Letters of recommendation are a critical part of your overall application package—they provide the only outside information the admissions committee receives about you. A recommendation can validate the claims you have made in your essays. It can also add stories that you cannot fit into your essays and further build on the stories you have shared in your essays.
One of the most stressful parts of the application process can be picking your recommender. Your best recommenders are those who know your work very well, are impressed with your work, and are open to improving their LORs to ensure your success.
However, your job is not done even after you have picked the right recommenders. You need to keep following it up with them to avoid ‘surprises’ and unnecessary stress when deadlines are hovering on your head. Some applicants I worked with within Round 1 had a difficult time with their recommenders as the recommenders waited until the last day to share their LORs with them, and when they did, it was not in the desired format that the school required. With the result, we ended up following it up with them until a day before the deadline that the school had asked.
Round 2 applicants! If you want to avoid this unnecessary last-minute stress, I recommend that you choose your recommenders ahead of time. After that, you should schedule a meeting with them and apprise them of the themes you would like to discuss in your essays. If your essays are ready, share your essays with them, so they are familiar with your personal and professional stories. You may also jot down relevant anecdotes in which you have demonstrated professional and personal traits being asked about.
After the initial meeting, don’t forget to follow up with your recommenders about the progress. Here are some tips that you can use when they are working on your LOR’s.
1. Answer the Question Asked:
As with the essay prompts, you need to make sure that your referees answered the questions. The recommenders are busy people, so sometimes they do not directly address the question asked. For example, I remember reviewing a LOR where the question was about ‘specific professional traits’ (results-oriented, strategically-minded, and career-driven). The recommenders had explained why the candidate needed an MBA. I recently reviewed a LOR where the school asked the question about constructive feedback the candidate was given, and the recommender had discussed his leadership traits.
2. Provide specific examples:
Another glaring mistake that I have often noticed in the LORs is that they often provide a laundry list of adjectives in praise of the candidate. A list of superlatives will sound bland if there is nothing to back them up. Discussing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the ‘what’ will give a sense of who you are. They need to follow the principle of Show, don’t tell’ and substantiate their statements by specific examples from your work. Without concrete evidence, the LORs will fail to create an impact.
3. Compare the Candidate with his/her peers:
Most schools ask the recommenders to compare the candidate with his/her peers. (e.g., How do the candidate's performance, potential, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.) And the majority of recommenders ‘forget’ to compare the candidates with their peers. Please request them to cover this particular part of the question and illustrate it with examples.
4. Answer the Specific LOR Questions:
Most schools will ask specific questions. Despite this fact, I often receive regular letters of recommendation that in no way address the questions that the school is looking for. The candidate’s job is to request the recommenders to visit the school site and look for those specific questions. Trust me; if you do that ahead of time, you will save yourself, your recommenders, and your consultant (if you have partnered with one) a lot of trouble when the deadlines are close.
Round 2 applicants! Do yourself a favor and begin working with your recommenders as early as you can so your letters are ready before the holiday season begins and your recommenders leave for vacation.
For more details on LOR’s, you may refer to the following:
Choosing Recommenders for MBA Application, click here.
For sample LOR, click here.