Bridge Insights

A Complete Guide to Letters of Recommendation

May 14, 2020

After your interview, most companies will perform a background check on their top candidates. This can include a criminal background screening, calling your references, and even screening an applicant’s social media profiles. When it’s down to you and a few other applicants, what an employer finds during this process can make or break their decision to offer you a job.

Letters of recommendation can be a great way to set yourself apart from other professionals during this process. Because a recommendation letter is typically not part of the “required” documents a prospective employer will ask for, many job seekers forget that providing a letter is an option. And this is EXACTLY why they go such a long way.

But not all letters of recommendation are made equally! If you’re not quite sure who to ask or how to use your letter once it’s written, here are a few tips to help you get started:

What Is so Special About a Letter of Recommendation?

Although letters of recommendation are rarely required for a job interview or reference check, they serve to boost the brand of you. Simply showing an employer that someone who can speak to your character and work ethic was willing to take the time to write a personal message touting your value is impressive; it shows you made a positive, lasting impact on this person and the company, you work well with others, are coachable, and are willing to go above and beyond the bare minimum.

[blockquotes color=”highlight” quote=”yes”] When you hand a letter of recommendation to an employer, you are handing them proof that you are the best candidate for the job[/blockquotes]

Who Should I Ask?

Selecting who to ask for a letter of recommendation can be tricky. It is best to ask someone who was a mentor to you in some way. This could be someone like a former supervisor or manager, teacher, or coach. Avoid asking individuals you have asked to be a reference; you do not want to risk a positive review by asking too much from one person.

Try to avoid asking a relative or a friend. These people may be able to write raving reviews about you, but their personal relationship with you gives their letter a bias.

How Should I Ask?

Now that you know who you’re going to ask, the next step is working up the nerve to ask them!

Believe me, I get it. Asking someone for a letter is scary, but once it’s written you’ll have it forever. What’s a few minutes doing something that makes you uncomfortable compared to the long-term boost to your professionalism? Here is what I like to do:

Open with a compliment about their professionalism or your working relationship with them. You may even want to state how they had a major impact in shaping the professional standing in front of them. (Yes, if you have the option to ask in person, do it!)

The person you asked may have some questions for you in terms of any accomplishments or character components they should mention in their letter, as well as a timeline for when they should have their letter to you.

Ensure you have thought about these things before your conversation, and make sure you give your writer enough time to write your letter without feeling rushed. When asking, it is important to frame your question in a way that doesn’t make the task of writing a letter seem daunting for them.

[blockquotes color=”highlight” logo=”yes”]Looking for Open Positions?

How Many Letters Do I Need?

For many people having one or two letters is enough. Again, if you don’t have a letter of recommendation, it usually is not a dealbreaker for your reference list. However, if you’re ten years into your career and you’re sporting a letter of recommendation from your High School English teacher, it may be time to ask someone else.

Letters of recommendation also are not a case of “the more the merrier”. While it is great if you get multiple people to write you one, presenting them all to one employer lessens the impact letters of any individual recommendation you have.

How Do I Use My Letter?

Because it is rare an employer will explicitly ask for your letter, it can be hard to know when you should provide yours. The short answer is: At the same time you provide your references.

Giving your letter to a prospective employer as part of your “reference documents” can go a long way. Some professionals prefer to provide their references along with their resume during their interview and that is fine, too.

Will you be at a disadvantage if you don’t have a letter of recommendation? No. But letters of recommendation can heavily sway an employer’s decision-making process –especially you have one and the other equally qualified applicants don’t.

Aside from appearing more prepared and serious about your job search, these letters provide a first-hand testimonial of what it is like to manage/coach you in ways your interview (and references) cannot. When you provide your letter of recommendation to an employer, you are literally handing them proof that you are the best candidate for the job.