is written in YOUR words, YOUR observations as I’d really prefer it to be objective and not influenced by my own evaluation. Afterwards, he wrote a wonderful, thoughtful recommendation on my behalf, most important to me though, was that it was his words, his observations, not mine.

This ‘new-ish’ transaction style in referral and recommendation writing has, to me, somehow devalued the process and with the assumption, or even the expectation, that a letter or recommendation is now to some degree partially self-authored, makes it less credible in the process of the reader being able to be properly vetting good candidates.
With that, here are some thoughts on how to ask for a letter of recommendation in your job search as you’re to be looking for that first job? Perhaps making a transition? You’ll need a reference or letter of recommendation. Especially, if you’re soon to be a college graduate, this can be a daunting task, asking someone to speak on your behalf, but it is an important part of the post-graduate, getting hired process.

What are references/recommendations used for?

On the average, employers will check two to three references for your potential candidacy, so it’s important to have established a few relationships with professors, administrators, supervisors and, if working, colleagues and/or your boss. It’s paramount to know your reference(s), to select the right people, and to get their permission to use them as such.  The references and/or recommendations will be used by employers in the process of, hopefully, getting an outside, objective assessment on your work habits, works style, moral and ethical standing and trying to look ahead by examining past performances and relationships for potential fit within their organization.

Who should you ask to provide references?

Generally, there are two types of referrals; the ‘high-profile one’ and the one who knows you, in depth, really well. In a ‘perfect world,’ that person will be one-in-the-same?  It’s great to have someone author a letter on your behalf, especially if they have prominence or credibility within their field of expertise.  But, if they do not know you, have not worked with you or seen you in class or a work-related context, they will have a difficult time writing anything other than something very generic.

When thinking about who you want to ask to author for yourself, It’s very important to have a good sense of how well they know you, the context of such, and what they are going to say about you, your background and your performance? A reference can be from one of many sources; business acquaintances, professors/academic advisers, customers, and vendors can all make good references. If you volunteer consider using leaders or other members of the organization as personal references too.

How To Ask For a Letter of Recommendation?

Once you’ve decided on who you’d like as an author for a letter of reference or recommendation, don’t immediately ask them, “could you write a letter of reference for me?” Remember, anyone willing can write you a letter but would you want them to? The issue here is what they are going to write about?

So after deciding on who can author on your best behalf, questions and approaches to have are more along the lines of “do you feel you know my work well enough to write me a good recommendation letter?” or “do you feel you could give me a good reference based on my past performance?”

This way, your reference writer has been selected by you with a relationship and past context in mind and you can be relatively assured that those who agree to do so will be enthusiastic and authentic about your performance, writing you a positive letter specific to an opportunity.

When approaching a potential letter author, offer to provide an updated copy of your resume and information on your skills and experiences so the reference writer has some context and current information to work with. This will make the process much easier for them and the willingness to then say “yes” is more the likely.

Remember that references and recommendations are all a part of the networking and relationship management you’re needing to be doing as you look to enter or transition in the workforce. This is a relatively easy thing to do but takes time to do so. Keep these relationships fresh, up to date with what you’ve done, you’re doing in the moment, and what you aspire to be doing in the future!

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