When working with admissions consulting clients, we coach them on how to select the best people to write their letters of recommendation. If you have read some of our posts before, hopefully you know that your recommenders need to know you well and must be able to provide specific stories that support the main themes that you want to highlight in your application. That’s “Page One” as we say around Veritas Prep headquarters — those are all of the basic requirements that you need to cover with your recommendation writers, no matter what. If someone does not meet those criteria, then he or she definitely should not be writing your letters of recommendation.
But there is one other rule that you should apply to all of your recommenders, no matter where you know them from or what your relationship is with each of them. This is one thing that MBA admissions officers rarely mention, but not because they want to trick you or hide their intentions. Rather, it is so obvious that they normally don’t even bother mentioning it.
What is it? We’ll bold it to emphasize a point:
Your letters of recommendation must contain “pound the table” enthusiasm about your candidacy!
What do we mean? Imagine the application reader, instead of just reading through your files, actually conducting a face-to-face interview with each one of your recommenders. Remember that these people are being called upon to convince the application reader that you are an excellent candidate. Which would you rather have? A recommender who says, “Yes, this applicant is pretty good,” or “Look, if you don’t admit this person, you’re making the (pounds the table for emphasis) biggest mistake of your life!!!” We think we know which one you would prefer.
Granted, your letters of recommendation shouldn’t quite be so breathless — you do not want to sound like you come from an insane asylum, after all — but that sort of enthusiasm is very, very valuable in helping business school admissions officers determine who the real stars in the applicant pool are. After all, who can speak to your potential better than someone who has worked with you for the past couple of years? If that person gets giddy when talking about how great you are… well, it is hard for admissions officers to ignore that.
So how can a letter of recommendation effectively convey this enthusiasm while still sounding professional, without overdoing it? We actually think it’s pretty hard to overdo it, but the recommendation format provides ample opportunity for your recommendation writers to do it.