Getting A Recommendation From A Past EmployerMar 19th, 2012 | By Editor | Category: Job Search
When applying to jobs, people rarely take time to consider the references requested by a given application. Such reference requests will usually ask for the names and contact information of two or three past employers, and applicants often simply provide their most recent bosses in response. If they didn’t like their last boss – or, conversely, if their last boss didn’t like them – applicants may instead go back one job further into the chronology while compiling their references. The process is generally as straightforward as that.
But procuring recommendation letters from past employers is a different business altogether. Unlike with references, where hiring managers will usually call contacts, ask a few basic questions, and then feel satisfied so long as no red flags are raised, a recommendation letter can carry a disproportionate weight in the process. It can highlight skills that don’t appear on a resume or in an interview. It can give proof that a candidate is an exemplary worker or a particularly commendable employee. And, conversely, it can bring weaknesses to light or call one’s personality into doubt.
As such, applicants should pay care when getting recommendation letters. First, they should start by determining which past bosses or managers are best suited to write a letter on their behalf in the first place. The ideal letter-writer is someone who (a) knew the applicant well, (b) can be expected to speak highly of the applicant, and (c) employed the applicant in a suitable capacity. On that last note, a suitable capacity means that the job was relevant to the current application and that it was a sufficiently impressive one. If the candidate does not have a boss and a job that meet all these criteria, they should put more weight on the person they choose, less emphasis on the nature of the past job, endeavor to find the best balance possible. For example, part-time jobs secured through temporary employment agencies are perfectly acceptable options if there is a boss there who can sell the applicant well.
Once a letter-writer has been determined, the applicant now needs to approach that person and ask politely for their assistance. Ideally, this will be done in person; in the likely case that this is not possible, all efforts should be made to converse over the phone instead of through email. During the ensuing conversation, the applicant can update their past boss on their current job search, tell them why they think this person would be well-suited to write a recommendation, and then nicely ask if they would be willing – and if they have the time – to help out. If the past boss responds in the affirmative, the applicant can thank them nicely and then provide a guideline portfolio. This portfolio should include written documents that provide possible recommendation topics and a collection of any major work that this applicant performed while employed under the past boss. These documents can help insure that the boss writes the best recommendation possible.
Afterwards, the applicant should make every effort to follow-up with updates and a final thank you. It’s good to be nice even once the process is complete, after all, as one can never know when they’ll need a recommendation letter again.
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