Writing a Recommendation

Other than try our best not to be boring, I’m sure there are no hard and fast rules about writing a “To whom it may concern” letter of recommendation. We who are honored by such a request must determine what’s right for us. In the spirit of sharing what I’ve found useful, here are five tips, followed by a recent personal example.

Steve Roberts black ink drawing of quill pen and drop of heart-shaped ink

Other than try our best not to be boring, I’m sure there are no hard and fast rules about writing a “To whom it may concern” letter of recommendation.  We who are honored by such a request must determine what’s right for us.  In the spirit of sharing what I’ve found useful, here are five tips, followed by a recent personal example.

First, remember that, ideally, our recommendation is an embellishment of an already well-established portrait of a person’s fitness for a position.  Our job is to broaden or deepen that portrait, not create one from scratch.  Even if we know that the recomendee’s CV fails to mention that he or she was King Tut in a previous life.

Second, set the stage by explaining who we are in a way that conveys the filter of reality through which we engage the world, and thus the particular sensibility that prompts our pleasure at making this recommendation.  If our work or ideas are available for public scrutiny (e.g., a website), so much the better, since it gives “To whom” the chance to deepen their appreciation of our credibility.  

Third, convey the context in which we experience this person.  

Fourth, based on all of the above, provide a memorable example that encapsulates the distinct gift the person we’re recommending will bring to their position.

And fifth, unless we’re Lady Gaga or Shakespeare, be brief.

Here’s a recent attempt to follow my own advice:

To whom it may concern re Margaret Wolff

I help those who aspire to leadership at its best: providing perspective that helps those we serve take healthy action in the face of anything.  I find the spirit of the universe to be playful, loving and deep.  Since experience has taught me that environment is more important than will power, I’m drawn to playmates, professional and otherwise, who feel the same.  Margaret Wolff, I’m blessed to say, is one of them.

Since she and I have been for some 20 years admirers of each other’s professional presence in the world, and the commitment to love upon which that presence rests, I know the most important thing there is to know about Margaret.  

Let me put it this way: If asked to teach a course that would expand, delightfully, the self-understanding and creative expression of virtually any group, but had to do so using only a giant bag of socks and a stop sign, she’d say no problem.

 

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"I honor that we are killing the earth for the same reason I consider being an alcoholic a privilege: it is a doorway to the profound self-understanding required to make truly healthy choices."

The Essay: Honoring the Killing of the Earth