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I have a question for a change, Re: letters of rec

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Mark Suszko
I have a question for a change, Re: letters of rec
on Oct 27, 2008 at 9:58:00 pm

Am I out of touch or something?

Interns and student workers at the facility keep asking me for letters of recommendation for inclusion in an application to their school media departments, or for a job application. I tell them I'm glad to write them one, but that I won't GIVE them one. They go "wha?"

I tell them it's policy to put the letter in a Pre-Addressed, Stamped Envelope they supply me, pre-addressed to the place it needs to go, and I'll send it for them. I don't hand over a letter to them that can be xeroxed and sent anywhere to anyone at any time. I explain to them that if they think about it for a minute, they should understand why the letter is next to worthless unless I send this way, so they never get to see it. And if they never see it, they need to think hard about who they're asking to send such a letter and what that person is likely to say. I have done the same for guys older than me, friends who are professors angling for teaching gigs at universities, and they never blink an eye or ask to read what I say about them. I expect the same from them.

This is always news to the kid applicants, apparently business correspondence is no longer taught anywhere, but after the explanation speech, they reluctantly agree it makes sense as a policy.

The younger guys working with me in the office don't get it at all, however, and think it's a stupid rule; I should just print it "in the clear" and hand it to the applicants and forget about it.

Did someone change the way things are done and not send me a memo?

Agree? Disagree? Why?


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Mark Suszko
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 1:51:38 am

annnd.....crickets.........??? Really?



None of you guys ever have to do one of these letters for anybody? Or have one done for you? If I'm an HR person, I should think I'd weigh the confidential, sealed letter, addressed to me, specifically, higher than the one just handed out and xeroxed over and over to anyone and everyone, titled: "To whom it may concern". How do I know that xeroxed one wasn't written by the applicant themself, unless I call to follow it up? And is the writer more or less likely to be completely candid if the letter is sealed and confidential, rather than when it is handed out to the applicant? Or am I being old-fashioned? I know that I certainly DON'T approve of someone using me for a reference for anything without asking me for each instance, and if somebody put my name to their own fake letter, then God help them when the HR people contact me to follow it up.

When I write a letter of rec for someone, I put in things that relate directly to the specific position they are going for, and I address the specific person who is reading these apps. Each letter is a custom job, just as each Cover Letter you send with a resume' should be a custom job, targeted to specific people and jobs. If the applicant doesn't know by now if I'd write them a good rec or not, well, that says something about the person too, doesn't it? If they don't know me well enough to ask me, I probably don't know them well enough to give them one in the first place.

But I seem from here to be very much alone in these views.

You guys gonna leave me hanging here, or what?


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Steve Kownacki
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 12:34:14 pm


You bring up a really great point and I totally agree that it should be sealed and sent directly to intended recipient. I don't want to get all pessimistic, but you have to be so careful anymore what you say and then they want it in writing. Your recommendation cannot and should not be allowed to be used "out of context". Meaning that the letter is written to a specific recipient at a specific time for a specific position. I disregard any letters if they are not current; the photocopied letter from 3 years ago has no bearing - like the freelance world "you're only as good as your last job."

If they want something that generic, I'd just post something on their facebook or LinkedIn.

And another thought, this is why applicants supply names for references - so the potential employer can get first-hand information within context. The more I think about it, it seems that the people that came in with generic letters like that, seem to be the ones prior employers were looking to get rid of. Hmmm.

I like this thread so much, I'm adding it to my blog http://blog.finalfocusvideo.com/?p=16




Steve

Being rich has nothing to do with wealth.


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Todd Terry
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 1:29:10 pm

Actual crickets, huh Mark?

I can't say I'm really surprised. Maybe I'm the one that's in the dark or out of touch (probably), but personally I've never heard of or seen anyone do it that way. That probably explains the confused looks you are getting.

I can't say it's a bad idea, though.

I'm sure your students were thinking the same thing that I was... that they probably don't have in advance a pre-determined list of names and addresses of potential employers, and therefore have to go back to you and request a letter each time they wish to apply somehwere. If I were a whiny 20-year old (and I'm not, I'm a whiny 45-year old), I'd probably give you the, "Awwww, maaaaaannn"

Personally, as an employer, recommendation letters mean bupkus to me. The only references that bear any weight are the ones that I can call and talk with on the phone.

Then again, a sealed letter like that might carry some cache with me. But still, I'd pick up the phone and call you.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Mark Suszko
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 2:05:59 pm

Oh, you say you'll call, but you never do... (sniff)...:-)

I keep a draft of the rec letters handy to edit and re-send, any time the person needs another one sent. The applicant sends me an email or the SASE in the post, and I turn it around the same day. I got one request to fax or email it due to a time constraint, they needed it the same day. I didn't like it, but I did fax it because I didn't want to cross up the applicant's chances for a weak reason, but I did ask in the cover sheet for the person receiving the fax to keep it confidential. I googled the topic a bit last night and the standard seems to be to give your recommender at least two weeks notice to compose the thing. You can volunteer some talking points or highlights you want to remind them of, including key dates, but as suggestions, only.

