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Admissions Tips: Common Recommendation Dilemmas

As many of our readers are aware, letters of recommendation are a central part of the application process.  We would like to take a look at how to handle the snags that often arise for applicants in unique employment situations.

The applicant who is most likely to have trouble finding a suitable recommender is either self-employed or works in his or her family’s business.  First, self-employed entrepreneurs by their very nature do not have a direct supervisor.  Similarly, an applicant who works for the family business may have trouble finding a non-related supervisor, or someone who can offer a truly objective opinion.

Applicants who find themselves in this dilemma should not despair.  Some applicants might be in a position to solicit a letter from a client or customer with whom they have worked extensively.  In an ongoing relationship like this one, the applicant is accountable to the client and in this sense the client may act as a supervisor.  A letter from a client or customer works best, of course, when the relationship has been intensive and ongoing; the writer should be familiar with the applicant’s responsibilities and the way he fulfills them, as well as his or her career trajectory.

Another option is to look to former supervisors for a letter of recommendation.  This is a good option for an applicant who has maintained a close relationship with a previous employer.  In this scenario, it is important that the applicant has kept the recommender informed about any developments in his career goals.  This way, the letter will be oriented towards the future, even if it draws on anecdotes from the past.

For applicants who have pursued extensive community involvement outside of work, yet another recommendation option may exist within a volunteer organization.  Someone who has contributed to a nonprofit for several years and has taken on responsibilities at the organizational level would be in a great position to explore this option.  Again, an applicant in this position should look for a recommender who ranks above him in the organization’s hierarchy and has first-hand knowledge of his contributions.

Following these criteria, in conjunction with some of the more general guidelines, applicants can acquire insightful, enthusiastic recommendations that bolster their entire applications.