I wanted to write to you and outline the key points that will help your recommenders in drafting a letter of recommendation that will be taken seriously. I do understand that your recommenders will be effective writers, however, I wanted to emphasize on the importance of content, examples, and the overall best practices.

We at PythaGURUS pride ourselves at having these and more strategies up our sleeves to help our MBA admissions consulting candidates with their MBA applications.

The Ten Pointers to Keep Into Mind while writing letters of recommendation

In the case of recommenders:  Here under are a few pointers that will help you to write an effective letter of recommendation for the MBA applicant and would help him/her secure an MBA admission.

Letter of recommendation has an impact: Simply put:  letter of recommendation should be effective.  Please understand that whatever you write down in your letter of recommendation would directly have an impact on the MBA applicant’s outcome in terms of being offered or rejected admission to the business school.  Please understand the gravity of this letter and take your responsibility seriously. There are many things you can do to transform the letter of recommendation and make it emphatic by taking out time to construct an effective letter; getting sufficient inputs from the applicant; proofreading the letter of recommendation or even getting your letter of recommendation letter translated. Make sure that it is completed and submitted on time.  If the responsibility cannot be handled by you, then be honest enough to accept it and save the applicant from being adversely affected due to your irresponsibility.

A good letter of recommendation would contain detailed examples with analysis:  A great letter of recommendation answer would contain a lot of detail examples or anecdotes of the MBA applicant along with your analysis on the same. Hence, it is important to display your awareness of the MBA applicant through relevant stories or anecdotes and then to explain the same analytically.  Some of the questions would ask the recommender to provide an example upfront, however, some might not. Nevertheless, make sure you include examples as it provides the AdCom with sufficient information that you understand and support your MBA applicant. However, you must understand that the admissions committee may not be aware of some of the jargon that is used very commonly in your organization. So, the onus is yours to convert those into layman terms.

You should know the MBA applicant or you must be able to write in a way that you really do:Business schools or schools, in general, receive letter of recommendation from high-level people who briefly know the MBA applicant and hence write about him/her in vague terms or perhaps simply quote something that someone has mentioned about the applicant- which is ineffective.

A comprehensive letter of recommendation will require examples to be expressed in layman terms. These examples will capture the MBA applicant’s candidature as assessed by you. Some of the quality business schools will be interested in are:

  • Leadership
  • Initiative Taking ability
  • Integrity
  • Maturity
  • Ability to handle feedback
  • Ability to deliver feedback
  • Ability to handle things and multi-task
  • Ability to meet timelines
  • Written and Oral communication skills
  • Understanding of the career progression
  • Overall understanding of the requirement of Top MBA programs

This is perhaps why most of the letter of recommendation forms ask specific questions such as “What are the MBA applicant’s strengths and weaknesses” or “Discuss a time you provided feedback to the applicant” so that it enabled the school to understand how much the recommender is actually acquainted with the MBA applicant.   Although a recommender might not necessarily answer a long list of questions, however, it is important that a detailed answer is given to the most important questions that are asked for framing a letter of recommendation.  If you are recommended and have mutually agreed to write a letter of recommendation, then be open with the applicant in case you lack necessary information or content that would make it look effective.

The letter of recommendation that is the lengthiest should be written first: If you are planning to apply to more than one business school and have to write multiple letters of recommendation, then compare the questions and find the one that asks the most questions with a higher word limit and get set on that one first. By doing the tough one first, it will become much easier for you to handle the other letters of recommendation.

Asking the applicant for inputs: It is perfectly fine to ask the MBA applicant to provide you with inputs that would help you in shaping up an effective letter of recommendation and answering the respective questions. You may choose to either communicate in writing, through conversation, through written notes or even by reviewing the application essays and resume of the MBA applicant- whichever ways that would help you in eliciting sufficient information. In case, you have not recently worked with the MBA applicant, then such information would all the more be beneficial. It is important to know what your MBA applicant wishes to highlight and discuss.  However, all said and done, this does not imply that your letter of recommendation should be predominantly drafted by the MBA applicant. Even though the applicant happens to send you detailed notes and sample answers, make sure that you alter these to express your point of view.  A letter of recommendation should provide your perspective in your voice, hence, if you do wish to quote the inputs of the applicant, then do so by restating the same in your own words. The ideal way to do this would be to craft the answer independently. If you are unable to express yourself in English, then you can write in your own native language and then get it translated.

The length of each recommendation would vary to a great extent:  There are certain schools like MIT Sloan School of Management that asks six questions with a word limit of 2 pages or Harvard Business School that asks three questions that have a word limit of 200 words each and should fit one page- thereby, furnishing the MBA applicant with specific guidelines. However, the downside is that some business schools do not provide a word limit, hence you must assume that the answers to each specific question should fall somewhere between 100-300 words long. Hence, a typical letter of recommendation would comprise of 5-6 questions and the total word limit should be between 600-1800 words. However, there are many parameters that determine what is acceptable- however, make sure that the quality of the letter of recommendation is great as the length of the essay is a highly debatable area.

A recommender can be critical for the applicant, but in a toned down manner: Some questions on the letter of recommendation form would ask you to write about any negative aspects of a critical perspective of your MBA applicant, particularly when it comes to future growth, characteristics of the applicant or weaknesses that you would like to change. The main reason behind eliciting critical feedback is to understand the applicant more closely.  However, as a recommender, make sure that your criticism is not laced with severe terms that might make it fatal for the MBA applicant. For instance, writing “She is too aggressive to work effectively with some people” projects the applicant in an unfavorable light. Hence, nuance your critical statements, be honest but do not be too harsh.

Ask the applicant if you are not sure about a certain question: If there is a certain question that you are unable to understand, then do feel free to consult your applicant about it.  Rather than doing guesswork, it would be better to gain a proper overview of the question.  Certain wordings on the letter of recommendation forms are confusing, however, the applicant would be able to sort out the confusion he/she has been going through the admissions process for quite some time.

Deadlines and Delivery of the Letters of Recommendation: Most of the business schools that the candidate will be applying to have the concept of deadlines. That essentially means that any letter of recommendation that is submitted after the deadline will not be accepted for the same application round. It will be moved over to the next round. 

Be your applicant’s effective supporter: This is the last pointer, but it is also the most pertinent one. Write a letter of recommendation for the MBA applicant only if you are able to effectively advocate and support his candidacy. The applicant depends on the recommender for support as your letter will demonstrate his potential and capability to the AdCom that would help them to shape their opinion of the MBA applicant. The AdCom should be able to believe all that you have written of the applicant and should be convinced that he/she would have the potential to contribute to their Top MBA program and would have a successful professional life afterward.