The Artful Recommendation Letter

I love to write recommendation letters. It’s an everyday application of my fascination with biography. On occasion I read reference letters that don’t do what they could to make an individual stand out from the pack.

Two simple tips:

Emphasize the distinct capabilities that the letter’s subject offers. People hiring for lower-level jobs may want information about the candidate’s punctuality or cheerful attitude. For a senior position, paint the portrait of a person who is more than merely well-behaved. Rather than calling her “resourceful,” describe what you mean by that. Is she a rapid learner? Does she possess an encyclopedic memory? Or is she a strong researcher?

Give a narrow enough recommendation to be credible. Saying that your former subordinate or coworker “can do anything” is largely a comment about his attitude not about skill or talent. Instead, provide a strong endorsement of his ability to recruit top talent or deliver critical training programs effectively.

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