www.asktheheadhunter.com | August 19, 2008
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Should I write my own reference letter for my boss to sign?


I asked my boss for a letter of recommendation. She in turn asked me to write it myself, about myself, and said she'll sign it. Having never written a recommendation, I was hoping for some advice on what works. 

References usually start off with, "I would like to recommend so-and-so because they are a good worker blah-blah yakkety-yak." I want something more dynamic that will help me get the position I want. This type of recommendation is the door-opener that is needed in my field where jobs are rarely advertised on the open market. Are there good examples that I can look at? Should I emphasize skills, education, practical experience? What works and what will not?

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Nick's Reply
Your boss is a boob, and you can tell her I said so. If she won't take the time to write an honest letter of recommendation for you, she's insulting you.

You should not write your own recommendation that someone else signs. I would go back and ask her to write it herself because it isn't ethical for you to write it and because you cannot articulate about yourself what your boss could.

You can find books with templates in them, but recommendations written from templates are like resumes written from templates. They're worthless and they are a sign of incompetence.

A recommendation should be simple. It should describe a person's character and abilities, and it should estimate the person's prospects for success in a specific line of work. Finally, it should state the author's opinion of the person and offer a personal recommendation to the employer that the person is worthy of being hired. The specifics depend on how much the reference knows about the particular job.

There's one "trigger" in reference letters that I think makes a manager take action on a candidate. That's when a former boss says of the candidate, "If I could hire her again, I'd do it in a minute." There's nothing more compelling that a reference could say about you. (If you have references that good, treat them with respect. Take Care of Your References.)

As far as references themselves go -- that is, people who will speak up for you --, the best is The Pre-emptive Reference.

Sorry, but I'm not going to answer the rest of your question. I have a lot of trouble with putting words in people's mouths. I've got an even bigger problem with devaluing references and recommendations by writing your own. If I were you, I'd go look for another reference.

Nick Corcodilos
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