When working with admissions consulting clients, we coach them on how to select the best people to write their letters of recommendation. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, hopefully by now you know that they need to know you well, more than just as a friend, and must be able to provide specific stories that support the main themes that you want to highlight in your application. That’s “Page One” as we say around Veritas Prep headquarters — those are all of the basic requirements that you need to cover with your recommendation writers, no matter what. If someone doesn’t even meet those criteria, then he or she definitely should not be on your short list of potential recommenders.
But there’s one other rule that you should apply to all of your recommenders, no matter where you know them from or what your relationship is with each of them. This is one thing that MBA admissions officers rarely mention, but not because they want to trick you or hide their intentions. Rather, it’s so blindingly obvious that they normally don’t even bother mentioning it.
What is it? We’ll put it in all caps to emphasize a point:
Your letters of recommendation must contain “pound the table” enthusiasm about your candidacy!
What do we mean? Imagine the application reader, instead of just reading through your files, actually conducting a face-to-face interview with each one of your recommenders. Remember that these people are being called upon to convince the application reader that you’re a terrific candidate. Which would you rather have? A recommender who says, “Yes, this applicant is pretty good (yawn),” or “Look, if you don’t admit this person, you’re making the (pounds the table for emphasis) biggest mistake of your life!!!” We think we know which one we’d prefer.
Granted, your letters of recommendation shouldn’t quite be so breathless — you don’t want to sound like you come from an insane asylum, after all — but that sort of enthusiasm is very, very valuable in helping business school admissions officers determine who the real stars in the applicant pool are. After all, who can speak to your potential better than someone who has worked with you for the past couple of years? If that person gets giddy when talking about how great you are… well, it’s hard for admissions officers to ignore that.
So how can a letter of recommendation effectively convey this enthusiasm while still sounding professional, without overdoing it? We actually think it’s pretty hard to overdo it (we’d suggest that you err on the side of letting your recommendation writers sound very passionate about your candidacy), but the recommendation format provides ample opportunity for your recommendation writers to do it. Next week we’ll cover exactly how they can go about communicating that you are a “must have” applicant!