You may be worried, but you are far from alone: many employees are asked to provide “supporting documentation” to keep their jobs. This request often occurs when a company is downsizing or reorganizing or is being sold to new owners. At the same time, employees also may be asked to resubmit their resumes, just as if they were applying for their jobs for the first time. In fact, this is a good way to approach the task of asking people to write support letters on your behalf, as if you are an unknown entity with winning qualities who any employer would prize on his team.
Learn as much as you can about the dynamics at your company and moreover, the objective of the request. A downsizing project may require a more aggressive approach in your letter campaign than a “getting acquainted” effort being undertaken by new owners.
Assess your contributions and value to the company in specific terms. Confer with a trusted colleague to ensure that you are seeing the full picture. Be sure to differentiate between the value of your department and the role you play in it. Your letters should address both but accentuate the latter.
Make an itemized list of your contributions, skills and work habits. Next to each one, identify the one person who can address each item on your list with authority and credibility. Your goal here is to work toward gathering about five or six letters of support from colleagues who know you best.
Compile a list of “talking points” for each of the items on your list. These points should help each person write a compelling letter on your behalf. In this way, you can avoid duplicity among your support letters and present a comprehensive picture of your value as an employee. Resist the urge to elaborate too much on your talking points; the authors of the letter may be called on to elaborate or provide other information, so it’s important the letter writers supply original and authentic words of support on your behalf.
Supply your advocates with a basic structure of a support or recommendation letter. It should state its purpose in the first paragraph, stating directly that you are an asset to the company in myriad ways. Subsequent paragraphs should elaborate on your contributions, accomplishments and skills. Examples are vital, for they will help add clarity and vitality to the point of the letter. Taken together, the letters should provide all the support you need to keep your job.
Include specific projects with your talking points so that each letter writer can provide elaboration. What you don’t want is for a supervisor or manager to simply say, “Nancy is very competent at handling major projects.” Better to say, “Nancy exhibited outstanding leadership qualities as she handled the installation with professionalism and grace, keeping the work of 12 nervous people flowing steadily and easily despite repeated service interruptions.”