Tribune staff reporter
3:06 PM EDT, May 20, 2011
How does a job seeker help strengthen his or her credentials as a person of substance?
When recruiters put the credentials of candidates side by side, they consider many reasons to hire or not to hire.
"We look at skills, experience, background, salary requirements and quality of character," says recruiter Rosa Lopez. "But so much of the time we focus on what we know tangible skills and gloss over what we don't, like quality of character. That's something that can't really come through on paper or in some cases, during an interview.
"I'm biased toward reference letters," says Lopez. "If someone has the confidence to include that with a resume, it's immediate verification of their skills. Someone has helped us take the first step in making a decision."
A good reference letter makes a strong statement about someone his or her work habits, their experience and their character.
But for a letter of reference to be truly effective, it needs to have some weight," says Philip A. Barquer, president of HR Alternatives, Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif.
"You want to include letters from professors, directors and people of prominence," says Barquer. "While some former managers or co-workers may have an accurate idea of your work ethic and accomplishments, a recruiter wants to see top-level signatures."
Still, it's important that any letters of reference are indicative of a person's true talents, which is why you should ask only those who have been directly affected by your performance. This includes former managers, professors or others in leadership positions who know you and your work.
"Ask people if they feel comfortable writing a letter on your behalf. If they seem reluctant, you should probably find another options," says Lopez. "The difference between a thought-out letter that describes someone in the best possible light and a form letter that says 'Joe was a good worker' is like night and day."
It helps that the person writing the letter is a good writer, but at the very least, he or she should outline your accomplishments and attitude."
"A good letter describes what you've done in a positive light," says Barquer. "It should also compare you to your peers in terms of accomplishment, professionalism and demeanor."
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