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Maximizing Letters of Recommendation

by Terra L. Dourlain,
President of Faith, Winter & Grace, Inc.

Although letters of recommendation will not secure you a job, they are a very important part of the process. They are valuable to employers when many candidates have very similar qualifications. It is in these situations that the letters of recommendation add valuable information to your profile that your resume is not capable of illustrating.

So, what makes one letter of recommendation stronger than another? The person writing the letter is very important. The reference's position and title are key as well as the context of your relationship with them. If you reported to them, then that is a much stronger recommendation than one from a peer. By far the most valuable letters of recommendation come from the people to whom you reported.

You should also consider whether the letters are serving their purpose any longer. For example, once you have been employed, recommendations from teachers or professors no longer carry value. Likewise, letters written from several years ago do not accurately reflect your current abilities.

Once you have identified the best authors, now you must evaluate the value of their content. The more specific the statements made the better. A strong letter of recommendation does not just state what a nice person you are. A strong letter of recommendation will state specifically how uniquely talented you are for the position you are pursuing. Ideally the information provided will include: your personal characteristics, subject knowledge, skill set, specific accomplishments and areas of special strength.

Truth be told, the use of letters of recommendation is fast becoming passι. The fact is that the concept of writing letters of recommendation started back in the time when communication was extremely difficult and employers viewed employees as kin. Terry Devlin, Vice President, Counseling for Career Management International states, "They should only be provided upon the request of the employer. Most employers accept letters of recommendation politely, and ignore them. After all, the candidate is the provider of the letters, and as such, can ensure only the most glowing are presented. Going to an interview armed with letters of recommendation may well brand a person as naive, and serve to eliminate the candidate from consideration."

This makes the use references in your job search increasingly important. Providing letters of recommendation is simply not enough. A potential employer is going to call your references and the people to whom reported in order to get a better understanding of your abilities and qualifications. Likewise, the authors of your letters of recommendation are still likely to be called. This is done as a means of uncovering fraud. Is the letter authentic or did the employee write it themselves? Therefore, the verbal statement provided by these authors is critical, or the letter loses all value and is actually harmful as it appears fraudulent.

About the author: Terra L. Dourlain is a Career Transition Specialist and Executive Career Coach with an extensive background in employee training and development. As President of Faith, Winter & Grace, Inc. she has assisted hundreds of senior level candidates through successful transitions. Currently, Terra is the Managing Director of (an Allison & Taylor Company), the nation's oldest professional employment verification and reference checking firm. Please visit their site at or call (800) 422-3905 to learn more about this valuable service.


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