Letters of Recommendation

4 Things You MUST know about Letters of Recommendation

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“What is an MBA loar?” a student asked me last week.
“Loar?” I was flabbergasted. “I have no clue!”
“Everybody seems to be talking about MBA essays and loars!”
“Loar?” I wracked my brains. Then realization dawned. “Oh! You mean LORs?”
LOR is the acronym of Letter of Recommendation, an essential component of your MBA or Master’s application. In this blog, we’ll talk about 4 things you need to know about letters of recommendation for B-school applications.

Despite what the name suggests, it is often NOT a “letter” of recommendation

Many Master’s or PhD programs will ask you for 2-3 actual letters of recommendation – starting with To Whomsoever It May Concern… However, the requirement for B-schools is slightly different.
For MBA applications, you will need to submit the names and contact details of your recommenders and the school will send them a web form. This web form will have some rating questions (for e.g. Rate the communication skills of the applicant in comparison to those of his peers: top 10%, top 25%, top 50%, bottom 25%) and some short answer questions (for e.g. What piece of constructive criticism have you offered the applicant? How did the applicant respond?) The word limit of these short answer questions could be from 50 to 200 words.

Your recommenders need to have an official email ID

The recommenders you choose must have an official email ID as this serves as a verification of their identity. For e.g. [email protected]. No personal IDs such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc. will be accepted by B-schools. For all they know, the person behind this ID could be you or your friend or relative!
So if your recommender is a freelancer or retired or works for a small business that does not have its own domain, then you may have a problem. One solution that schools suggest is to submit a hard copy of your recommendations, sealed and signed by the recommender. To avoid delays in mailing such a hard copy, make sure you plan for these well in advance.

Recommendations from family members & professors is a strict No-No

Schools discourage recommendations from family members for obvious reasons – they may give a biased view of you. So if you work for a family business or have co-founded a company with a family member, you cannot use him/her as your recommender. You will need to approach a mentor, client or vendor for this.
If you have more than 2 years of work experience (which is the minimum eligibility for most MBA programs) your recommenders must be people you have worked with. They can be from your workplace or from the company with which you volunteer or a company for whom you offer freelance services. But no going back to your professors from college!
However, if you have very little work experience (less than 2 years) and you have worked with a professor outside of class – for e.g. as a research or teaching assistant – you can approach him/her for a recommendation.

It is a BAD idea to write your own recommendations

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I am still surprised by the number of students who tell me that their recommenders have asked them to write their own recommendations.
“I will submit whatever you send me!” your manager might say. Should you take up this offer?
Of course not!
Apart from the (obvious) reason that writing your own recommendation is unethical, this is also a foolish decision. For one, the admissions committee will be able to spot underlying patterns in your writing style in a jiffy – they will know that the same person has written the essays and the recommendations.
B-schools also engage external agencies to do a audits or verifications of information that applicants submit. What if they call up your recommender and he/she has no clue what is written in the recommendation?
Both these possibilities can damage your chances of getting an admit. So, DO NOT write your own recommendations. Instead, make your recommenders’ lives simpler by sharing relevant information such as your profile highlights and your essays with them well in advance.
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