You should carefully consider who you ask to write a letter of recommendation. When you do, it’s important that you explain why you have chosen them and what unique relationship you have with that person that will allow them to effectively communicate your skill sets to your next employer.
You should arm your former colleague with the tools she needs to write you a recommendation. It’s time-consuming and inconsiderate to just ask someone to spend lots of time to write something for you from scratch. You don’t need to put words in her mouth, but do give her some direction. She needs to know your specific intents with the letter (is it general, for a specific job, the job description, etc.) and the characteristics and skills you’d like to highlight. Giving some points of reference or even a draft will help you get a more customized, stronger recommendation letter.
Components of a Recommendation Letter
First paragraph: In the introduction of your letter, provide an explanation of how this person knows you. It might be your previous boss, a professor of a class that relates to the job you’re applying for, or a personal friend who can vouch for your character.
Second paragraph: This is the meat of the reference letter. It should detail about your qualities as they relate to the job description, what you bring to the table, and why this person is writing the letter for you. If necessary, this can be expanded into two paragraphs, but don’t make it too long.
Third paragraph: If there is a specific job description, this is the part where you specific skills for the job should be explained. Remind the person of any examples from your past they could highlight in the letter.
Conclusion: Be sure to summarize your — the job seeker’s — skills and recommend you for the role.
Contact info: The recommendation letter should also provide all contact information for the referrer – name, job title, company, phone number and email.
Keep a Copy
You may need a similar letter for future applications, so make sure you keep copies/scans of your letters in a safe place. You can use the same letter for multiple job applications, although if it was geared towards one job, you’ll obviously need to have it modified another position.
It’s a good idea to keep your references list and your recommendations on hand and current. Scrambling to get references together at the last minute looks disorganized and if getting the job comes down between you and another candidate, the lag time could cost you the job. Some contacts might be a better fit for some jobs than others, so keep a list of more than you need so you can rotate them.