By Lisa McQuerrey Updated July 25, 2018
If an executive-level colleague asks you to write a recommendation or serve as a reference, it’s a task that requires more than an average recommendation letter. Chances are that the person is applying for a prestigious award, a high-level position, or is seeking tenure, a grant or some other type of career advancement. As such, the wording you use can make or break what could be a very important opportunity.
Writing an Effective Letter
Executive-level professionals don’t usually ask friends, co-workers or mid-level managers to put their impressions down in a letter, outlining that they arrive on time and contribute well in groups sessions. This type of high-level correspondence is specific, and the best way to support someone with a recommendation, is to ask them pointedly what they want covered. If no such direction is provided, emphasize the following points:
- Your relationship with the person
- Your views on the person's skills, professionalism, integrity and work ethic
- Why you are making the recommendation and why the person should be given serious consideration
In many instances, the person making the request will actually ask or volunteer to draft the letter himself, or will have a marketing or PR person draft the correspondence, which you can then review for accuracy, affix to letterhead, sign and return.
Making a Virtual Introduction
A top-level employee may ask for a recommendation or referral to someone you know, be it a connection to a job lead, a new staffer or a prospective client. One way to do this is via email, in which all parties are copied, and in which the basis for the introduction or referral is made clear. Example:
Jim, I would like to introduce you, via this email, to my former manager Jane Smith. Jane is relocating to your area in the next several months, and has just launched her job search. As you will see in her attached CV, she has more than 20 years of experience as a university CFO. She has stellar vendor negotiating skills, and is a professional, who is well-liked by her superiors and by those to whom she reports to directly. I thought it might be good for the two of you to meet, to see if there might be a place for her at your company.
Serving as a Phone Reference
If someone has asked you to be a reference, you may be contacted by phone. In this instance, it's wise to have asked the boss for a resume and job description, or at minimum, bullet points about the position or recognition the phone referral is in reference to. A phone conversation is a less-controlled environment than a written one, but you can prepare an effective response by listening to the caller's requests and specific questions, and by keeping your focus on contributions, key metrics, professionalism, problem-solving abilities and team-building approach.
- “Thank you for taking the time to work with me on this. ...
- “I appreciate you trusting me with added responsibility. ...
- “I know you juggle a lot as our manager, and I just wanted to say that I'm so impressed by the great work you get done.”
- “I've learned so much from you.”
"I appreciate the clarity you provide for project tasks"
For example, you can write that it's very helpful to receive written instructions from the manager and that they communicate deadlines, goals and expectations well, which helps you accomplish more.
Be solution-oriented. Aim to approach the conversation with a helpful attitude rather than pointing out their flaws. After all, you're trying to help your boss be better at managing, so offer constructive feedback with results in mind. Give positive feedback.What is an example of feedback for a manager? ›
Feedback Examples for Managers - Ways to Say Thank You:
“Thanks so much for helping me set clear, actionable goals for myself this year. Your guidance really kept me on the right track.” 2. “I can't thank you enough for your encouragement and support.”