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Can Letters of Recommendation for Employment Help Me Get the Job?

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Your chances of getting the job might depend on who writes your letters of recommendation. But the reality is that hiring managers hire candidates whose skills, qualifications and expertise benefit the organization -- if you have these attributes, then your letter of recommendation is the icing on the cake. A letter of recommendation complements your qualifications for the job -- it's not a guarantee that you'll get the job.

Typical References

When you ask past supervisors, managers or colleagues to write a letter of recommendation, it's just like asking someone to be one of your professional references. Naturally, they're not going to share with the prospective employer negative information about you. But recruiters and hiring managers who contact your references know how to ask questions that elicit more objective responses. For example, instead of simply confirming that you were an employee who diligently performed your job duties, a prospective employer might ask, "How did Susan handle conflict while she was working for you?" A letter of recommendation showcases your talent, but recruiters often glean more balanced information from talking to your references.

What Really Gets Job Offers

On their own, letters of recommendation cannot substitute for qualifications when an employer determines whether you're a suitable candidate. A complete application package -- cover letter, resume and employment application in many cases -- plus the ability to articulate your skills and qualifications during every interview is what ultimately gets you the job. Also, how you fit the organizational culture is important to many hiring managers, says Ellen Mehling in her article for the Metropolitan New York Library Council, titled "Hiring: The Importance of Workplace Culture and Fit." Mehling acknowledges the importance of workplace culture and how it factors into hiring decisions. If you have all the qualifications necessary for the job and match what the company is looking for based on how well you'd work with others, whether your demeanor is consistent with that of the employees who would become your colleagues and a business philosophy and values mirror the employer's, there's a good chance that you could be hired.

You Must Add Value

If the letter is from the company president who has absolute control over hiring decisions, then you might have a better chance of getting the job. But in this case, hiring you for the job would be solely based on the company president doing you a favor, at the expense of the company. It's unlikely that the company president -- who wants the company to make money -- will tell the hiring manager to make you a job offer if all you have going for you is that you know the company president. Remember, your skills and qualifications are what add value to the organization; it's not always who you know, despite the adage, "It's not what you know, it's who you know."

Recommendations for Letters

When you select the people you want to write letters of recommendations, think about what you could contribute to the organization. Tell your references about the job and give them details about what your responsibilities would entail. Encourage them to tailor their comments so that the letter supports your qualifications. For example, if you're applying for a job as a customer service agent and you have a degree in finance, don't ask your reference to write a letter that focuses solely on your finance expertise. Ask for a letter that explains your commitment to quality customer service and the ability to resolve conflict -- not one that details how well you did in your academic pursuits.


Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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