It's all about the STORY!

Times are tough and competition is ferocious. Recommending a friend colleague, student or employee is serious business. What you have to say and how you choose to say it matters and can help sway a hiring manager or other decision-maker when they are deciding to work with an individual. Here are seven tips to consider if you’re ever asked to write a recommendation:

  1. No–feel free to say no. There are many gracious ways to decline a request for a recommendation. If for any reason you are not comfortable recommending a person, say no. Do not recommend a person if you are not confident that you want to recommend them. You are not only promoting the other person when you recommend them, you also are extending your personal and professional reputation to them. There are countless reasons you may not wish to recommend a person, so use your best judgment.
  2. Please write it yourself–there is a common practice of friends, professors and supervisors asking recommendees to write their own recommendations. Please don’t do this. While you might think you’re complimenting the recommendee, you are not. You’re sending a message that you either aren’t sure what to write about this person or that they aren’t worth your time for you to take a few minutes to do it yourself. If you are in a position where you are fortunate to have a 3rd party subordinate (executive assistant, intern, etc.) who can craft a rough recommendation draft for you to fine-tune and add in personal details and, etc. that’s acceptable. Please don’t ask the recommendee to do this, though. This is their moment to learn what you have to say about them, provided it’s an open recommendation. And this can be quite meaningful.
  3. Do ask for details–feel free to ask the recommendee for details so that you don’t have to do all of the work. If you are an employer, as the recommendee to provide salary and work history information. Ask for something in writing detailing the purpose of the recommendation such as who is the recommendation going to, what do they want to know about the recommendee, what is the recommendee proposing to do for the recipient of the recommendation, what qualities or qualifications does the recommendee wish to highlight. One you have these details, make an effort to give a little more than what is requested if you believe this recommendee is worth that.
  4. The form–If it is a recommendation form, be honest but not brutal. Be fair. For instance, if you had a particular unfortunate issue with a recommendee, examine your perspective of that issue before you check a box against them. Do you believe that this unfortunate issue will continue and could potentially cause problems, was it something that only happened once or twice, are you certain that your perspective of the issue is accurate, etc. Always fill out the comment section. If when you read the form you determine that honest answers will not be in the best interest of the recommendee, talk to the recommendee. If you feel it would be appropriate, explain why it would be best for you to not complete this form for them. You may also choose to find a shorter, less revealing way to decline completing this form. Not completing the form is a better choice that completing a recommendation for that will have a negative slant. Make certain you let the recommendee know your decision as soon as possible to allow them to find another person to complete the form if possible.
  5. Talk about it–once you have completed the recommendation, feel free to have a discussion with the recommendee about what you’ve written. This could be a meaningful opportunity to verbally reinforce how much you value the recommendee and the talents and experience they have demonstrated to you. Try not to turn this into a coaching session–if this is necessary, please do this at another time. This need not be a long talk, just a couple of words of thanks or encouragement would be very appropriate.
  6. Moving on–if you are the current supervisor of an employee who is wishing to move on from a position and he or she requests a recommendation from you, please try to be supportive if possible. Very few employees stick in the same position for more than a few years anymore, and they deserve an opportunity to move up or move along to help fulfill their personal and professional goals. This can be a difficult conversation for both the employee and employer, but maintaining a positive frame of the conversation from both individuals is critical. After all, you are only being asked for a recommendation. He or she may not get the job, and you will most likely continue working together from here on for quite a while. Try to keep the conversation as positive and comfortable as possible.
  7. Social Networks–primarily LinkedIn, are a great place to exchange recommendations. Please take these recommendations as seriously as any recommendations you write. Many prospective  employers actually do read these, and they do help shape decisions. About social networks and why recommendations on LinkedIn matter: It’s not a bad idea to work on branding yourself as a valuable cutting-edge professional on social networks. In this generation, it is common for prospective employers to search for you online to see what you’re all about “virtually.” LinkedIn, blogs, Facebook, Twitter are all social tools that can help shape a professional’s online brand. Your recommendation speaking to that brand is an effective way of supporting an employee, friend or colleague you value.
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