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Ask the Experts: Including Letters of Recommendation with Resume and Cover Letter

alwin Avataralwin
April 21, 2009


I recently read that job seekers should include with their resume and cover letter a copy of a letter of recommendation from a previous employer. I have a glowing letter of recommendation from my most recent employer so would like to include it if that would be appropriate. If it is not, when should I give the letter of recommendation to a prospective employer?


You’re not going to like this answer, but letters of recommendation are
not valued much by employers outside of academe. Why? Because skeptical
employers think you wrote the letter for the reference to sign; because
it’s written in advance, the writer’s had time to soften your weaknesses
or omit them, and write those glowing phrases of praise; because it
doesn’t permit the employer to ask his or her own questions.

For example, even in the university in which I work, I have a 2-page
questionnaire to use when calling for references for a prospective
employee. It asks questions about what kind of pressure the job the
candidate did for the previous employer entailed and how the candidate
handled it, the candidate’s ability to get along with coworkers as well
as superiors, and the candidates weaknesses as well as strengths. It
also asks if the previous employer would rehire.

Content aside, the future employer wants to hear the intonation as well
as the words of the person providing the reference.

Even if you choose to use a letter of reference, it’s not recommended
to send it to an employer with your resume and cover letter or to offer
it in an interview. To do so suggests that you cannot sell yourself
without outside endorsement. The time to offer such a letter is when you
are asked for your references, which usually does not occur until an
employer is interested in making you an offer.

The most strategic advice: consider which skill sets you most want to
demonstrate to an employer, and choose the references who can vouch for
your successful application of these skills to a problem or opportunity.
Then tell each prospective reference why you chose them and what you are
interested in having them support. Send each reference a copy of your
current resume so they can see how you are positioning yourself for your
next job, and as a courtesy to prompt their memory regarding your work
chronology and stated strengths.

The best reference I ever heard: he said if I didn’t hire the
candidate, he was thinking of re-hiring her!

Carol Anderson, Career Development and Placement Office, Robert J. Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy at New School University in New York City

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