Last week we wrote about three things you should look for in your recommendation writers to ensure that your letters of recommendation include “Pound the Table!” levels of enthusiasm. Your business school recommendation writers need to know you well, they need to care about you, and they need to believe in you. These criteria may seem a bit obvious, but it’s hard for someone to shout, “This is someone you need to admit to your MBA program!” unless these are all true.
For sure, a necessary ingredient is a recommendation writer who’s very willing to write a glowing letter for you. But, even if someone has the best of intentions, how can you be sure he will write a great letter for you? How can you equip them with what they need to help you as much as possible? Today we’ll look at three things you can (no… should!) do to help your recommenders help you as much as possible:
Let Them Know That Effusive Praise Is Not Unprofessional
When writing an important business letter, especially when you don’t know the recipient, it’s only natural to err on the side of sounding extremely formal. Of course, your recommenders should sound professional, communicate clearly, and write correctly, but that does not mean that they need to sound so stiff that they could be delivering a prepared hostage statement. When we write formal business letters, the voice we use tends to be very monotone, and we tend to avoid using very many superlatives… This is far less likely to grab the reader than something that states, “I’ve managed quite a few young professionals over the past dozen years, and no one has impressed me like [insert your name here] has. Here’s why…” Of course, hopefully that’s true (read Part I again to be sure!). If it’s not, then you may need to keep looking for another recommender.
Arm Them with Specific Examples to Illustrate Your Greatness
Even when your recommenders love you and want to see you succeed, when they sit down to start writing your letters of recommendation, they may not realize that it’s simply not enough to say, “This applicant has great leadership skills.” They need to say, “This applicant has great leadership skills, and here’s an example from a few months ago to show you why.” And, once they do realize that “show, don’t tell” is in fact the name of the game, they probably won’t have multiple examples handy to help back up their statements about you. Your job therefore is to provide them with these examples, in written form. If you’re wondering if providing such a “cheat sheet” is ethical or is a good idea, the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!” to both. Don’t leave your recommenders wondering how to shoe how great you really are.
Tell Them It’s Okay to Ask for Help
When you give your recommenders the necessary forms, deadlines, and key background information about yourself, it’s often too easy for them to feel that they need to go off on their own and not come back until they have a final recommendation for you. Definitely do not let them suffer alone or allow them to put things off to the last minute. They’re busy, for sure, but it also may be writer’s block that is keeping them from digging into the task at hand. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help, or to show you a sample paragraph and ask, “Do I seem to be on the right track here?” Doing so will make their jobs easier, and will give you peace of mind as you know that things are happening.
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