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Letter Of Recommendation

If you need to secure a good position in the work force or be admitted to a school of higher learning, you will probably need one or more letters of recommendation. Both employers and admissions boards need to know as much as possible about an applicant to determine his or her ability to perform adequately. Letters of recommendation provide information from a former employer or a credible associate who has been personally involved with the candidate. This outside source provides a valuable record of the candidate's previous experience and can testify to his or her skills and abilities. An effective letter of recommendation:

  • verifies experience
  • confirms competence
  • builds credibility
  • bolsters confidence

The information contained in a letter of recommendation depends on the type of letter and its intended audience. Information is often different for a letter written for an academic admissions board than one written for a prospective employer.

The Letter Writer

Choose who will represent you wisely. No one person can represent you accurately in all areas. Find someone who knows your strengths in the areas you need to satisfy the requirements of a particular employer or admissions board. Schedule a convenient time for you and your employer or advisor to meet. Review the requirements and expectations of the recommendation letter. This process helps the person who is writing the letter answer questions, clarify points that may need elaboration, and point out additional information that may be required. Make this process easy by providing all of the information needed so that you can obtain an accurate and positive recommendation.

When you request a recommendation, communicate your needs in a straightforward way. Explain what you are applying for and ask if the person can provide you with a good recommendation. If someone exhibits any uneasiness about providing you with a strong recommendation, be polite, thank him or her for their time and then look elsewhere. Choose someone who:

  • can provide a well-written letter
  • knows you well enough to be credible
  • thinks highly of you and your abilities
  • holds a respected position

Keep in mind that the recommender is doing you a favor and has a busy schedule with other commitments. Make sure you allow enough time so that he or she can provide you with a well-written and effective letter.

Writing Your Own Letter of Recommendation

Do not be surprised if a person you are asking for a recommendation asks you to write a first draft of the letter that he or she will then modify and sign. Begin by providing an accurate assessment of your strengths without dwelling on limitations. Letters of recommendation are intended to be positive and realistic evaluations of performance, competence, and capability. Do not be shy in communicating your strengths. Look at the following suggestions:

  • List your strengths, talents, and abilities. These may include diligence, punctuality, leadership, reliability, enthusiasm, creativity, independence, teamwork, organization, etc.
  • Highlight your strengths and accomplishments without bragging.
  • Choose several of your qualities and strengths that match the current situation; do not list everything you have ever done.
  • Use a professional vocabulary and style; write as if you were the employer providing the letter.

Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Someone Else

When you are asked to write a letter of recommendation, be honest in your assessment. Put yourself in the reader's position and consider what you would want to know if you were reading the letter. If you have concerns about specific areas, be up front with the requester when you are asked to write the recommend. There should be no surprises. A good way to create a letter of recommendation is to use pre-designed templates available in letter-writing products. Additionally, you should review writing samples to better understand the structure before you begin to write. Follow these steps to be fair to everyone involved:

  • Be honest about your feelings, intentions, and concerns. This will save time and embarrassment for both parties if you feel that you cannot provide a good recommendation.
  • If you are not sure what to write, ask the requester to provide a draft letter for you to review, edit, finalize, and sign.
  • Find out when the requestor needs the letter and be sensitive to deadlines.
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