When I got laid off I went to a boss I had worked under for a number of years and asked him for a letter of recommendation. He immediately agreed and enthusiastically started writing something.
Later that day he gave me a two page letter of recommendation.
It was horrible.
It was mostly a letter of “Jason is great, but we had to let him go because…” and then went on to explain that it wasn’t my fault, or anything about me, and that he would be happy to recommend me and he wished he could keep me on or find or make a spot for me in the company, but that was just too impossible.
Two pages of that.
It was more like a letter of apology.
I carefully asked him if I could fix a few things and then I wrote something that was a, well, a letter of recommendation!
It might feel weird to write in your boss’s voice, totally bragging about yourself, but this happens all the time. Many times it is easier for you to say the things that should be said (so that you have an influence on the marketing message) than to have your boss, who usually feels bad about what happened, try and fumble their way through.
Did you catch that? Your letter of recommendation is a marketing document.
Make sure you are marketing YOU. If you want to bring out certain characteristics (team player, highly analytical, high social EQ, etc.) and downplay other characteristics that your boss is likely to think about (you have a nice smile, you were a joy to work with, etc.), then make sure you do that.
Let the boss know that you want to make sure certain things come out in your recommendation. Give him or her a list! Make it easy for them to write this. You might even write sentences or paragraphs and say “here are some ideas of what I’m looking for.” They can simply copy and paste from your ideas and you’ll get exactly what you asked for.
This might sound weird but it is commonly done in the business world.
If you have a hard time writing about yourself, get the book Brag!