Letters of Recommendation – Tips

Recommendation letters are a vital element of a business school applicant’s profile because they offer the admissions committees their only truly objective window into the candidate’s abilities. For this reason, recommenders can contribute significantly to a candidate’s chances for success, but only if their letters are written in a credible and compelling manner.

Writing Your Own Recommendation

Most students end up writing their own recommendations. Writing your own recommendation letters can seem like a blessing. Suddenly, you have the power to control a part of the application process that was previously beyond you. You might think you can take care of some of your downsides through these letters, right? Well, things do not quite work that way.

Admissions committees are not looking for rave reviews, but want recommendations that are detailed and personal, intimate and sincere. Can you really write about yourself with dispassionate sincerity? Can you be subtle enough so as to stand out from the rest of the applicants. For example, suppose that in addition to the many important things you do at work every day, you also occasionally do something thoughtful that you do not even perceive as significant—you take new team members to lunch. While you might consider “closing the big deal” meaningful, others might instead appreciate and admire this small yet impactful act, which helps forge team unity and illustrates your mentoring skills. Unfortunately, you may lack the objectivity necessary to ensure that this positive aspect of your character is included in your letter.

What we are trying to say is, you might be missing on some positive aspects about yourself, if you write your own letter.

Choosing a Recommender

Almost every applicant has a problem in choosing the right recommender. Every applicant feels that his/her recommender isn’t putting the proper thought and effort into your application. If you are at your workplace then you cannot obviously compel your supervisor.  So, before you designate your supervisor as a recommender, you must first understand his/her level of commitment to helping you with your candidacy. If your recommender intends to simply write a single letter and force it to “fit” the school’s questions, or if he/she plans to attach a standard letter to the end of the school’s recommendation form, then your recommender is not helping you—in fact, he/she is hurting you! By neglecting to put the necessary time and effort into your recommendation, your recommender is sending a very clear message to the admissions committee: “I don’t really care about this candidate.”

If you cannot convince your recommender to write a personalized letter or to respond to your target school’s individual questions using specific examples, you will need to look elsewhere. A well-written personalized letter from an interested party is always far better than a poorly written letter from your supervisor. Most applicants face the issue of getting recommendations from their supervisors at work. Common issues include the following:

  • Brief tenure with current firm
  • Disclosing business school plans could compromise promotions, bonuses or potential increases in salary
  • Supervisor is “too busy” to help and either refuses the request or tells the applicant to write the recommendation him/herself, which the applicant is unprepared to do
  • Supervisor does not believe in the MBA degree and would not be supportive of this path
  • Supervisor is a poor manager and refuses to assist junior staff
  • Candidate is an entrepreneur or works in a family business and thus lacks a credible supervisor

If you cannot ask your supervisor for his/her assistance or do not have a suitable supervisor, do not worry; other options are available. Begin by considering alternative recommenders, such as a mentor, previous employer, supplier, client, legal counsel, representative from an industry association or anyone else who knows your work particularly well. Then, after you have identified your replacement recommender, use the optional essay to briefly explain the nature of your situation and your relationship with this individual. As long as you clarify your choice, the admissions committee will understand your situation.

One last tip – Keep track Of Time!

About Prateek Panda

Prateek is an entrepreneur with a passion for business and business studies. He loves reading, photography, music and is a technology journalist too. He runs a tech news and startup review site, TheTechPanda.com. You can know more about him at About.Me/PrateekPanda


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