Career Advice for Job Seekers
Ask the Experts: Including a recommendation letter with resume and cover letter
Job seeker question: I read that job seekers should include a recommendation letter from a previous employer with their resume and cover letter. Do you think that is appropriate, and if not, when should I give a letter of recommendation to a prospective employer?
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:
You’re not going to like this answer, but letters of recommendation are not valued much by employers outside of academia. Why? Because skeptical employers think you wrote the letter for the reference to sign. Because it’s written in advance, the writer has had time to soften your weaknesses or omit them, and write those glowing phrases of praise. Finally, it doesn’t address any of the employer’s own questions.
For example, in the university where I work, I have a 2-page questionnaire to use when calling references for a prospective employee. It asks questions about what kind of pressure the previous job entailed and how the candidate handled it. It asks about 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 the candidate if given the opportunity.
Aside from what the reference says, the future employer wants to hear the intonation and how the reference says it.
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.
Also read: Two recruiting experts share why students and grads should care about networking, and where to start
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 called said that 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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