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Recommendations – Do They Work?

Posted by Eric Friedman

recommendations

When considering candidates for a position, HR managers must look at several factors. The resume is the first step in finding out about the candidate’s experience, education, previous work, and skills. The cover letter gives a further glimpse into major achievements, expertise, and career highlights. However, since the candidate writes both the resume and the cover letter, they include only what he or she wants to include, and with a positive spin. That’s where recommendations come in as an opportunity to get a more objective perspective.

Letters of Commendation

Recommendations are usually provided in the form of letters written by former supervisors and coworkers or other personal or professional contacts. As opposed to references, which involve directly contacting colleagues or former managers, recommendations are pre-written.

Recommendations can be useful for several reasons, because they provide:

  • Third-party endorsements. As mentioned above, recommendations are a way to hear about the candidate from someone other than the candidate. They may reiterate what the candidate has written in his or her resume and cover letter, but they come from a different perspective.
  • Employment confirmation. Recommendations can also serve to confirm that the candidate did indeed work at a company listed on his or her resume, especially when they come directly from former employers.
  • Further insight. Again, a recommendation gives HR more information, not only about the candidate’s skills and experience, but also about his or her character and work ethic.

Professional recommendations are a good way to get a more comprehensive view of a candidate and his or her career. They speak to the candidate’s experience in a particular field and his or her most notable skills and accomplishments. It’s valuable to have the thoughts of someone who can truly describe the candidate’s abilities, whether a former employer, manager, or supervisor; coworkers who have worked directly with the candidate; or even clients or others outside of the organization who have collaborated with him or her.

Is It Real?

Since recommendations are pre-written, one concern that usually comes up is how to know whether the  person on the signature line actually wrote it. Other than asking for that person’s contact information and asking him or her directly, there is no real way of knowing whether a recommendation is valid. You can visit the company website to make sure that the person signing the letter is actually listed as an employee, but that doesn’t guarantee that he or she wrote it.

Another way to find out whether a recommendation is real is through LinkedIn. Over the past few years, more and more candidates are turning to LinkedIn to post their resumes, and they often have a list of recommendations all ready for potential employers. HR managers can now look at a candidate’s LinkedIn profile, read the recommendations, and click to see the profiles of the people who wrote them. In some cases the recommender’s profile may not be completely available for view, but the important fact is that a real person has recommended the candidate.

Keep in Mind . . .

But both paper and LinkedIn recommendations should always be taken with a grain of salt. Remember, they are written upon the candidate’s request. He or she is asking someone to write a recommendation that highlights the value he or she would bring to an organization. That being said, when people agree to write recommendations, they are putting their names and reputations on the line. It’s not likely that they would write lies or agree to write something unrealistic about someone.

Recommendations are useful to candidates and HR managers alike. In fact, HR managers are often asked to write letters of recommendation. This can happen when someone is leaving their position because of a relocating spouse, or perhaps they’re going back to school or have time-consuming personal or family matters to tend to. When this is the case, a letter—especially one to assert that the circumstances under which the employee left were positive—is of crucial importance for when the employee decides to seek new employment, and an important service to provide.

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About Eric Friedman

Author

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

4 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Daria January, 27, 2014

    As an employer I’ve always been impressed with letters of recommendation accompanying a job application – but have always checked on them to verify their authenticity and usually used the methods described in the article. From my hands-on experience LinkedIn takes the lead, as it is the easiest way to find out the truth.

  • Max Wilson January, 28, 2014

    My impression is that recommendation letters are on their way out. Who needs a recommendation letter which still needs to be checked via LinkedIn if you can check a candidates profile and find a recommendations there. Taking into account the fact that more and more recruiters use social media to find candidates it would be wiser decision to ask for recommendation on LinkedIn.

  • Connor Biggs January, 29, 2014

    LinkedIn recommendations have less (or no) authenticity problems, but they don’t always can be taken on trust either. It often happens that LinkedIn recommendations are given by people who haven’t actually worked with the candidate and are made according to the principle “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. In other words they are trade recommendations.

  • Ana Hanby January, 29, 2014

    I really think recommendation letters are worthless. For starters they are rarely tailored to the specific position you are hiring for, so they usually don’t accentuate the necessary things but are written along the general lines.

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Guest January, 29, 2014