Rec letters are different from reference letters. References are short and to the point objective confirmations that a person worked at said company for said amount of time, and need not be confidential. Rec letters tell someone in detail if the guy or gal, in your opinion, is worth hiring and why, and are a little more subjective.

Whom in an organization gets to do those can be highly regulated, depending on the organization. Generally, what I have experienced is, anybody who is not management usually is limited to just confirming name and dates of employment, but for fear of lawsuits, are not supposed to volunteer anything more than that.

You know the old joke: "Did so-and-so work there?"
"Well, he was here, but I'm not sure I could say he worked ..."
:-)


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Don Greening
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 5:59:12 pm

[Mark Suszko] "You know the old joke: "Did so-and-so work there?"
"Well, he was here, but I'm not sure I could say he worked ...""


I've had phone calls from employers asking about previous employees of mine. Up here in the great white north this seems to be the way it's done instead of sealed letters of recommendation. At least in this industry. I suppose the big corporations would be different. Employers who've talked to me never seem to ask the final question though, which is: "Would you ever hire this person again." The answer speaks volumes.

You're not alone, Mark. Todd never phones me, either. No phone calls, no cards, no letters. I'm crushed.

- Don



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Mike Cohen
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 6:22:58 pm

I have written one letter of recommendation in the past, very generic in nature.
I receive one or two calls a year from employers or employment verification services, asking about a former employee. Even people I have laid off use me as a reference. Must be my bubbly personality ;)

Seriously, you have to be careful what you say about a former employee. Here is a typical call:

Them "I'm calling to ask about Bob Smith. Did he work at your company from 2002 to 2007?"

Me "That sounds right."

Them "Great. What were his duties?"

Me "Let's see. He was hired to wash the decks ans clean barnacles off the hull. Then we promoted him to boatswain and eventually galley chief. His bread pudding is to die for."

Them "Ok. What was the reason for leaving?"

Me "It was a layoff. Lack of work."

Them "Was he punctual?"

Me "We worked on a boat at sea. He was usually on board."

Them "Would you hire him again?"

Me "We no longer are in the merchant marine business. Our ship sank. I don't think we have any positions for which he would be qualified in our new business of high tension wire maintenance."

Them "I see. Ok, thanks for your time."

Me "No problem."

I'm a nice person. Unless someone steals from me, I'm going to give a favorable response, but I will not give too many details one way or the other. A person's merit should be the deciding factor.

And I agree, a resume or cover letter with a typo or blatant grammatical error goes into the trash.

Mike




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Todd Terry
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 6:33:55 pm

[Don Greening] "You're not alone, Mark. Todd never phones me, either. No phone calls, no cards, no letters. I'm crushed."

Dammit.... my Hickory Farms gift boxes to you both got lost again... grrrrrr!

It was a good one, too... three kinds of sausage and two kinds of ham (their "Saughterhouse Five" basket).

I'll get on it.


T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com






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Don Greening
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 7:18:19 pm

LOL! you made my day, Todd. Thanks for the giggles.

- Don


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Mike Cohen
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 28, 2008 at 11:56:11 pm

Today I reviewed some resumes and video links from a few job applicants. The resumes, as usual, embellish actual experiences. For example "11 years of filming and editing using all major editing platforms" combined with YouTube clips worthy of a C grade in high school video class.

Sure, my college work was hit or miss, but I only put stuff on my reel with good audio, soild camera work and professional-looking graphics. It seems the YouTube effect is lowering the standards for young people (not all young people, as there have been some good samples also).

Based upon some earlier posts here, I have a few criteria for videos that go directly in the trash:

Copyrighted music. There was even a clip of a supposed paid job using easily recognizable pop music.

Any student "film" shot like the Blair Witch Project. Perhaps this is a misnomer, because despite starting the shaky camera movement, they did have good audio.

And of course, a resume or cover letter with typos or poor grammar gets the ax.

Mike


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Ryan Mast
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 29, 2008 at 1:39:48 am

To answer your question, Mark...

For colleges, there was one or two that I applied to that wanted the letters of recommendation sent directly to them, but a couple wanted the letters included with the rest of my application. I understand your concern of context and sending it yourself, but the college might not actually see any value in that -- it might make the process more annoying for them.



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Chris Blair
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 30, 2008 at 2:48:55 am

I'm 47 and have worked in this business for 25 years, and I think that practice has become outdated in a lot of places around the country. I think most company owners, HR managers or anyone that hires people realizes that letters of recommendation are going to say wonderful things about the prospective employee. They don't usually hold much weight with me.

