Recommendation Letters

25 July 2020
Capt Bob Smith & Chief Steve Prziborowski

Recommendation Letters

Will it help to present letters of recommendations from prominent people, such as a former police chief or my priest or other firefighters in the area?  Will it carry any weight at all?

On most oral boards, the raters are from other departments.  It is my experience that although the raters might thumb through and glance at any attached documents, they seldom if ever read them.  And come on, if you're going to attach a letter of recommendation, it's not going to say anything bad but only glowing words about you. Save a tree, the raters will not read these volumes. Don't send us on a treasure hunt to find your great stuff.

I'm a one-page resume guy for entry level without a cover letter, not in a binder or folder. Do not give us a book. We will not read it. Write it believing the raters won't go past the first page. You can put any supporting details, documents, certificates and if it will help you sleep better and letters of recommendation following the first page. Keep it simple.

If you are going to attach any letters of recommendation following the first page, how many is appropriate?  I am thinking maybe two.  I realize that there is a very good chance they won't read it but wouldn't it still look just a little better to have a couple of them?

How about none!  Again, I'm a one page stand alone resume guy.  Don't give me a book.  And, if you have already listed your education, experience and certs on your application and resume, why do you need to attach them; unless they were requested or you're going to a chiefs interview where there is more time with each candidate.

Many entry level and promotional candidates have told me they were complemented on having just one, as in one page only, resume.

As you know everyone becomes an expert on these issues. They will fill you head with all these crazy ideas and stuff. And because "They Said" (I've been trying to find "they" for 30 years) you needed to have all that extra stuff or the other candidates are going to get ahead of you.  So, how is all this extra stuff going to help you, really?  Keep it Simple.

From interview rater Captain Steve Prziborowski:

I'm with Captain Bob on this one - leave them at home!  Personally, letters of recommendation really aren't worth much because it is very easy to get them (in my opinion and experience) and they're like a verbal recommendation of someone.  Many times, people will say how great you are either to get rid of you or because they really don't know the true you.

On an oral panel, they don't have the time to look at them either.  Every oral panel I have been on (on either side), there has usually not been much room for the raters to utilize.  There is usually a cramped table space with enough room for a rating sheet, and then maybe your application and/or resume, that's it.

You're getting graded at the oral for things you say, not for things that are written down.  Remember if you don't say it, you probably won't get full credit for it.  Dimensions you're getting graded on during oral interviews include oral communication, NOT written communication.  

If the rater's are reading your paperwork, they're not listening to you - and that can be bad (remember if you didn't say it in the oral, you're not going to get full credit for it, even if it is on your resume). Having to read your resume and application while trying to make notes and comments on your rating sheet and keep their ears open to make sure you say all of the key phrases, buzz words, etc. is challenging enough. Throwing more paperwork in front of them (letters of recommendations, certifications, etc.) just convolutes the issue.

About the only time to include a letter of recommendation might be during the chief's oral (even that is an iffy time).  Personally, if I was a chief, I really wouldn't put much weight on a letter of recommendation (and I know many chiefs that agree with me).  

In my opinion, letters are letters. Whether they are from your boss, a friend, an acquaintance, etc. Whether they are saying how awesome you supposedly are, how great you performed at an event, etc.

Extra, unnecessary paperwork, that just takes away from what you're being graded for.  During a background investigation, unless they ask for it, I wouldn't provide it.  The background investigator has enough to deal with than have more paperwork.

Thanks to Capt Bob Smith and Chief Steve Prziborowski for their insight!