Monday Mornings with Madison

Getting Recommendations

It’s been said that past performance is often the best predictor of future behavior.  Show me an employee who has a solid work history — effective, efficient and reliable in past jobs — and I’ll show you an employee that will probably be effective, efficient and reliable in her next job (assuming she is doing the same type of work).  On the other hand, show me an employee who has changed jobs often, was regularly late for work and produced subpar work in his last three positions and I will show you a person who will likely be tardy and ineffective in his next job until he changes jobs again, which is likely to happen quickly.

That is why letters of recommendation are so valuable.  A letter of recommendation from a former boss, coworker or subordinate can speak volumes about how a person’s skills, talents and training translate into the real world.  A professionally-written resume might omit facts, exaggerate abilities, and even fabricate information, but a recommendation gives an employer a glimpse of how a potential candidate has actually performed in the past.  A recommendation can provide insights into a person’s work habits, interpersonal skills and intangible qualities that no resume, cover letter or job interview can reveal.  Likewise, a lack of recommendations or lukewarm recommendations can speak volumes too.  For professionals who are offering a service – such as attorneys, accountants, bankers and Realtors — customer recommendations speak volumes about that individual’s ability to deliver results in a positive manner.  Given the value of a good recommendation, it is important for most people to have strong recommendations.  Yet, when it comes to getting recommendations, there is a lot of uncertainty.  When it comes to asking for recommendations, what is the protocol?

Recommendations:  Quality vs. Quantity

There are many things to consider when asking for a recommendation.  One key consideration is quantity.  How many recommendations is enough?  Is there such a thing as ‘too many’ recommendations?  For a person in the job market, the general wisdom is an applicant should have at least two recommendations from the most current employer.  For a person in a management position, three is preferable.  For those who are unemployed, this rule applies to the most recent employer.

Additionally, a person who has been working for many years or has changed jobs often in the last five to seven years, should have letters of recommendations from previous employers (from the last two or three positions).  Why so many?  Most anyone can probably get someone to provide one recommendation.  Even a bad worker or someone disliked by most can finagle one recommendation from a softy.  But, the worst employees will have a hard time getting two or three recommendations.

For professionals, it is important to get client recommendations periodically.  Just having the same few stale or dated customer recommendations on a website shows poorly.  It is important to obtain fresh recommendations from recent customers to show that quality work and good service is a regular occurrence.  (It is also good to put fresh content on a website anyway as it helps with SEO.)

However, when it comes to recommendations, the quality of the recommendations is just as important as quantity.  Not all recommendations are created equal.  For job seekers, a recommendation from a current or former boss is more valuable than from a colleague or vendor.  For a manager, it is equally important to have recommendations from both a boss and a subordinate.  While a boss’ recommendation gives insights into overall performance, words of praise from a subordinate also provides a glimpse into the person’s management and leadership skills.  Recommendations from any C-Suite executive at a present or past job are also highly credible and valuable.

Key Considerations in Deciding Whom to Ask for a Recommendation

When deciding whom to ask for a recommendation, the most important considerations are:

  1. timing – Does this person have the time to prepare a recommendation for me now?
  2. familiarity – Does this person know me enough to be able to give a detailed recommendation?
  3. supportiveness – Is this person willing to give me a positive recommendation?
  4. expressive – Is this person a good writer, able to speak eloquently about my talents, skills and achievements?
  5. relationship – Does my relationship with this person provide a specific insight into my accomplishments that other recommendations don’t give?

Ideally, the answer should be yes to all five questions to make it worthwhile to ask a particular person for a recommendation.

When is the right time to request a recommendation?

Choose carefully the timing to request the recommendation.  Be sure to catch the person when they are available (not rushed or crazed with work) and in a good mood. At times, a colleague, boss or customer may say they don’t have time to write one, but will gladly sign one if you write it.  While some might think this is great, it is actually not ideal.  It is far better to have a genuinely worded/written recommendation than one penned by anyone else… even oneself.  Fake recommendations have an air of boastfulness about them that most can detect.  That is why LinkedIn recommendations are highly regarded.  Most recommendations on LinkedIn were personally written by the person giving the recommendation because the person giving the recommendation must log in to post it. While there are probably some who have provided the copy for their own recommendation to someone else to post, it happens infrequently.

Most people ask for letters of recommendation from past or current colleagues at one of two critical points.  They either request it just as they are leaving a position, after giving notice.  That is when letters of recommendation are top-of-mind for most individuals.  Or they request it when they are looking for their next job because they didn’t get one when the left their last job.  But those aren’t always the best times to ask for recommendations.  The time to request a recommendation, especially from a boss, colleague or subordinate, is when things are going well.  Obviously, most people think that requesting a letter of recommendation from a current boss will give the impression that they are seeking employment elsewhere.  That’s why it is best to ask for a recommendation right after a promotion or the successful completion of a big project…. when things are going great.  It is also important to reassure that the request for a recommendation is not cause for concern; just a proactive step to memorialize career milestones and achievements.

Finally, for those that think they don’t need letters of recommendation, think again.  Social media has made it easier than ever for individuals to research a person they are hiring, whether it is as an employee or as a professional.  Yelp, LinkedIn, Angies List and a multitude of other sites provide instant access to referrals.  It is important to manage one’s personal brand to ensure that what is said and read is positive.

Quote of the Week

“If you can’t get a good reference or you don’t want to ask for one, you need to reexamine the relationship.” Robert Miller

© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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