As a businessperson, you will write much to promote yourself. As a successful businessperson, you will probably be asked someday to write something that promotes someone else: a letter of recommendation for college, a job reference, a letter of introduction to a professional association.
Assuming this is someone you honestly can recommend and that there are no company policies keeping you from going into detail, by all means tell the college/business/association how fortunate they would be to have this person. Here’s how to make a good impression on your “recommendee’s” behalf:
Be specific. Sure, every administrative department wants students and staff to be honest and hardworking, but the adjectives by themselves don’t mean much. Give specific examples: “In October 2008, Ms. Spencer designed and implemented a new software program that cut our order-processing time by 20 percent.”
Be concise, but not too concise. Think minimum one full page, maximum two pages.
Be positive. People are wary of those who write recommendations simply to get persistent applicants off their backs; evident reservation tempts readers to suspect something is seriously wrong. If you think someone’s shortcomings would affect his ability to function in the position applied for, you shouldn’t be writing him a recommendation in the first place. Otherwise, let him worry about answering the “tell me your greatest weaknesses” question once he gets the interview.
Don’t gush, however. Being too positive arouses as much suspicion as being tentative. If you can show specific ways an applicant has improved in certain areas, that’s ideal.
Focus on qualities that can be transferred to the position applied for. If you supervised a college applicant during her three-month summer job archiving church records, mention her dependability, attention to detail, and other academic-relevant qualities. Unless the college she’s applying to is extremely conservative, they aren’t likely to care much that she is also a third-generation member of the church and hasn’t missed a service since she had the flu in fifth grade.
Be sure that you do, in fact, understand what is relevant. If you have any doubts, the person who requested the recommendation—assuming he’s serious enough to deserve it—is likely to be your best source of information.
Do proofread your reference before sending it. Preferably, let it “cool” a week before the final edit. This is, after all, something with potential to significantly affect someone’s future.
Make up your mind not to take it personally if your reference doesn’t “work.” However good your letter of recommendation is, the person you recommend may not get into the school or be hired for the job. Or he may decide he prefers some alternative, which he didn’t ask your recommendation for. There could be any number of reasons; don’t waste your time trying to find out what they are. If nothing else, you got some valuable writing practice from this.
References are a part of professional life; you may even need one yourself someday. Treat them with the respect they deserve.