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Serving as a reference for a candidate is a huge responsibility and should not be taken lightly. Not everyone who approaches you to serve as a reference will have the same type of relationship with you. Some candidates you know quite well and could write a glowing reference for them without much effort, while others are a struggle, because you don’t know very much about them. It is in cases in which you do not have a strong relationship and belief in a candidate that you have to be honest and decline the request to serve as a reference. Serving as a reference means you believe very strongly in what the candidate can do, and you want to do everything possible to help him/her succeed.
Tips to aid in writing letters of recommendation
First Paragraph - Start out by stating the type of letter which will be written, for whom and for what purpose, (i.e., "This is a confidential letter of recommendation for Mary Jones, in support of her candidacy for employment in the human services profession."). Proceed with the length of time and in what capacity you have known the person. If the person was an employee, indicate the term of employment, the responsibilities of the position, and any significant projects or accomplishments the person has undertaken while employed.
Second Paragraph – Provide a detailed review of the person's strengths and, if necessary, any shortcomings or areas needing improvement. There are no exact guidelines as to what actually to say, but the letter should be pertinent to whatever work, scholarship, or selection is sought by the candidate. The candidate should offer some insight about the situation and what talents a selection committee may be watching for in making their decisions.
Third Paragraph – Broad characterizations can be made in regard to an individual’s demeanor. Personality traits can be discussed such as cooperation, creativity, decision-making, written expression, oral expression, motivation and drive, initiative, organization, perseverance, reliability, comprehension of major area of study, and overall capacity for success.
Closing – Indicate the degree to which you recommend the individual for the position he or she is seeking (i.e., without reservation, strongly, or with some reservation). If you do not feel very strong about the person or feel you do not know him/her well enough, it may be best to decline the request to write a letter of recommendation.
Guidelines for Letters of Recommendation for Career Services
Letters of recommendation can be on business letterhead or on the form provided by Career Services.
Each letter or reference form needs to indicate if the letter is confidential or non-confidential. A signature in the appropriate box on the Career Services form will determine the status, while the status will need to be typed in the first sentence on business letterhead. A letter that arrives with no status will be treated as a confidential letter until the appropriate status is determined and approved by both the candidate and the reference provider. The candidate cannot deliver confidential letters. They must arrive at Career Services from the author. Candidates may hand-carry only letters that are non-confidential.
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