“Wouldn’t that be great. I’m in!”
Or are you?
On this President’s Day, let’s think about it: Would a letter of recommendation from President Barack Obama, POTUS himself, ensure your acceptance?
I’m sure a letter from President Obama would get passed around the admissions office. That presidential seal and signature (even if from a machine) would be an eye catcher, but is it equivalent to “I’m in!”
How about from a past president? Maybe a senator? Or governor? The president of a Fortune 500 company? Maybe Mark Zuckerberg? Would he do it?
Actually, the title after the author’s name doesn’t matter nearly as much as the substance above the signature. Can the author, whatever his or her title, talk from personal experience about your character when answering the questions posed in a recommendation form or in writing the typical letter of recommendation? If the recommender doesn’t have that personal perspective, can’t bring detail and example to the letter, the title may be a curiosity, but no more. That VIP letter could be less effective than a detail-filled letter from your twenty-something team lead who writes with specific examples and persuasive substance about your contribution to her organization.
Now if President Obama were to write about:
- The difference you made to his campaign or your contribution to nabbing Osama bin Laden,
- Your ability to organize his brilliant social media campaign,
- An example of integrity, or
- Your initiative during the budget ceiling crisis.
Then you would have an extraordinarily powerful letter of recommendation. However if he (or his third secretary twice removed) just wrote a general, flowery ode to how wonderful you are with no specifics, it would be no value. It would just be a shiny seal and sig.
Of course if your team lead wrote about:
- Your contribution to the team and the difference you have made to the bottom line.
- Your ability to organize a social media campaign or just about anything else of significance.
- An example of integrity.
- Your initiative and cool during a crisis.
You would also have a compelling letter of recommendation.
So on this President’s Day, keep in mind that a powerful letter of recommendation is much more about substance than station, personal insight than position, examples than eminence.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com and author of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.
The Accepted Admissions Consulting Blog covers the college, MBA, medical school, law school, and graduate school admissions scene. You’ll find everything from testing tips, essay advice, and interview guidance to rankings. Subscribe now!