Recommending You

August 28, 2013

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So you’ve just completed your summer internship and now have eyes on getting a job. And you might have heard that a good way to do that is by getting a letter of recommendation from your current boss. However, there might be one thing you need to consider.  When you ask for a recommendation, you may get this kind of response:  “Okay sure. Why don’t you go ahead and write one up and I’ll sign it.” This is especially common if you’re a congressional intern, where chances are high that the person you’re wanting a recommendation from is handling a very large amount of such requests. So, here are the three main points to remember when writing your own letter of recommendation.

Target Your Letter

This is probably the most important thing you can do. Tailor your letter of recommendation for whatever job or position it is you’re going for. It should essentially be a cover letter, and not a generic rundown of your accomplishments. Use the job description as a check list; and if there’s anything on that list that coincides with something in your current job, then write about it.  “Providing a clear picture of your capabilities, accomplishments and then adding an endorsement really gives the recruiter an idea of what it would be like to work with you,” said Jenny Holte, lead recruiter with Twin Cities-based CorTalent, a people management and consulting services firm. She advises to be concise, specific, and to laser focus your letter to what it is you want to do. It’s the best way to make a good impression.

writing your own reference letterAvoid the Fluff

There’s two mistakes to avoid when writing about yourself. One is to be too timid and too modest about your accomplishments, which is normal because a lot of people might be uncomfortable praising themselves. This is especially true if you’re the shy type. Letters of recommendations are, after all, laudatory. So, don’t be bashful when it comes to listing your good qualities.

The second mistake is writing something like this: “[Insert name]’s brilliance is on a superhuman level. There’s not even a need for congressional committees anymore.” Readers will respond much better to well-balanced letters than ones filled to the brim with superlatives. A letter should highlight two or three specific qualities, accomplishments, and/or achievements that are relevant to the job you’re going for. That’s far more effective than one that covers all your positive traits, which really doesn’t say anything about you at all. Specificity is always the goal here. And less is always more.

young man applying for jobBe Authentic

Always remember that you’re not only writing this letter for a prospective employer, you’re also writing it for the person recommending you. In this way your recommender serves two roles. First, as your supervisor providing mentoring and professional development by asking you to write your own letter. And second, as the aforementioned recommender. The responsibility of assessing your performance and accurately articulating that externally is yours. This means you will have to refer to yourself in the third person, while writing it in the same voice as your supervisor. Make sure the letter matches the same tone as other letters he or she has written as well. Authenticity is what will sell it.

Many students and recent grads approach their professors or bosses for recommendations. And sometimes the best person to write about what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve achieved is you. Using the above points as a guide can help make sure that you compose the right kind of letter for the right kind of job. Be accurate, be honest, and most importantly, be yourself.

 

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