One of the hardest things to do is to write about yourself in glowing terms (“I’m awesome and here’s why!”). The second hardest may be to ask someone else to write about you in glowing terms (“Can you tell them I’m awesome and why?”). But both are required when applying to college and graduate school in the form of application essays and letters of recommendation.
Here are some tips on how to make both tasks a little easier:
- Make a list of all your accomplishments. Include everything, no matter how small you might think it is. What might be insignificant to you is actually one additional detail that will differentiate you from your cohorts. If you have work experience, dig up your previous performance reviews. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ve forgotten that you’ve accomplished.
- Don’t be repetitive. Applicants often make the mistake of restating in their essays information that has already been captured in other parts of the application. Remember instead that every aspect of the application is an opportunity for you to tell another chapter of your story – and no admissions officer wants to read the same chapter twice.
- Quality matters more than seniority when it comes to recommendations. Ask for a letter of recommendation from someone who knows you and your work, preferably a direct manager, even if you don’t believe that person is “senior” enough. A quality recommendation from a mid-level manager will go a lot farther than an obviously generic recommendation from a senior executive.
- Prep your recommender. Meet with your recommender and gently remind them all that you’ve accomplished under their supervision. Talk to them about what they might write about and provide guidance as needed. If they resist or if you are uncomfortable doing this, perhaps they are not the right person to write your recommendation letter.
For example, MBA programs require a resume and work history in addition to asking essay questions related to your professional experience. Your resume might include a bullet about how you increased sales by 20% as a result of a new process you implemented. Rather than repeat that in an essay detailing your professional successes, you could talk about how your ability to build relationships across a complex organization and influence senior management enabled you to institute a new process with little resistance.
Applying to school can be a long and arduous process, but a completely worthwhile endeavor. Not only will you be accepted into a top-notch university, but you will learn a lot about yourself (and feel good about all that you’ve accomplished) in the process. Good luck!