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The Perfect Letter of Recommendation: Sincere, Positive & Affirming

The Perfect Letter of Recommendation: Sincere, Positive & Affirming

Writing a perfect letter of recommendation can seem intimidating, especially if you have never written one. The struggle between staying honest to yourself while trying not to destroy one’s future is always challenging. You don’t want to make things up, but you are even more unwilling to write a template-like vague, dull and unconvincing letter.

Letter of recommendation can really decide one’s future. If carefully written, the letter can help someone to stand out from the crowds of talents. Otherwise, it is more like a killing letter rather than a killer letter. Here is a complete guide to help you writer a killer recommendation letter (plus useful letter of recommendation template!)

1. Apply the standard letter format to your letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation follows the same general rules as any other professional letters.

  • Your address should be on the top right, followed by the date
  • Below your address, on the left, have the recipient’s name and address
  • Start with a formal business greeting. For example, ‘Dear Sir or Madam’

2. Start by express your passionate praise in brief

Let the potential employer of the person you are writing for know that you believed in this person right from the start. Try not to sound overzealous; you do not want them to think it is insincere.

“Any corporation should count themselves fortunate to have an employee as determined, sharp and friendly as Mark.”

3. Show how well you know the person you are writing for

Give some concrete contexts and examples for your recommendation. Inform the reader how you met them, how long you have worked together, your experience working with them and summarise your basic qualifications.

“As MD of Media Central, I was Mark’s direct supervisor from 2007 to 2011. We worked together on several key projects together as I got to know him well, as a hardworking man.”

4. Highlight the candidate’s qualifications and past achievements

Give a clear and concise description of what the person has done, in your company. Cite their greatest achievements in their assigned departments as well as team projects. Use examples, give evidence or summarise a story of their work.

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“Mark’s enthusiasm for solving problems through media combined with his grasp of media technology, polished editorial skills and team spirit, has improved our company’s productivity in the visual and print media departments.

5. Illustrate their success and what makes them stand out through comparisons

Comparisons help the recipient to have some basis to fathom why you are recommending the candidate.

“Mark’s ability to get the job done even before the deadline, keep up with technological trends and serve diversified markets has surpassed the combined efforts of other media efforts I have witnessed during my five years at XXX LTD.”

6. Cite where and how the candidate is improving without any exaggeration

Do not set expectations for the candidates that may be almost impossible to meet. Praise them without looking plausible.

“Mark is always active in seminars, summits and complementary courses as he works hard to improve technical skills in field work.”

7. Mention their good qualities outside of work

Give a basis of their participation whether it is in the company’s sports team or voluntary work.

“Mark is also an active member of the company’s football team where he performs outstandingly.”

8. Maintain action-oriented writing

Start every paragraph with an active affirmation of the candidate’s character traits or qualities.

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Replace “I have been pleased with his ongoing work” with “Mark’s skills have drastically improved in the last couple months. His selfless attitude is inspiring.”

9. Close the letter with an affirmative tone

In few words, restate your recommendation of the candidate and invite the recipient to contact you.

“For all the above reasons, I know Mark will be of great value to your company as an addition to the team. Should you have any enquiries, I invite you to contact me at the phone number and address, above.”

10. Don’t forget to sign your name!

The most important thing it to still sound professional, at the end of it all. If the recommendation letter you are writing is to be sent to a physical address, print and sign it by hand. Otherwise, type your name and sign off.

Remember, make this person look good without putting them on the pedestal. You are putting your reputation on the line for this person, make it perfect. If you aren’t completely confident that you have covered everything in your letter, ask for feedback from an associate who may also know the candidate.

And more tips from professionals to help you write an all-rounded letter of recommendation.

It’s not ending here. We still have some wise words from some professionals in the field for you. Their expertise and experience are the perfect proof of their credibility. And it is highly advisable to listen to them before starting your letter or you may accidentally step on some traps which can be avoided.

Keep the letter of recommendation brief and concise

One-page MAX. This may seem like common sense, but can be hard if you are trying to get across a lot of accomplishments or the person has an extended CV. If you can get to the heart of the matter in one page, highlighting the person, as opposed to waxing poetic about how great they are will keep it authentic. — Brandyce Stephenson, Corporate Culture Consultant[1]

Don’t be vague, list examples to demonstrate the candidate’s qualities instead

My best advice for writing an effective letter of recommendation is to focus the writing and praise on a specific project or area of work that the person completed. Rather than the vague cliches of saying that candidate X is “hard-working, attentive, and detail-oriented”, it helps to say exactly what the person did when you were working for them and what astounded you about that particular practice. Anyone can be a “conscientious worker”, but few may have the fortitude to work long hours and late nights to achieve a goal, or the ability to instantly pick up a new program online, for example. — Jake Tully, Editor In Chief TruckDrivingJobs[2]

Mention the lasting impression

Finish your letter with a statement about how you would be “happy to hire X person again”. This firmly indicates to the hirer that you parted ways on good terms. — Jamie Stone, Human Resources Consultant, Mature Dates Online[3]

Introduce yourself in the letter as well

It may not be very obvious to the reviewer who you are and why you have the standing to recommend this person. State in the letter why you have the experience to make this judgement. So, for example, I would say: “I am a professor of medicine with 25 years of experience. I have mentored hundreds of postdoctoral fellows in a top 20 medical research center. Therefore, I have extensive experience assessing the skills of applicants at this level.” — Dr. Luz Claudio, director of training programs and author of How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide[4]

Tailor the letter to the job sought

Familiarise yourself with the position so that you can tailor your letter to the specific requirements of the job. If the job heavily entails people management, make sure you mention a time when this person did a great job at that, even if it wasn’t their main responsibility. — Freda Francis, Human Resources Expert, Mums That Work[5]

Get personal and trigger emotions

People like to get their hearts tugged at a bit and if some one can stand someone enough to hire someone or have someone as a student and actually want to recommend them after the experience, they probably think they’re pretty good people. Opt for sincerity versus perfection. People dig it. — Joan Barrett, Freelance Writer, Joan Barrett Media[6]

Emphasise the great attitude of the person you are writing for

A great recommendation letter speaks to the candidate’s stellar attitude. I don’t always expect candidates to meet every requirement of the job as long as they have the basics down. But I do expect them to come with a great attitude and positive energy regarding tackling new challenges. You can train people on skills, but you can almost never train attitude. — Jeff Kear, Founder, Planning Pod[7]

With all these tips and suggestion, you are now capable to write a sound, convincing yet neat killer letter of recommendation. No worries for the possibility of killing now. And be prepared to be a favourite to write more in the coming future!

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

Reference

[1] Brandyce Stephenson, Corporate Culture Consultant
[2] Jake Tully, Editor In Chief TruckDrivingJobs.com
[3] Jamie Stone, Human Resources Consultant, Mature Dates Online
[4] Dr. Luz Claudio, director of training programs and author of How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide
[5] Freda Francis, Human Resources Expert, Mums That Work
[6] Joan Barrett, Freelance Writer, Joan Barrett Media
[7] Jeff Kear, Founder, Planning Pod

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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