We got a question posed on the blahg that we coulda sworn we’d answered directly here at some point, but a search turned up nothing. We’re going to repost this because we know that not everyone reads the ‘snarchive and even when they do, they don’t always look at the comments. Here’s what we were…
This post could also be called, “Should I not get a recommendation from the CEO?” Most of the time when a Brave Supplicant asks about tapping their CEO to recommend them to bschool, it’s not a good idea. For most early-career types, the most interaction you’ve ever had with the CEO was passing him (or…
A couple years ago, a report came out on admissions practices at the University of Texas at Austin that captures what pretty much everyone in admissions has always known: If you know somebody important, it’s likely gonna be easier for you to get into university. Dang, this seems to be more and more true these…
About those rules for recommendations? We kinda forgot one.
We do say this fairly frequently (like here: You cannot write your own letters of recommendation and here: Writing your own letters of recommendation is unethical) but we apparently cannot say it often enough.
So we’ll spell it out:
You cannot write your own letters of recommendation. Writing your own letters of recommendation is unethical.
Around this time every year, we get people submitting their no-go Rd 1 apps to us for the Post-Mortem Rejection Analysis and we see letters of recommendation that we strongly suspect were written by the BSer themself. Sometimes we mention our suspicion, sometimes we don’t. If we do, we’re either met with indignant denials (perhaps justified; who knows, maybe we’re wrong), or innocent-sounding questions about what made us think so. (This is why we often don’t mention the suspicions. Because, what’s the point? Note: If we recently reviewed your application, we are NOT using this post as some passive-aggressive method of accusing you of doing this. This post is about patterns observed over years. It’s not about any specific BSer or any specific app we’ve reviewed lately. Please don’t get all paranoid ‘n stuff.)
Every now and then we get into an honest dialogue with a BSer about it and they serve up plenty of reasons for doing it:
“My recommender is too busy.”
“My recommender doesn’t speak English.”
“My recommender doesn’t write well.”
Or maybe what the BSer says but doesn’t actually say out loud: “My recommender won’t say good things about me.”
Regardless if they’re true or not, none of those are legimitate reasons for you to write your own recommendations.
There simply does not EXIST a valid reason for you to do that.
Writing your own recommendations is UNETHICAL.
It’s DISHONEST. Another word for that is CHEATING.
Do you really want to go through life cheating your way through? Are you that kind of person? Even unintentionally? (Or carelessly, by just not thinking it through and recognizing this behavior for what it is?)
The other point to be making is: Very often, an outsider reviewer – like, an admissions person at the school you’re applying to – can TELL when you wrote it. There are signs and indications. It’s often not that hard to detect. And that is the quickest path to rejection that exists.
Besides which, many schools have added clauses to their recommenders’ section, whereby a) you have to attest that you did not write the recommendation, and b) your RECOMMENDER has to attest that you did not write it. So by writing your own rec and then having the recommender upload it, not only are you being a liar, but you’re forcing the recommender to lie, too.
That certainly feels more than a little distasteful.
BTW, if you’re worried that your recommenders are not well equipped to handle the task of producing those letters of recommendation, we have the Recommenders Instruction Sets for exactly that purpose.
Now that we’ve gone all negative and yucky-feeling on you today: How do you deal with those tricky situations where you aren’t convinced that your recommender is up to the job?
Well, the very first step is TO TALK TO THEM. There are no laws or morals against having conversations with your recommenders, to figure out a) are they willing and able to perform this important task, and b) do they have a clue what they might say about you. On point a, you should be able to gauge if this person is excited about your professional prospects and eager to help you advance in your career, and thus will be willing to put forth the effort to complete this task in a positive manner. If you sense that they’re not all gung-ho about you or your interest in bschool, then that right there is reason to consider asking someone else.
On point b, it’s totally fine and acceptable for you to be suggesting ideas for them on what to write. Or at least, brainstorm with them. You don’t want to dictate what your recommenders say – either by being too adamant about what topics you think they should cover, and also specifically you don’t want to literally spell out the contents (that’s pretty much the same as you writing it, right?). However, it’s absolutely OK for you to come prepared with some projects or examples that they might want to discuss. If you want some guidance on what you’re planning to suggest to your recommenders – or who you should be tapping for this task in the first place – then our Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator is perfect.
Our point with this discussion is to help you think through some ideas that you might then suggest to your recommenders. THEY must write the recs themselves. To do it any other way is unethical and not only is it highly likely that the adcoms will be able to figure out that you wrote your own letter, which means they won’t let you in in the first place, but it will also invoke the ire of the ‘Snark should we hear that you’re doing this (or see it firsthand when you submit your app for some feedback). Play by the rules. You’ll get further in life that way, we promise.
