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How To Get the Best Letters of Recommendation

“Write what you know.” That’s great advice for aspiring novelists – and it certainly applies to letters of recommendation. Let’s be honest: It isn’t easy to fake expertise when you write. After a few paragraphs, you quickly slip into blanket statements, tired arguments, and vague examples. Sure, you can gussy up your work with big words and Shakespeare references, but your audience will quickly see through your charade.

It’s no different with admissions reps. Every application they read seems to contain the same chronological resumes and self-serving essay answers. But letters of reference? Talk about a differentiator! Here, decision-makers can see you through another’s eyes. How do you identify opportunities and solve problems? How do you maintain the peace and keep your peers focused? In short, what can you do that others can’t? These letters reflect just how special you are – and reflect the kind of student and leader you’ll ultimately become.

But these letters come with a catch according to Stacey Blackman, a U.S. News and World News columnist who runs an MBA admissions consulting practice. “Because your recommendations are written by others, you have a lot less control over them. That’s why you need to make the most of your recommendations by choosing your recommenders wisely and preparing them thoroughly.” What is her advice for submitting recommendations that align with your message, say something unique, and expose your best side? Here are some important nuggets:

  • “The key factors in choosing a recommender are selecting someone who is enthusiastic and well acquainted with your work, and who has the time to focus on your recommendation. Typically, you want to choose your immediate supervisor along with someone else who knows you professionally…If you need to supply a third letter, it’s helpful to select a person who knows you outside of work and can speak to your leadership capacity or unique personal attributes.”
  • “When your recommenders discuss your qualifications, they should also talk about how well you will fit in with your future students and the school community…[along with] how well you will fit in with your future students and the school community.”
  • “While it’s tempting to choose someone with an impressive title, you have to tread carefully with VIPs. If the VIP has a true connection – perhaps a direct line in to a decision-maker at a school – he or she can make a call for you, but…it can be annoying to have too many people bugging the admissions committee, so pay attention to the policies of the school and follow those rules.”
  • “Some schools have special email accounts for alums to write letters of recommendation for applicants, so find out if your target MBA program has one. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s unique to have an alumni lobby for you. Many applicants have one these days.”

Source: U.S. News and World Report

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