Do Your Research on Recommenders
Given that you still have significant time before this year’s first-round application deadlines, you have the opportunity to take some extra steps now to ensure you submit your strongest applications possible. One such step is doing some background work on your recommenders to make sure your choices are indeed “safe.” After all, if you are playing by the strictest interpretation of the rules of recommendations, you will not know what your recommenders ultimately write about you. So, by doing a little intelligence work in advance, you can better understand whether you are making the right choice, before you commit to a certain individual.
By doing some “intelligence,” we mean, where possible, contacting past colleagues in a discreet and diplomatic way to find out what their experiences were like with your potential recommender. For example, was your potential recommender a generous advocate or was he/she a disinterested third party who had a tendency to be harsh? Clearly, learning more about your target recommender’s approach in advance can help you understand whether or not you should offer him/her this important responsibility. Past colleagues can also guide you in how best to manage your recommenders, which can be just as important as choosing them. Knowing up front that your recommender is a procrastinator or performed better after being given a list of accomplishments from which to work can help ensure the best letter possible and can prevent you from inadvertently antagonizing your recommender or delaying the process.
For more information about recommendations, check out mbaMission’s Letters of Recommendation Guide, which includes a guide to give your recommenders and a full sample letter with notes.