Those of you starting out with your first internships and/or first jobs, you probably have very little experience with the letter of recommendation outside of academia. Occasionally, at the end of an internship your employer will ask you to write your own letter of recommendation for him/her to sign. This can be a daunting process (I know I felt like it was a trap the first time I was asked to write one), but it can also be a helpful learning exercise to do at the end of a job. Here are some tips for making it an effective letter so you can end your internship at a high point:
Start with the Correct Format
Unless the company you worked for already has a standard for formatting, a good starting place is to look up what format is most often used in letters of recommendation. Write out the entire format in a Word document labeling where everything is supposed to go. Highlight the areas that your boss must fill out himself/herself. Normally, this is simply where he/she will need to sign. However, if you’re unsure about your boss’s exact title with the company or how to spell his/her name correctly, air on the side of caution. Simply highlight “Name, Title, Contact Information” to indicate where the signer will need to fill it out themselves. This gives your boss the feeling that you’re not trying to force them to give away any information they may be uncomfortable giving out. In the first paragraph of the body, describe when you worked with the company and what you did.
Be Honest About Your Strengths
In the second paragraph, describe your strengths. This is the tricky part. You’re going to want to talk yourself up without sounding arrogant. In the third person describe what aspects of your performance were the most worthwhile. Did you take initiative? Were you punctual? If so, mention it, but if you were late (even once) leave it out. Did you get along with people well? Was there something your boss commented on as a “job well done”? If so, mention the experience. It’s likely they’ll remember this and keep it in the final copy of the letter. Get that thesaurus out and start describing your performance honestly, but positively.
In the third paragraph, note things that you may not have been great at in the beginning. You don’t have to mention that you were “bad” at them, but list things that you worked hard on improving and how you went about improving your skills. Explain how this would make you a good recommendation to future employers. For example, did you have a good attitude when problems with your work were addressed? If so, mention that.
Be Sure Signer Will Agree
Evaluate the working relationship you had with the person who will sign the letter of recommendation. It is important to make sure that your employer will agree with everything you’ve said in the letter. Be sure you’ve actively (and on multiple occasions) displayed the skills and attributes that your letter claims you do.
Proofread, Proofread, and Proofread Again
The attention to detail shown in near obsessive proofreading will make your employer more likely to view you in a positive way that will make him/her more likely to keep your letter as is (or maybe even take the time to add a little extra note of positive feedback). Plus, the more error-free your work is, the more likely they are to sign it for you.