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Letter of Recommendation

Your letters of recommendation are among the most important elements of your application. Strong, personal and well-developed letters can do wonders to mitigate weaknesses in your profile and/or highlight your potential for top management. By the same token, weak, "by the numbers" recommendations add little value to your dossier, and can actually hurt your chances if it appears the recommender hasn't taken an interest in your case.

So what makes a strong recommendation? The writer should know you well, be able to give specifics about your abilities and potential, and ideally have firsthand knowledge of your professional work. Your immediate boss is a perfect choice (in fact a required choice for some programs). It's fine to go higher up the corporate ladder so long as the writer is still someone who knows you well. Letters from professors are generally discouraged, which underlines how difficult it is to get admitted without professional experience. Recommendations from family "friends" or connections are also discouraged, unless the writer happens to be an alumnus of the program to which you're applying. Finally, if your line of work permits, satisfied clients are often excellent choices to write recommendations.

While you can't control the content, try your best to "coach" your writer on what constitutes a strong recommendation. Specific stories are great, especially if they provide clear, even quantified, details about how you added value to your company. The writer should also point to instances where you displayed those all-important leadership skills, or explain that even though you haven't had the chance to lead, you still have what it takes. A strong ending is a statement of unequivocal support in you as a candidate, and the desire to keep in touch with you as you develop your career. Get the picture?

As you can now see, your letters of recommendation will require considerable time and care. They should be requested at least eight weeks before your target posting date, and you should take care to gently monitor your writers' progress so that deadlines aren't missed.

Ten Tips for Writing an Outstanding Reference Letter

1. Review a copy of the applicant's personal statement or application essays so that your letter of recommendation can dovetail with--not conflict with or duplicate--the rest of the application.

2. Ask the applicant to supply you with additional information like a résumé.

3. Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants.

4. Discuss how well you know the applicant.

5. Choose two to three qualities that you observed in the applicant.

6. In discussing those qualities, support your statements with specific instances in which he or she demonstrated those attributes. Be as concrete and detailed as possible

7. Try to quantify the student's strengths or rank him or her vis a vis other applicants that you have observed.

8. Avoid generalities and platitudes.

9. Include some mild criticism, typically the flip-side of a strength.

10. Discuss the applicant's potential in his or her chosen field.



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