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3 Top Tips for Writing Effective Professional Recommendations

Posted by: Joyce Matthews   |   No Comments   |  Posted on: Sep 10, 2012

Ever wonder what to write when someone asks you for a recommendation or reference? Where do you start? Do find an example or do you look at what other people have written? Or maybe you have your own template of how to write recommendations? Or do you just get stuck in – don’t think about it too much, just get on with it and get it out of the way?
A professional recommendation is just another form of feedback. And whether you’re giving feedback in person, face to face, or online for LinkedIn, there is a simple formula to make sure that it’s effective for the person receiving it and useful for others reading it.
1. Context – what role, company, or situation was the person in when you worked with them? What was your relationship – were you colleagues, were you managing this person, did this person employ you? What was the person working on – was it a specific project, a contract job, a national initiative, a groundbreaking programme? Where was this – what was the company, or the location? When was this – yesterday, a year ago, two years ago, a specific time or occasion? And to personalise the recommendation, and to show those reading it that you truly know the person, make sure you name the person in the introductory sentence
This is an opportunity for you to set the scene objectively and factually – who, what, where, when.
2. Behaviours – what did they do exactly? What behaviours and competencies did they show? How did they conduct themselves? What are their strengths? What did they do to make a good impression? What skills did they evidence?
Again, be factual and objective in evidencing the behaviours that you colleague demonstrated.
Be specific and give positive examples of what they did or how they behaved which will demonstrate their personal strengths. Phrases like ‘is a good team member’ or ‘is an excellent colleague’ are not specific enough – what exactly do they do to make them ‘a good team member’ or ‘an excellent colleague’?
3. Impact – what was the impact of these behaviours? What difference did it make? How did things change, develop, or improve as a result of the behaviours and skills of this person? How did they affect other people, or projects, or outcomes? What was their influence? What did they achieve? What did they make happen? What was the consequence or result?
Without an obvious measurable impact, a recommendation is worthless. Yet again, be objective and factual – if you have numbers, percentages or data use it to evidence improvement or impact.
Why would you want to work with or employ someone who will not add anything or make a difference to your organisation? It doesn’t matter if they are ‘great fun to be with’, and if ‘working with them is a pleasure’ – what do they actually do that makes a difference in terms of business, and how is that quantified?
The whole point of feedback is to be useful – primarily for the recipient. If its recommendation feedback, then it needs to actually say something objective, factual, informative and valuable that will be of practical use for potential employers. Think about what will be useful reading for your intended audience. Its no use giving subjective opinions of how such and such is ‘a good old boy’, and has ‘a lively character’ – would you hire that person?
Ever heard of the phrase ‘as useful as a chocolate fireguard’?
Have a look at your recommendations, and more importantly the ones you’ve written – you wouldn’t want to be thought of as someone who writes recommendations that are about ‘as useful as a chocolate fireguard’, would you?

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