How to write great Recommendation Letters for your Colleagues
Several times in life we experience changing our workplace. Any time it happens, we feel like we have not enough soft skills, not enough experience, not enough recommendations. It is a moment of great fragility. Writing proper recommendation letters for your (ex-)coworkers is a good way to help others. But most of all, it has a very positive effect on yourself too.
Nowadays Recommendation Letters
Nothing bad in having a real structured letter of recommendation. Even better if you are willing to write one. I believe that nowadays we have a new form of recommendation, based on working social media. LinkedIn, the most popular working social media, has three different recommendation items: endorsement, kudos, and recommendation. Surely the latter is the most impacting and the closest to the content and the usage of a traditional letter. Picture yourself digging for the kudos and reporting them alongside your CV or profile. It sounds weird. Much better recommendations appear in your profile, as an integrated part of your virtual resume.
Start from the beginning
Taking some time for it may look complicated. Nothing more difficult than doing something not necessary. However, this is a perfect way to feel your effort to contribute. Without a cost, an investment, an effort, life would taste nothing at all. Put some true commitment. It results in a win-win situation, for you and the other. First, your recommendation looks nice to those who read it (also the employer). When needing a new person in the team, they could consider you too. Second, your colleague will benefit from a well-written and complete recommendation. Make it display without any doubt or any influence what their skills and strong points are.
A good recommendation should go across the strong points of the person. Both soft and specific skills. Picture a little storytelling and fit these points in it. Be true: mention average good as such, so when you touch extraordinary it makes the right difference.
Your gain stands in this acknowledgment itself. Reflecting on the other's strengths helps us find where we can grow. It inspires us, we are picturing an example to imitate ourselves. Indeed, the strong points are what your colleague wants you to tell the world about. Be right and not too generous. Finally, find the positive in negative aspects. A junior with little experience may be willing to learn. A not communicative person can be discreet and quiet.
Consider What You Did for Them
After writing, think of what they learned from you. In any situation when we live close to other persons, we influence them. In some way, you taught them something new. On the other hand, if you cannot recall something significant, then you may put some effort into it. Find some time and ask what you can do for them. If they already left, then you may move this effort on someone still working with you. In both cases, this is not part of the written recommendation, but a meditation for yourself. No matter how good the other person is, you taught them something. You are valuable too. Do not miss the chance to give something.
Think of What You Learned
The same exchange works also in the other direction. The other person may have given you something valuable. Or sometimes something not good. Maybe go back and credit them for it, or mention the weakness. A good recommendation should be objective. Mentioning at least a weak point makes it more balanced. As a step for you have this reflection. They made you better. And you should be thankful for it. Or you have been strong enough to bear that toxic quality they brought. In any case, be aware of it.
Here is an example of an actual recommendation letter I wrote on LinkedIn for a former colleague. I really loved writing it, since it reminded me of all the nice work we did together. When I had to smooth his temper to have the team focus on working. When he did it and had great success in a particular task together.
John is a smart guy, with the crave for things working. He has great independence in his tasks and he designs pieces of software without effort. He is a proficient Java programmer, a good OOP-dev, and a great script creator. He is also a precise person, happy to create procedures and follow them when necessary. His creativity and intuition help him greatly when reverse-engineering is needed. Finally, he is a very nice person who tries to look rude… so others can leave him working. When there is something that needs to work (one way or another) he can be the right guy.
You may be in another company, or maybe they left. But still have space in your experiences for them. Cherish the good things exchanged, and sometimes recall also the errors you made. The recommendation letter is a moment for great and valuable reflection. Let it not be an inflated bag of cheesy and fake positive reinforcement. Think of it as a short poem, narrating the work experience you shared with the person. With no rhyme scheme.