On consistency between your application and recommendations

Dec, 22, 2008

Categories: application | Recommendations | Graduate School | LLM | LLM留学 | MBA | MBA留学 | Key Posts

I am frequently asked questions from MBA, LL.M., MPA, and other graduate school applicants about how much consistency there should between their application (essays, resume, and application form content) and their recommendations. This is a complex and annoying issue for many applicants, especially if they themselves and/or their recommenders come from countries where such recommendations are not a part of the academic and/or business culture.

Since the application and recommendations are not the product of the same person, total consistency would be amazing, unnatural, and highly suspicious. The applicant and the recommenders each have their own perspective. Of course, if you have a recommender who has worked with you on a single or on very few projects, chances are great that the stories they tell in their recommendations will have a significant overlap with the stories you tell in your essays and/or accomplishments in your resume or application form. On the other hand, if the recommender is someone you worked with for a long time on a variety of projects, the differences in the subjects of the stories that are covered is likely to be much greater. Of course, if you have a particularly important project or activity that you want to make certain that your recommender covers, let them know that. Hopefully you have selected someone who will cooperate with you.

I would hope that what you say about yourself in your application is reflected sufficiently in the recommendations that admissions is not left with the feeling that are reading about two different people. For instance, direct contradictions between your application and your recommender about your role in work or of your strengths would look odd. That is why it is important to make sure that you give your resume to your recommender and are certain that they perceive you in a manner similar to the way you perceive yourself. They don’t need to tell the same stories you do in essays, but they had better be writing about the same person.

Hopefully you are selecting a recommender whose perspective on you will not be a complete contradiction. There are some situations where this occurs. For instance, female applicants sponsored by their companies might find it necessary to select a male recommender who just happens to be a sexist. In such instances, the applicant might have a guy, usually older, who wants to write about “how charming she is” and completely ignores her real talents. Sometimes, I advise such applicants to simply explain to their recommenders that such statements will not be viewed positively by an admissions committee that includes and is often directed by women. Other times, if the recommender is ” a busy man” I suggest my client simply request that such unhelpful comments be eliminated. That usually solves the issue.

If, after selecting a recommender, you find that the person’s version of reality is simply too far away from your own and they seem uncooperative, you might find it necessary to get a new recommender. I have advised a small number of clients to “fire” their recommender because it seemed like no other course of action was possible, but this is obviously not an ideal result.

For more about recommendations, please see Steve Green’s previous post. Next year, I intend to cover recommendations in much great depth.

Questions? Write comments, but do not send me emails asking me to advise you on your application strategy unless you are interested in my consulting services. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on “Why I don’t analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant.” If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
-Adam Markus
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