Employers learn about the experience, education and credentials of job seekers through a variety of resources, including cover letters, resumes and employee applications. However, letters of recommendation provide an outside perspective of an applicant's work ethic, character and suitability for a position. Generally, letters of recommendation are sent directly from the writer to the potential employer, allowing for a greater degree of objectivity.
A letter of recommendation typically starts by identifying the applicant by name and clarifying the relationship between the reference provider and the job applicant. Letters of recommendation should include relevant information, such as the length of the acquaintance, in what capacity you've worked together and specific qualities that make the applicant a good match for the position. The Colorado College Career Center suggests that you provide your references with details of the job description, a copy of your resume and an overview of your relevant experience.
When seeking letters of recommendation, Goshen Career Services suggests that you turn to former or current employers, professional colleagues and professors who are familiar with your skills, work experience and professional strengths. Ideal references include those who have expressed appreciation or admiration for your job performance, community volunteer work or college coursework. Choose your references carefully, seeking recommendations from individuals who know you well over influential acquaintances who are unfamiliar with your qualifications for a particular position, advises the Colorado College Career Center.
Contacting Your References
When you're job hunting, approach potential references in advance and ask each one if he is willing to provide a strong recommendation letter on your behalf. Even if you're not sure that letters of recommendation will be requested, ask each one for permission to list his name as a reference on job applications. This is especially important if you plan to list a current employer as a reference. If you know that recommendation letters are required, notify each of your references at least four weeks in advance, if possible. If the potential employer requests that references use a company form for recommendation letters or follow specific guidelines, pass this information along to your references. Also identify to whom the letter should be addressed, as well as the employer's deadline for receipt of the letter.
When a colleague, professor or employer writes a letter of recommendation on your behalf, send a handwritten thank you note expressing your appreciation. If your job search is lengthy, which is often the case in a competitive job market, you might need several letters of recommendation from your chosen references. Keep them updated on your job search and touch base again when you're hired, thanking them for their support.