Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What matters more in a letter of recommendation: who writes it or what it says?

Who writes it.
And then, only if it’s written by someone I know — at least well enough to accept a connection request on LinkedIn from that person.
And then, only if they know and like me well enough to take a phone call from me — because the first thing that’s going to happen is, I’m going to call them and ask what they really think.
I don’t encourage the use of them, and I only skeptically accept them when they show up, if at all.
Frankly, I don’t want to see them, although I might get curious about one if it was written by someone I know; and for unsolicited employment applicants (people I invite to consider coming on board with us don’t need a ‘recommendation’), we even call it out.
First of all, you’re never, never, never going to see one where the writer has anything bad or negative or critical to say about the person he’s recommending.
Second, I’ve seen them offered as part of the settlement in employment law cases — every single time, and no matter how nasty the employment litigation got — so you know if I see one from a former employer, I’m going to make some calls and find out what really went on over there. Maybe. If I bother with it at all.
And finally, every time I have gotten them as part of an employment application, it came from someone who either wasn’t close to qualified, or (on a couple of occasions when I did give a person who’d submitted one a chance), worked out to be a total disaster as an employee and had to be fired within a month and a half.
And when I began to notice the phenomenon, and learn from the experience, and did start calling the people who wrote the letter of recommendations whenever one showed up, what I’d get back was always somewhat at odds with the glowing wording on the letter. If it was from a former employer or supervisor, there was always an element of concern about what kind of reference the subject was going to leave that job with when he applied for subsequent employment, and the letter had to be written to mollify him, or to prevent him from making a scene.
I like Bill Marriott, he’s a nice old guy. Beginning when he was in his late twenties (he’s in his eighties, now), he turned Marriott from a local chain of coffee shops in the Washington, D. C. area — plus the one motor hotel (with open-air corridors) in Arlington that his mom and dad had built to venture into something new and see how it would work out (which almost turned out to be the last as well as the first Marriott hotel: it didn’t work well at all at first, and they were very disappointed with it, prior to putting young Bill in charge, who turned it around and got it to perform even better than they’d originally hoped, but that’s another story) — into the great worldwide hotel and food services company that it is today.
I don’t expect to match his achievements in my lifetime. While Marriott and Beechmont have different values (although there are many more similarities than differences), different wants (at least in terms of priorities), different focuses, and different ways of doing things, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Mr. Marriott. If I could meet the guy and have dinner with him, even if I had to drive a couple of states away, and even if I had to buy the dinner, I’d do it, just to hear his stories (even though I can get that on his ‘Marriott on the Move’ blog) and listen to what he has to say, and hopefully share with him what we’re doing and hear what he thinks of it and what advice he might have to offer.
But if you come to me looking for a job, and offer me a letter of recommendation written on the finest Marriott Corporation letterhead, written and signed by Bill Marriott himself, the very first thing I’m going to want to know — even before I open it and read it — is, if Bill Marriott is really so fond of you, why aren’t you working as the general manager of a Courtyard by Marriott? And why in heaven’s name, with that kind of connection within the senior management of a company that large and accomplished, which has a worldwide presence (in some places where Beechmont has no intention or even desire of ever putting a hotel), would you want to leave that company? And why would he want to see you go?
There may even be an answer to all of the above that I’m okay with. We’ll see.

Originally appeared on Quora.

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