Weaknesses on a Reference Letter

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Students and employees often ask their instructors and supervisors to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of someone seeking admission into another school or a different job. Many recommendation writers can think of several of the candidate's positive aspects of the candidate from the moment that person requests a recommendation, but sometimes the letter must address a candidate's weaknesses --- a potentially sensitive process.

Character Weaknesses

  • References should stay away from mentioning any weaknesses of character, such as stubbornness or inability to work well as part of a group. These characteristics, while weaknesses, will not help the applicant's case any and likely will stand out more in a reference letter than any positive qualities will.

Strengths Disguised as Weaknesses

  • Also avoid strengths disguised as weaknesses, such as a candidate who takes on many projects. Showing initiative and a willingness to work hard is actually a strength. Disguising it as a weakness will not fool a recruiter and will reflect poorly on the person writing the reference and the candidate, as it indicates little real thought put into the letter.

Address Weaknesses With Solutions in Progress

  • The best weaknesses for a reference to point out are those the applicant has already begun to correct. These types of weaknesses could include a lack of training in a specific skill or a low score on a professional test. If the applicant is already enrolled in courses to receive necessary training or has registered to retake the test, showing the applicant's initiative to correct these weaknesses is a good strategy for a recommendation letter.

When in Doubt, Leave it Out

  • If you, as a reference, cannot find a weakness that will not outshine all of an applicant's good qualities, do not address weaknesses unless specifically asked. The goal of a reference letter is to show a recruiter why the applicant will make the best choice; pointing out weaknesses will not help you reach that goal.

References

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