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What makes a good letter of recommendation

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How to choose B school recommenders

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How to choose B school recommenders

What makes a good letter of recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a very important part of a successful MBA application. Selection committees often see recommendations as an independent and reliable method of gathering inputs about the candidate. The sheer fact that a person who has observed your qualities first hand is writing about you, surpasses whatever you have written about yourself in the essays.

Recommendation letters provide you a platform to distinguish yourself from the rest of applicant pool. One must remember that they have the potential to make or break the case for your selection in your dream business schools.

Here are 5 useful tips on what makes a good letter of recommendation.

  1. Mention the Level of interaction: It is very important to specifically mention about the amount of interaction, type of interaction and the closeness of interaction between the recommender and the applicant. Here, amount of interaction means time duration in months/ years. The type of interaction indicates the context and relation. For example: relation of supervisor in a professional context. The level of interaction is both qualitative and quantitative. For example – one can say “I have worked closely with ABC” or it would also be fine to say “I used to have daily/ weekly interactions with ABC during our project work”
  2. Specific details matter: While nobody in admissions committee is looking for long stories of what the candidate did to demonstrate his skills, brief examples supporting the strengths are imperative to be written. It is not enough to say that the candidate has very good people management skills. It must be substantiated by an example such as: “He led a team of 10 people to successfully manage a project with very strict timelines, with a Fortune 20 company”
  3. Be genuine – also talk about weaknesses: The adcom does not expect a candidate to be perfect. It is hence important that some areas of improvement (if asked for in the recommendation letter) must be mentioned. Avoid using words such as perfectionist. Such words are too cliché and do not sound genuine. One can be honest to write small improvement areas such as multitasking, giving feedback etc. Make sure that you also mention some bit about the efforts that the candidate has made to improve on the weakness.
  4. Consistency is the key – Recommendations determine your credibility, hence consistency is very important. If you have highlighted patience as your strength and one of your recommender states aggression as your improvement area, you have had it. One should have a discussion about the recommendation with the recommender, if possible and an honest feedback may be taken by the applicant even before one starts writing the essays/ application so that consistency does not become a problem later on.
  5. Why you are the right candidate– Recommender should write a few lines on why (or on basis of what qualities) he is recommending you. Recommender should also tell how he sees the candidate as a manager post MBA.

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How to choose recommenders for MBA applications

Letters of recommendation play a very crucial role in the MBA application process. Best recommendations are those which are consistent with what you write in your essays, which detail out and support your qualities/ weaknesses with examples and which come from somebody credible. One should keep in mind that the quality of recommendations depends on the choice of recommenders to a large extent.

Hence, choosing the right recommenders hence becomes very important. Here are some useful tips on how to choose the recommenders for MBA application

a) Knowing closely matters: You should look for a person who knows you closely and hence has enough stuff to write about you. This could be your boss, a client with whom you have worked closely or even a close friend with whom you have worked at-least at some point in your life.

b) Brands and Designations are secondary: Remember that the admissions committee is not looking for recommenders, who are brands in themselves, have celebrity status, work in Fortune 100 companies or have fancy designations. What matters is how well the recommender knows you.

c) Seniority matters: While it is never stated but one must look for people who are senior (to the applicant) in the organization to give recommendations. If you get your recommendation from colleagues, it is likely to leave an impression that you could not get anybody better (in terms of professional seniority) to build your case

d) Writing skills also matter: Try to choose a recommender who has decent writing skills. He/ She may not be a terrific writer but some skills are required to express the thoughts he/she has for you. A recommender with shallow writing skills will not be able to strengthen your case irrespective of how high he thinks of you.

e) Different perspective: If you are getting 2 recommendations (or 3 for some b-schools) ensure that both recommenders do not end up writing exactly the same about you (especially the examples/ anecdotes). While some qualities are expected to be common, 2 recommendations should be replicas in terms of content. Example: If you have dotted line relation with 2 managers in one project and you foresee that they will quote same points about you, then you should choose one out of these managers and look for second recommender somewhere else.

f) Alums of b-schools you are applying to: This is just an icing on the cake. If you can find people who themselves are alumni of mba schools you are applying to, nothing like it. It adds to credibility. Also, since they have been through the process themselves, they know how to go about writing recommendations.

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