Thursday, 24 December 2015

Why recommendation letters are a vital link

Originally Published in The Hindustan Times Education Supplement

As application deadlines approach pressure is on not just the applicants but also
the recommenders. If you work in an educational institute or a large corporate
setting, there is a chance you may be asked to write a recommendation letter on
behalf of a student or employee.

For Universities abroad, letters of Recommendation (LORs) form an important
part of the application process, both at the undergraduate and postgraduate
levels. While all other documents of the application reflect the candidate’s
perspective and document their experience objectively, an LOR presents an
external perspective on the applicant. It is a window into the traits,
achievements and character of the candidate as viewed by someone who has
worked closely with him or her. It can effectively corroborate claims of the
qualities and achievements made by the applicant in the forms, essays and other
materials. In many respects, an LOR is a validation of what has been claimed

Who Should Write An LOR? Students aiming to pursue undergraduate or
post graduate studies, will need two to three LORs written by
teachers/professors who have taught them in high school/undergraduate
classes. Though any teacher can write the LOR, it is preferable to request a letter
from teachers who have taught the applicant subjects that he or she plans to
pursue during undergraduate or post graduate studies. Such teachers will be
able to highlight achievements in specific focus areas and give the admissions
committee an insight into performance, proficiency and passion for the subject.
MBA applicants, on the other hand, require two LORs written by direct
supervisors with whom they are currently or have worked under in the recent
past. MBA recommenders are expected comment on the applicant’s range of skill
and characteristics. Therefore, it is important to select a recommender who
knows the applicant well, both personally and professionally and will be able to
comment on interests and contributions outside of work as well. The
recommender is also expected to be a mentor and guide to the applicant, both
personally and professionally. This requires the recommender and the candidate
to share a rapport.

What are the Contents of a Good LOR? The undergraduate/post graduate LOR
generally should not exceed one page and summarizes a student’s level of
involvement and behavior in class; his ranking vis a vis his peers; his proficiency
and specific achievements in the subject, including details of projects
accomplished and awards won through participation in events and competitions;
skills developed on the subject in class and any exemplary submissions which
impressed the teacher. An MBA LOR is much more detailed and is usually
structured around specific questions. MBA LOR’s begins by outlining the
candidate’s relationship to the recommender and his scope of work in the
organization.  This is followed by a brief overview of the applicant’s skills in
leadership, communication, initiative, creativity, integrity, collaboration,
analysis, problem solving and strengths as a team player. MBA LORs ask the
recommender to rate the applicant against others in the same role and discuss a
time when the applicant was given constructive feedback and what s/he did to
improve. A perfect conclusion to the letter should include details of the
applicant’s activities outside work and community orientation, which project as
a well-rounded, socially conscious individual.

If you’ve been asked to write a recommendation for someone, treat the request
with respect; you have someone else’s future in your hands. If you feel you
cannot write a positive letter it is perfectly acceptable to decline the request. But
if you support the applicant, give it your best effort. Impactful letters of
recommendation can go a long way in confirming an applicant’s offer of

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