In an earlier post, I shared seven tips for hiring interns with your creative business. One of the benefits of having an intern is having extra help and the possibility of a future employee. However, interns benefit as well by having important experiences and letters of recommendation that can lead to future job or educational opportunities. If you decide to hire an intern (or employee for that matter) and they have been beneficial, I truly feel that it is your duty to provide a letter of recommendation to ensure the future success of someone who helped you. In this post, I’ll show you how to write a letter of recommendation and I’ll will break down the core items that you will need to create a concise, yet personal letter that you can use as a template for any future letters.
GETTING INFORMATION: Make sure that you have the correct information and spelling of the person or department that you are giving the letter of recommendation to. You are not giving yourself or the person you are recommending any credit by having the wrong information. If there is not a specific person to contact, use “To Whom It May Concern”. Ask the person you are writing the recommendation for what they are applying for and perhaps a little bit about the business/department. This will help you to craft a letter that will share the specific information needed by the receiver and reflects highly on you as well as a competent referral.
YOU ARE NOT WRITING A NOVEL: You may think the world of the person you are recommending but you don’t have to be George R.R. Martin. Keep if short and to the point—but also gauge it by the situation. One page is a good length for most letters, however I have written more than one page for a graduate school application or other major referral.
WHAT TO BEGIN WITH: Your initial paragraph should be a short description of who you are and what this letter is about, ie: who you are recommending and for what. List three or four qualities that are the reasons you are recommending the person. Make sure that those qualities are things that would be assets for that particular position. You’ll revisit and expand on these qualities in the body of the letter. You don’t want to say, “she’s a fantastic painter” for an accounting position—this goes back to getting correct information/intent from the start.
THE BODY: The body of the letter consists of a paragraph expanding on each quality and specific examples, data or experiences that back these claims up. Here is an example of a how I would write about a redeeming quality of a former intern that is applying for a teaching position where I want to convey that this person is a professional under pressure:
“Janet’s” patience and professionalism are her natural strengths. It is a part of her personality to handle stress and unexpected situations with a calm yet authoritative manner that is a tremendous asset. Running a retail store with public workshops is demanding and there are a number of issues that can arise when dealing with the public. “Janet” has always handled people in a fantastic way, to the point where she has had her own customer fans that enjoy knowing and working with her. Whether a single customer or group of people during a busy time, she was always consistent and takes the time to do her duties in the best way possible. Customer response is a priority for my business and hearing customers rave about “Janet” is one of the most valuable things I could ask for.
CONCLUSION: Reaffirm briefly what you mentioned above (very much like your opening statement) and let the person know you are available to elaborate if needed. Most likely that won’t happen, but demonstrating that you are willing to talk speaks volumes. You are not just saying “hey I am writing a letter on behalf of this person” but you are also stating that “I am willing to take the time to talk to you about this even more—this person is of value to your establishment, so don’t miss this opportunity”.
AUTHENTICITY AND HONESTY: There are two important things that I want to stress in this final point that you should note before you even consider writing a letter or referring.
1. Do you really want to refer this person: If the person had one fantastic quality and really nothing else to note you need to be honest. Don’t make up qualities that might not be present. This harms your reputation and you are only setting up the future experience for problems that you handed to them. Point is—it’s OK to say you cannot write a letter or referral. Case in point, I was once asked to refer someone who had an issue of being late:
“Cindy” I would be happy to refer you for XYZ position, you were fantastic in data entry and you had a great work spirit and were so enjoyable to work with. However we both know you had issues with tardiness as we discussed it often and I know that will be of importance to XYZ. I may have to bring this up and I will not hide this issue if asked.
2. Don’t gush: Explain the great qualities but be sincere in what you have to say. People can tell when you are not being sincere and this can reflect poorly on you. Just be honest and show clearly that the person you are referring is great because they possess XYZ qualities and leave it at that. Overdoing it may suggest that you’re overcompensating for something lacking.
Hope these suggestions help take the stress and guesswork out of the situation the next time someone asks you to write them a letter of recommendation.