The SMART Way of Writing a Letter of Recommendation

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By Sergey Novoselov
September 27, 2009 in Job Search


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Letter of RecommendationWhile looking for a job - where you most likely spend a few years of your life - it is important to utilize every opportunity especially when it becomes increasingly difficult to get a job offer. A well-written resume and a cover letter are only parts of the success. You might also need letters of recommendation.

Most recommendation letters are created for repeated use and not customized for a job to which an applicant is applying. In this case, you would want to know specifically how the applicant performed and that he/she:

  • Was successful in his/her previous job
  • Would be welcomed back to their previous employer
  • Showed a high level of initiative exceeding expectations
  • Was an excellent problem solver, communicator and worked well with internal and external customers/employees across all levels and functions
  • Significantly contributed to the success of his/her department/division/company.

In case a letter is written as a recommendation for a specific job/company, also include information on how the applicant would be successful in the particular job.

Focus on accomplishments, such as:
  • Revenue production
  • Individual performance
  • Cost savings
  • Team building/Communication
  • Process improvements
  • Difficult to attain skills

In addition, the author of the letter should be open to phone inquiry to provide further information.

The best format in which a good recommendation is compiled follows the S.M.A.R.T. term. Although this term is used to evaluate good objectives, it is also applying to other things in our life:

(S) Specific: a recommendation should be specific and direct to the point in terms of what this person has done to deserve it. Be it a good task, a project activity, or other types of help the recommender should provide details (in short).

(M) Measurable: it should include quantifiable achievement of this person. E.g. he/she has doubled the Gross Profit of the ‘X’ product in 6 months.

(A) Attainable: by recommending someone you are acting as a salesman who tries to ‘sell’ someone else’s services. Hence, the recommender should provide attainable qualities and services in that person and should not oversell him.

(R) Relevant: it should be relevant to the person’s own experience and specialties, and better mention qualities that are related to each other. For example, he/she is a competent project manager and that he/she is very skilled at using MS Project. Although these two are separate competencies, they both fall in the Project Management profession.

(T) Time-bound: along with being specific a recommendation should include time boundaries. E.g. how much time it took the person to finish a difficult task, in what year he built an effective system, etc.

If a recommendation is formulated into the S.M.A.R.T. mould, it will present the person in a good shape and will catch eyes of readers who will more likely believe in that person’s capabilities.

We would like to extend our thanks to the LinkedIn community with the help in putting together this article, and especially to Marjorie Kavanagh, Dave Maskin, Mark Richards, Keith Wade and others.
 


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