Letters of recommendation have the same purpose as your references. More often than not, the letters will come from the same people who are your references.
A letter of recommendation is an insurance policy, which assures that you will be covered if the person who wrote it has left the company, disappears, or is enjoined from providing recommendations by a new company policy.
The letter of recommendation also provides backup for those nice things you write about yourself in your resume and cover letters and articulate at the interviews. It provides an affirmation by a qualified authority (boss, customer, vendor) that your positive presentation of your skills, achievements, and results is more than just smoke and hyperbole.
Most employers have no objection providing letters of recommendation. The usual problem is in getting around to writing them. Some are too busy. Others would like to but don’t know what to say or where to begin. Therefore it is often convenient to provide a list of suggestions and valuable points, including major projects worked on and key successes. Remind them of projects you worked on and some of your more notable accomplishments.
Letters can be critical for those who leave their positions under less-thanpositive circumstances. The contents are usually negotiated with the employer and not intended as unqualified praise. Instead, the letter is a careful delineation of the strengths and achievements the employee did demonstrate that both parties feel confident in presenting. Feel free to remind your now ex-boss what some of your successes were. The employer who completes this type of letter will rarely turn around and offer a highly negative account during a reference check.
It is rarely appropriate to enclose letters of recommendation with resumes. Some research suggests that it might be helpful for people in entry-level jobs and for those seeking certain office/administrative positions. With that said, save letters to support your presentation at the interview.
The value of lukewarm or one-size-fits-all letters is also debatable. Such missives include “Rosalyn worked for me for six years in such and such a capacity and she is an excellent employee. I can recommend her without reservation. Should you have any questions feel free to call me.” It comes across sounding
like an afterthought . . . and so does the employee. It does, however, provide an opening for the interviewer to contact the past employer who, hopefully, will have something more definitive and positive to say about the candidate. Still, this is not the type of letter of recommendation that you would go out of your way to give to a prospective employer.