“Will you write me a letter of recommendation?”
It’s hard to say no to this request. Being asked to write a reference letter or a recommendation letter for another professional is a demonstration of that person’s trust in you and your judgment. It’s also a chance to share your candid opinion and endorsement of a colleague.
Yet writing these letters isn’t always intuitive. Writing great reference letters is a skill, and it’s a skill many people do not practice often. Here’s how to do it.
Learn before you write.
Legal support staff ask for letters of reference for several reasons. Asking why the letter is needed helps you ensure you focus the text on how the candidate fits the reader’s needs or expectations.
Start by asking the person you’re writing for:
- What can you tell me about the [position, company, scholarship, etc.] you’re applying for?
- To whom should I address the letter, and what can you tell me about this person?
- Is there any specific time, project or trait you’d like me to emphasize?
These questions will give you more background and help you tell the most compelling story you can.
Use the formula.
Those who read letters of reference are used to a formula. Keep the letter to one page, and focus it around three topics:
- Describe how you know the candidate. This can be a one-sentence introduction, allowing you to reserve space for the person’s professional traits and accomplishments.
- Evaluate the candidate’s work. Most of the letter will be spent describing the “pluses” you saw in this person’s work, noting specific accomplishments and the traits or skills they used to achieve them, and describing the tangible results produced. One or two anecdotes about specific accomplishments will help your recommendation “stick” in the reader’s mind.
- Finally, make a comparison. Help put the candidate in context by comparing them to other people you have worked with. For instance, for a truly exemplary professional, you might say “this person is one of the top three legal support staff I have ever worked with.”
Don’t be afraid to convey your enthusiasm or genuine warmth for the subject of the letter. Doing so will help the reader feel more enthusiastic as well.
The recruiters at Kent Legal help connect legal support professionals and outstanding law firms in the greater Toronto area. Contact us today to learn more.