I don't even look that closely at resumes and cover letters (unless of course they're poorly written with the typos others have mentioned). I rely much more on checking to make sure an applicant actually did the things he/she says they did. Graduated from XYZ college; actually shot the video that's on their demo; actually designed the graphics etc. And I rely on asking potential employees how they would go about accomplishing a project (usually a real project that we've already completed or something that's coming up). And I've even given prospective employees a small project to complete (with PLENTY of time to do it), with access to equipment, computers, software etc.

That process alone tells me if the person understands how to look at a problem, work through a solution, and deliver a solid piece of work without needing constant attention from others. A letter of recommendation, sealed or not, doesn't tell me any of that.



Chris Blair
Magnetic Image, Inc.
Evansville, IN
http://www.videomi.com


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Mike Cohen
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 30, 2008 at 4:17:54 pm

"references upon request" has become a cliche, still used on many resumes.
I agree that references are always going to say cheery things.
However an e-mail from a business owner saying "a guy who sometimes works for me is very good, give him a shot" goes farther than "Joe Smith? Yeah he worked here."
But it is true, meeting a person and having a conversation is the best way to see what someone is made of. Software I can teach, our particular flavor of production I can also teach. But I cannot teach someone how to be mature and professional.

Mike


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Steve Kownacki
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 30, 2008 at 4:33:02 pm

They gotta have passion and enthusiasm. That's the most difficult thing to teach. Having them come in, work for a few hours and observing really let's you know your starting point.

I had one young guy actually tell me he had nothing else to learn. I think I know about 1/10 of 1% of what there is to know and I still learn something every day.

Maybe I should have hired him.

Steve


Being rich has nothing to do with wealth.


View Steve Kownacki's profile on LinkedIn




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Mike Cohen
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Oct 30, 2008 at 5:48:45 pm

Years ago we were having a meeting and the issue of our e-mail provider came up. Our VP at the time suggested switching to a different host, and our IT guy replied, "I like the web mail software we have. I'm 40 years old, I don't want to learn anything else."
We should have fired him on the spot, but that was the first nail in his coffin. So this was an older guy talking like a kid.

Just my silly anecdote.

Mike


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Bob Cole
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Nov 4, 2008 at 6:38:39 pm

Your stance is admirable but perhaps outdated and even dangerous. Who reads letters anymore? And, why would you want to put anything in writing?

I'd just offer to make myself available by phone should someone want to check references. Allegedly, you incur some legal liability for sharing any information that could damage an applicant's job prospects. Easier to give someone the "drift" on the phone. I've heard it -- the former boss who says "He did exactly what he had to do," meaning, "What a slacker!"

I suspect that the person whom you inform of your sealed envelope policy thinks to himself, "Damn! He must hate me!" Just out of curiosity, how many of those people actually give you the envelope?

Bob C



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Mark Suszko
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Nov 4, 2008 at 8:11:42 pm

So far, Bob, all of them. And a couple, repeatedly, as they tried for different jobs. Out of curiosity I forwarded the question to a college friend who works a career in HR and she was 100 percent for it, for what that's worth. The issue, she said, becomes more important the bigger the job is; you might not bother doing it for a teenage burger-flipper, but for someone pursuing a career track job, yes.

The legal troubles that I've seen in google searches of the topic tend to come up when it is not clear who can say what in a person's written employment file, and who can see that information and how long it is kept. The ugliest incidents arise when someone writes down a subjective statement that is hard to verify. Besides official annual or quarterly evaluations or reviews, there may also be memos in there detailing a specific incident. Such memos are generally one-sided on the part of the writer, and sometimes written in anger, and so I'd want to hear or read a candidate's response to the memo before passing judgement. But do you even get to know that's in there?

Depending on if you work for government or private business, the office policy may be to give up just the bare minimum objective data of dates worked, title, and amount of pay over the phone, and refer everything else to HR. Even if the guy was terrific and the favorite of everyone there. Which can look weird if you'd been bragging on your past there and all they say is a curt "Yes, he was here". As a potential employer you want a sense of if the person left on good terms or not and the curt response may make you suspect the worst. Whatever disciplinary issues or other such baggage the employee had is buried, lest the ex-employee come back and sue for libel or slander. The suit may be without merit, but in this litigious society often the mere threat or possibility is enough to stifle any subjective opinion about the ex-employee.

Hiring sure is a guessing game when you are trying to judge applicants. I think the sealed private reference letter can help, and certainly can't hurt.




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Bob Cole
Re: I have a question for a change, letters of rec
on Nov 5, 2008 at 4:22:35 pm

[Mark Suszko] "I think the sealed private reference letter can help, and certainly can't hurt."

Glad this works for you. But I was addressing your legal liability. Nothing's private, even a "sealed private reference letter." Any negative statement (especially one that you put in writing) could be used against you.

Bob C




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