Writing Your Own Recommendations: Right or Wrong?
Every year we run into a question that the “interwebs” appears to be conflicted about. Is it ok to write your own recommendation, or hire an admissions consultant to write your recommendations, and then have your actual recommender submit it? A lot of people apparently do this. Should you?
No. And here’s why: first and foremost, your integrity. For most schools, when you complete the detailed application form, you must now certify with a statement like the one below that in fact, your recommenders were the ones who wrote their own assessments of you.
“I confirm that I did not write any portion of this recommendation, either in whole or in part.”
So from an ethical perspective, when you certify that you did not write any portion of “this recommendation”, it seems pretty clear that you drafting a document then asking your recommender to submit it is not within the realm of acceptance. Each MBA program has an honor code and especially after big-time corporate fraud cases over the past few decades, the schools care very deeply about admitting people who are honorable and honest. Life is full of ethical decisions – this is a really easy one to make the right decision on and feel good about how you are starting the next phase of your career.
You may now be asking “But how will they know?” It doesn’t take a CIA linguistics expert to notice that a writing style is similar (especially if English is not the native language of your country). Though they may not call you out on having written your own recommendation, many admissions directors have told us that seeing a clearly shadow-written recommendation leads them to essentially not consider it. If you saw that a restaurant wrote it’s own glowing review on Google or Yelp, you’d discount it, right? And, you’d probably think there was something off if they felt like they had to do that. Same thing applies here.
What about hiring someone who is experienced in MBA admissions, like a consultant, to write your recommendations for your recommenders? This seems to be more of a gray area based on the Google. So here’s the test: imagine sitting down in front of the adcom with your app and saying “by the way, I hired someone else to write this rec – it wasn’t actually from my supervisor but he/she did opine – is that ok?” Go with what you think they’d say.
The recommendation section is a way to give the admissions committee insight into who you are as a person, what you’re like to work with, how you compare to your peers at the same level, and what you need to work on. The people who work with you probably have a lot of great things to say if they agreed to be a recommender for you, so let them! Be confident – your reputation speaks for itself – and if you’re competitive for a top program then you are probably well regarded amongst your coworkers without having to coach them!
Often recommenders are not confident in their ability to write a great recommendation, or perhaps they are too busy. Whatever the reason, we recommend continuing to push them to write it themselves. You can give them guidance and best practices; and we even recommend sitting down and talking through your strengths and areas for development with them so that the information is fresh in their extremely-busy minds. There’s nothing wrong with letting them know which projects you are most proud of, or even how you are positioning yourself to the schools. But let them tell their perspectives first hand.
So, how do you make sure the recommendation is fabulous (even if you can’t control it?) Over the years, we’ve seen that the very best recommendations come from recommenders who have had several conversations with the applicant in advance and fully understand not only what the schools are generally looking for but also the how and why of an applicant’s decision to apply and future career goals. So, instead of writing it for them, or farming it out, take some time on the front end to get your recommenders comfortable with the process and how they can help you stand out. Some organizations even keep a file of sample past recommendations on hand so that your recommender can see what his or her peers have written for past applicants from your company.
In summary, help your recommenders get comfortable and confident in what they need to do; but please, resist the urge to simply swoop in and write it yourself. You’d be doing a disservice to the great diversity of perspective that a truly third-party recommendation can have in helping you stand out!