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Prospective students from India who are planning to pursue a Master’s Degree from the US often struggle with getting the right flavours in their letter of recommendation. This is because their professors or employers may either be used to creating a LOR with a particular format or may have no idea at all. Here are few basic pointers that you can be cautious about when drafting the letter:

  • The font must be formal, straight with no major fancy attributes to it
  • The font size that is clearly readable on an A4 paper print
  • Basic colours – the use of black is the safest choice. Although, you can use a 2nd colour – maybe blue – to highlight anything that you wish to.
  • Otherwise, to bold and italicize is the best way to highlight
  • Office style margins – which is generally one of the default settings in most of the document making software such as – MS Word. You can also manually set it: office margins are – 1 – 1.25” at the top and bottom, and 0.75 – 1” on both sides. For much consideration, the left margin can be about 0.25” wider than the right margin.
  • Paragraph spacing and alignment must be such that at no point the reader has to break the flow of his reading to understand the direction or lead of the content or adjust to the change in the paragraph, it must a smooth shift
  • Available templates for letters can be used to ensure clear readability

Now for more pointers that you have to keep in mind

Credibility matters

Heard about Blake Gottesman? Without a college degree, he managed to get into Harvard Business School largely thanks to a stellar letter of recommendation written by the 43rd President of USA – George W Bush, whom he served as a full-time personal aide. After passing out from Harvard in 2008, he joined Berkshire Partners, Private Equity firm based out of Boston, as a senior associate.

Of course, not every applicant may have not worked with or been taught by a genial Ex-President or Prime Minister willing to offer a LOR. But if you have work experience and have interacted with one of the heads of a department – for instance, a CTO who is known across the industry, it would be great to secure a letter of recommendation from him.

As a student, if you are able to get the head of the department or the Dean of your institute to sign off your LOR, it would matter much more than getting your immediate friendly boss or your jovial 11th standard science teacher to do it.

LOR shouldn’t conflict with the rest of your application

Jhanvi Khanna is applying for an MS program after working for 45 months in a high growth startup. She has claimed so in her application forms and has been savvy enough to get a glowing LOR from the founder of the company – a charismatic gentleman whose success stories have been splashed in newspapers across the globe.

Recommendation Letter Sample:
“To the Admission Committee,

I am proud to recommend Ms Jhanvi Khanna, a talented and dedicated professional who has been working for the last 4 years in my firm. She has been one of the most proficient coders in my company and has played an important role in building our core product……”
Can you spot what went wrong?

Jhanvi has claimed that her work experience has been for 45 months. But her CEO has written that she worked for 4 years. One may perceive this as being bureaucratic but it is absolutely critical that the information given in your transcripts match accurately with what is written in the LOR.

Use impactful language

Visualize that you are going for an interview for a dream job. Are you likely to dress in a jaded pair of clothes along with a pair of old loafers or would you want to adorn yourself with a crisp white shirt and a classic suit with polished Oxford shoes?

Rather than using insipid words or clichés, using descriptive vocabulary and engaging phrases throughout your LOR would ensure that it stands out.

Here are some LOR samples
For instance rather than writing:
Ramesh is an all-around employee. He understands technology as well as copywriting. He is presently working as a coder. When our marketing team was facing a challenge in creating a new tag line, Ramesh took it up and resolved it.

One can write:
Ramesh is a versatile professional who doesn’t shy away from taking up challenges. He is an accomplished technology leader with impressive knowledge about the intricacies of writing appealing content as well. Recently when our marketing department hit a roadblock about creating a compelling tagline to replace our existing one, Ramesh immediately decided to volunteer. He was able to marry powerful insights about our product along with his thoughts on what kind of copy would work. This resulted in the conception of a remarkable slogan which has generated tremendous recall value for our brand.
Yet, one must be careful about a few aspects. One shouldn’t be using phrases that could be misinterpreted. For instance – He is a perfectionist. Certain admission officers may interpret this as a sign of narcissism or even having negative social traits.

Your letter should be peppered with meaningful anecdotes
“To The Admission Committee

Mr Rajiv Jain is a brilliant student. His academic credentials are top notch as he always appears anywhere in the first three ranks in each examination. He has also inspired the students by being a leader on the cricket pitch by exhibiting awe-inspiring all-around performance. It is my genuine pleasure and honour to recommend him for your MS program in computer science.……

……….However, what I admire most is the strength of his character. During a closely contested match with another engineering college to secure a place in the finals of the Dr LMNO cricket championship, our team needed four runs to win and the last pair of our batsmen including Rajiv was on the pitch. Rajiv was not out on 101 runs. With only six balls remaining, Rajiv was on strike. Do keep in mind that this match was a derby and played against a fierce rival team which has only defeated us every time we met during the last four years. This win would have gained us an entry into the finals of the championship and a chance for Rajiv to make his mark as the leading run scorer in this tournament. The first ball was bowled wide of the off stump, Rajiv attempted a cover drive. The opposition team went up in unison. And the umpire dithered as everyone except him seemed to have heard the nick. But Rajiv walked.

We were all surprised. In today’s day and age, nobody walks unless given out by the umpire and that too during such a high stakes game. We also knew that winning this tournament meant a lot to Rajiv. Later when I asked Rajiv about his decision to walk, he had a simple answer “There were young kids watching the match too. It would set a wrong example. As much as we want to succeed in our present, it shouldn’t be at the cost of a future without conscience.

I was humbled. That day, a student may have taught me the most important lesson of my life…”
Isn't this a fascinating story? This anecdote brings not only brings to light Rajiv’s calibre as a fantastic batsman but also establishes that he is a young man with robust morality. Just like a picture is worth a thousand words, a story like this illustrates the characteristics of the applicant like nothing else can.

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