There may come a time when you are asked to provide a letter of recommendation for a friend, co-worker, student, or other individuals. And with the mass layoffs and furloughs caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, that time could very well be right now — especially given that approximately 50 million Americans have filed for unemployment.
Great Recession unemployment numbers aside, letters of recommendation can be requested for a variety of reasons. You can expect to see them come up for internships, college applications, and even volunteer positions, as well for employment. While an interview can say a lot about a person, having a great letter of recommendation on hand helps the applicant highlight reliable strengths about themselves and allows those they have worked with to share positive details that may ultimately win over the interviewing party.
To help you write a great letter of recommendation, we have a few tips and more information below:
What is a letter of recommendation?
As mentioned before, a letter of recommendation is used to add a reliable source of information about a person’s work ethic and performance. For this reason, the person asked to write the letter should have relevant experience and detail to offer. As an example, a casual friend isn’t typically ideal because while they may be able to vouch for your character, they can’t say much about your day-to-day performance at work and what value you added at your former position. A former boss or co-worker, on the other hand, has had direct experience working with you and can vouch for your skills in a particular area.
When asked to write a letter of recommendation, your first consideration should be whether or not you have the relevant knowledge of the person’s skills. If they’re applying for a university program with intensive studies, for example, you’ll want to be able to highlight positive aspects of their former work that will demonstrate their compatibility with the program. The same goes for any job or volunteer position. The more details you have about what the interviewer is looking for, and the more relevant your experience with the candidate is, the more likely it is that the content within your letter of recommendation will be effective.
In what situations is a letter of recommendation required or beneficial?
Generally speaking, most applications for educational studies will state in the application process that letters of recommendation are needed. This gives the applicant time ahead of the due date to seek out relevant professors and professionals who can write the letter. In other cases, a letter of recommendation may be requested after an interview. It’s always a good idea to have at least three professional references on hand who can vouch for your character and skill in the area you’re applying toward. References can act much like a letter of recommendation (both speak to your character and the relevance of your past work), but it’s equally important to bear in mind that letters take longer to write and should have more detail provided to ensure their relevance.
When you are asked to write a letter of recommendation, it’s important to have all the details you need from the person making the request. Questions like these can be helpful:
- Who is this letter of recommendation for?
- What are the top five qualities they’re looking for in applicants?
- What aspects of your work would you like me to mention?
- What do you feel are your greatest strengths I can touch on?
Letters of recommendation in and of themselves can be intimidating to write, but you can often find templates to help simplify the process. Another standard practice is to ask the person requesting the letter to write it themselves. That can give you a good idea of what they want, and pending your approval, you can sign the letter as your own and give it back to the applicant.
The Nuts and Bolts of the Recommendation Letter
All in all, the recommendation letter is simple. It should contain the following sections in one form or another:
- Introduction: A brief overview of your relation to the applicant, how long you have known them and professional information about your position and expertise.
- Strengths: Your own take on the applicant’s strengths in areas relevant to the position they’re applying for.
- Anecdote: One or two specific examples of how the applicant demonstrated relevant skill, work ethic or character.
- Closing summary: A few words that bring together why the applicant is suitable for the position they’re applying for.
- Signature: Your name and any relevant contact information.
Letters of Recommendation in Modern Times
The process of applying for jobs, programs and other opportunities have changed greatly over the years. Nowadays, online applications can be processed so quickly that many people can forget references and letters of recommendation altogether. When considering job applications and how letters of recommendation factor into them nowadays, it may be best to think about them in a more digital context.
For example, LinkedIn profiles have sections specifically made for other professionals to leave their personal recommendations toward a particular employee. Requesting someone to leave relevant, positive information about former work can be extremely effective, as it leaves a public and easily accessible recommendation that interviewers are likely to come across. So, depending on the situation an applicant is working from, you may be able to use other mediums to your advantage to provide letters of recommendation in a digital format.
When thinking about how to write your letter of recommendation, just remember to hit all the structural details needed and to keep things positive and relevant. Regardless of the medium you’re working with, keeping the content simple and straightforward will serve you well.