There’s a few rules to keep in mind when choosing your recommenders for your MBA apps: Get a recommendation from your current direct supervisor if you can (if you can’t, that’s OK but you just need to explain why not) Choose recommenders who know you well and can answer in detail about your performance (this…
Short answer: Say no.
Long answer: Either explain to your boss why that’s inappropriate and would be a violation of ethics for you, and would put your candidacy in jeopardy. Or, find a new recommender.
There are always other options for recommenders.
[A]ll the work in your application should be your own. In the case of the recommendations, they should be the work of your recommenders only. It is a violation of the Tuck Honor Code to submit an application that is not exclusively your work or to submit recommendations that you or someone other than your recommender have written, even if at the request of your recommender.
Which leads us to another point: If your admissions consultant offers to write your recommendation, then run. Run fast and run far. That person does NOT have your best interest at heart.
If they offer to EDIT your recommendation before it’s submitted to the school, that too is a problem. Heck, even offering to READ it is borderline questionable. Admissions consultants should not be directly involved in the process of writing recommendations (and you should not, either – why do you even have that recommendation before it’s been submitted?). Admissions consultants really should not have their fingerprints on these important documents at all.
EssaySnark’s entire admissions consulting philosophy is based on a hands-off approach that empowers applicants to do it themselves. We believe that our consulting practices comply 100% with the guidelines that Tuck has laid out in that article.
When it comes to the writing of recommendations, we’ve heard all the excuses – most vociferously from our colleagues in the admissions consulting industry. We have been shocked by how many of them claim that the recommendations process is so burdensome that the schools should just get rid of it. Who blatantly say that applicants are writing their own recs anyway so what’s the point?
Well, that’s not how we roll.
The most common excuse is, “My boss is too busy, he won’t do it himself.”
But guess what? If you were REALLY the superstar employee that you are claiming to the schools that you are, then your boss would find a way to help you out.
(Ouch. EssaySnark, that’s harsh!)
Let’s be real, people. Most schools are asking recommenders to fill out a simple form, and answer two questions. Two questions. It takes like 10 minutes to do this.
If your boss has ever done a post-purchase consumer survey, sitting at her desk over lunch, then honestly it shouldn’t take terribly much longer than that. (Okay, we’re exaggerating – a good recommendation does require some thought and a little effort – but really, this is not such an onerous task. Not for someone who KNOWS YOU. Who thinks you’re the bees’ knees and wants you to be successful in this thing that’s important to you. Who’s doing more than just going through the motions in saying that they support you. Anyone who will do a good job on their recommendation for you is not going to have a major problem with how burdensome it is. If they are griping about it, maybe that’s a signal that they’re not the best choice? Or that you haven’t prepped them appropriately.)
The other big objection is cultural. “In my country, recommendations are not done like this, and a junior person would never ask for one in this way. My boss simply wouldn’t understand.”
We have more sympathy for this one, but even so, we wonder. You’re saying you want to go to Harvard or Wharton or Kellogg (or Tuck). You’re claiming that you’re a leader, someone with maturity, who knows how to work with your colleagues and influence the organization. You have an interest in coming to the U.S. for your graduate business education, specifically because of the network and the global opportunities that it would open up to you. You want to be hired by an American company when you graduate. By implication, you’re stating to the adcom that you have cultural awareness and emotional intelligence.
And yet you can’t make a case to your boss for why this is important??
As to those admissions consultants who offer to do the work for you: That is not a solution to the problem in any shape, manner or form. You’re outsourcing this incredibly important task to someone who you’ve known for a couple weeks. OMG that is such a bad idea. (Besides the fact that it’s so completely disrespectful of the process, and of the schools themselves. When you have an admissions consultant doing this, they’re pissing all over the school’s application; they’re saying that they know better than the Tuck Admissions Committee on what’s required for a thorough evaluation of a candidate for admission. Like, wow.)
OK, off our high horse now.
We’ll mention the two resources that we do offer to applicants:
- The Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator offers guidelines for choosing your best recommenders based on their relationship to you and the purpose that they can serve in advancing your candidacy, and lets you submit your plan for who you will select so we can give feedback to you on the appropriateness (and optimality) of your choices
- The Recommender’s Instruction Sets is a customized packet of “How to write recommendations” that you can distribute to your recommenders, which explains the importance of this task and helps them simplify the process, specific to the exact schools you’re applying to
There are also plenty of posts here on the blahg about the topic of recommenders, who to choose, how to get them on board.
Yes we have an opinion on this. You don’t have to agree with our opinion, but if you don’t, then this is likely one more area where we’re probably not the ‘Snark for you.
We thought we were going to discuss this yesterday but we veered off in other still-relevant-but-not-quite-directly-answering-the-question directions. So then. How do you ask your boss for the letter of recommendation? You simply ask. “Jane, I’ve become really excited by the idea of going back to school for a graduate degree, and I’ve decided I want…