In a very odd way, (i.e. polygamy) I’ve already introduced today’s post. However, unlike the last time I sat down to write, today I am focused and won’t veer off the subject of asking for and writing recommendation letters.
“I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I can sure pick smart colleagues.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt
I was recently asked to write a recommendation for a colleague of mine. Saying yes was a no-brainer. She’s a brilliant teacher and friend. However, while apparently I can wax eloquently (okay, I’m taking a bit of liberty with the word eloquent) about pot smoking, mullets, and bizarre marital scenarios; I have trouble when I sit to write a professional recommendation. It’s no easier for me when I‘m the one asking for the letter. The whole scenario, both asking for and writing these letters, is stressful.
Sociologist Scott Schaffer said, “Lists really get to the heart of what it is we need to do to get through another day on this planet.” So, to ease the stress, I shall make lists! (Meanwhile, if anyone knows Scott Schaffer, it sounds like he needs a hug.)
List #1: Asking a colleague to write you a letter of recommendation:
- Choose wisely when selecting who to ask. You want someone who’s worked with you and has a favorable impression of you professionally. (Duh, right? You’d be surprised …)
- Never add someone to your list of references without asking them first! Even if your recommender doesn’t have to write a letter, you don’t want them surprised by a phone call or email asking about you.
- Ask them early! Ideally you want to give them at least two weeks to write the letter.
- Arm them with information. You want it to be easy for them to write the best letter for you. (Your resume, the job description and (if needed) an addressed/stamped envelope are good ideas.)
- If someone takes the time to write you a recommendation letter, you should take the time to write a thank you note … on paper … with an actual pen … perhaps even a stamp.
List #2: Writing a recommendation letter:
- You should not agree to write the letter if the only nice things to say about the person are: “Her antics at the Christmas party keep morale high throughout the year.” or “He has a nice haircut and is always clean.” If you don’t hold them in high professional regards – just say no.
- Write a strong letter. The words we choose have power. Your letter could be the difference between the “No thanks” pile and the “Interview” pile. As Uncle Ben said to Spiderman, “… with great power comes great responsibility.”
- Meet their deadline. Your strong letter does them no good if it’s too late to be considered.
- If it’s an electronic application be sure to tell them when the letter is submitted.
- Keep it private. Leave the decision to tell others about their job search up to them.
Best wishes to all those out there searching for jobs!