by Chioma Isiadinso, author of The Best Business Schools’ Admission Secrets
Part Two: Tackling the Recommendation Questions
It goes without saying, but recommenders should make sure they answer every question that is asked in the recommendation form. There is no room for cutting corners by writing one letter of recommendation and using it for different schools. Because each school words their questions differently and the specific information being asked varies, it is important to make sure your recommender fully answers each question while citing vivid examples to illustrate the point. Quantifying the impact the applicant had is more important than using superlative descriptors that come off as trite. Make sure you refresh your recommender’s memory by providing him with concrete examples of your leadership and impact at your firm.
Be mindful of the recommender’s time. It is unrealistic to ask recommenders to write more than five recommendation letters. Think of the law of diminishing returns. If you overburden your recommenders, they are more inclined to write generic letters that they tailor to the different schools instead of spending a significant amount of time on each recommendation. To be safe, if you must apply to more than five schools, you may want to target a couple of additional individuals to write recommendations for you. This would allow you to focus your star recommenders on the MBA programs that you care the most about.
Recommendation forms typically have a set of questions that ask recommenders to rate the candidate. This grid is an important part of the recommendation and recommenders should give it adequate consideration when completing it. Your recommenders should give a realistic evaluation of you. But it should also be tempered with sound judgment. A balanced rating is essential. What do I mean by that? Certainly highlighting a candidate’s excellent qualities is important. However, recommenders should be able to also identify areas where the candidate can improve.
The reverse can also be a problem. In the course of my time in the admissions business I have seen too many recommenders hurt a candidate’s chance of admission by going to the other extreme and “underselling” the candidate. Recommenders should not view recommendations as performance reviews. Unlike performance reviews that tend to be more critical and have more of an improvement focus, recommenders should not lose sight that the recommendation should be a tool to “sell” a candidate not hurt him in the application process.
I’m often asked by applicants how the grid is interpreted by the Admissions Board. The MBA Board is likely to be skeptical if the candidate is ranked in the highest category across every single characteristic. The view is “if the candidate is truly that exceptional, does she need an MBA?” On the other hand, rankings that are below average can raise red flags. Therefore, the right approach when filling out the grid is to take a measured stance. If the candidate is truly exceptional, the recommender should rate the applicant in the very top of the grid for characteristics where he or she shines and lower in areas that need improvement. Some international recommendations can be conservative when ranking a candidate. The same goes for some industries. The good news is that the Admissions Board recognizes these types of differences.
Stay tuned for Part 3…