Letters of recommendation are an important part of the admission process for most MBA colleges. In the whole application process, this is the one and only aspect which reveals an external point of view of your competencies on your academic and professional front and gives the ADCOM a change to look at your candidature from an outsider’s perspective.

Why is LOR so important?

  • Apart from providing a different perspective, LOR also adds validation to your achievements. You would be mentioning your capabilities and achievements in other parts of your application such as essays and resume. However, when someone apart from yourself can validate all those qualities and facts, it instantly authenticates your story.
  • Your application would already carry information about your achievements and skills. However, as LOR comes from recommenders who have known you and seen you from close quarters, the credibility of your whole application goes up.

Back to Basics – Fundamental contents of LOR:

The letter of recommendation is an important part of your application and should be given equal if not more important than other parts. It should for sure contain a few of the basic elements to be a comprehensive and an effective one:

  • The relationship you share with the recommender:  It goes without saying that it is important to mention the relationship your recommender shares with you whether it your manager or professor or a former supervisor. It is always important to choose a recommender who has either worked with you or is associated with you directly. In a B-School application, it is always preferred that you chose recommenders from your professional background.
  • The time period of your association with the recommender: It is essential for your recommender to mention the tenure of the association s/he has with you. The time of your association reflects how well the recommender knows you and how much he or she has seen your progress in your life and career. Hence, make sure at least one sentence about the tenure of your association or when your association started.
  • More details about your association: You can request your recommender to give more specifications about your association and nature of it in the LOR. For example:  Your recommender can mention the project you worked on and at what level or if your professor is writing your recommendation he/she can mention the subjects he/she taught you and the assignments and project you worked for under his/her guidance.
  • Your achievements:  Like other aspects of the application, the main purpose of writing a letter of recommendation is to highlight your accomplishments and competencies. Hence, after the introduction of your recommender, tenure nature of your association, it is important to emphasize your achievements and strengths in the body of the letter.  The accomplishments written by an academic recommender and professional recommender will be different. You can help your recommenders refresh their memory by presenting your accomplishments to them so that they can mention them properly in your LOR. It is always a good idea to set aside time with your recommenders and coach them on the important achievements in your association with them.
  • Figures for comparative outlook: Not providing figures for comparative performance is one of the most frequently occurring mistakes in the letter of recommendation.  Recommender needs to provide the size of the class of the size of the team when mentioning the achievements of the applicant. For example: while mentioning that the applicant is the top performer of the team, it is recommended that the writer of the letter also mention the size of the team so that the admission committee can get a clear picture of the level of achievement of the applicant.

How to choose your recommender?

Choosing who writes your recommendation is the most important decision that you will have to take for a good LOR. There are a few components that you have to take care of while choosing the right recommender for your MBA admissions:

  • Always prefer professional recommendations:  While other Masters programs willfully accept LORs from both professional and academic backgrounds, B-schools on the other hand mostly prefer recommendations from someone from your professional life as they want to know more about how you perform in the professional world.
  • Look for someone at a senior role: It is quite unusual for applicants to get a recommendation from a colleague. It is preferable to get someone from a senior level that you have worked with or currently working with. A supervisor or above level person would effectively corroborate your overall competencies.
  • Interpersonal relationship: Always choose someone with whom you shared a close relationship. Someone who knows you professionally but also knows you as a person. If you have a mentor or guide at an organization probably that person would be ideal as a recommender for you. It might look enticing to get a recommendation from the CXO level, but if they have not worked with you directly, they will not be able to communicate your strengths in a good way. Of course, it goes without saying that if your recommender is the likes of Satya Nadela or Tim Cook, please chose them as the recommenders!
  • Choose current managers: You might have worked under a manager in your previous organization and they might have a good rapport with you. However, it is not the best idea to get a recommendation for a manager who has worked with you years ago because along time you might have picked up more skills and taken more responsibilities at work. Hence, it makes more sense to get a recommendation from your current manager or a manager you have very recently worked with so that you can get a recommendation with your updated skills and role responsibilities.
  • Writing skills:  Though the primary criteria to select a good recommender is to consider all the above mentioned points, it is also important to see if your recommender has good writing and communication skills because no matter how well your recommender knows you and have the best things to say about you, if he/she is not able to translate it into words effectively, your recommendation would be dull and unconvincing.

Characteristics that the letter should reflect:

Your Letter of recommendation should reflect all the great characteristics you have. However, B-schools would look for some specific skills and qualities in its students. Therefore, you need to make sure your recommenders highlight a few of the following qualities:

  • Technical Prowess
  • Analytical and decision making skills
  • People management or leadership skills
  • Time-management skills
  • Adaptability to new environment and skills
  • Ability to foster team work and motivate your team
  • Negotiation and Marketing skills
  • Ethics
  • Interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Dealing with ambiguity and pressure
  • Handing conflicts

Frequently asked recommendation questions:

Here are few of the frequently asked letter of recommendation questions:

  • Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization.
  • How does the candidate’s performance compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
  • Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
  • Tell us about a time the candidate was proactively open to a situation, person, or new experience: a time when they sought to engage with difference, put themselves in a situation outside of their comfort zone, or actively sought to gain a new perspective from others.
  • Please answer the following questions regarding the applicant, making sure to save your work regularly. As a guideline for completing the reference form, you should aim to write no more than 500 words per question. Please note that 500 words is the maximum amount and not a requirement.
    • How do you know the applicant? How long have you known them for?
    • What would you say are the applicant’s key strengths and talents?
    • What would you say are the applicant’s key weaknesses or areas for improvement?
    • How do the applicant’s performance, potential, and personal qualities compare to those of other individuals in similar roles?
    • What do you think this person might be doing in ten years’ time? Why?

A letter of recommendation is a great tool to provide the admission committee with a strong external perspective of your achievements and skills. If you get the key aspects of the LOR right, it is not very difficult to get an effective one which would impress the admission committee of your dream B-school.