If you haven’t gotten over yourself, this is my public service announcement to do so. None of us are solo acts, meaning no accomplishment is achieved without a prayer, a word of encouragement, or a shoulder to cry on. Don’t be ungrateful and never forget because, trust, it gets dark and lonely out there when we start feeling ourselves. Acknowledge that we stand on a foundation of love and support. Even if you have the opportunity to read these posts, it’s because someone has helped you achieve success, and, therefore, invested in your success. And if you have been living life with an “I can do bad all by myself” mentality, maybe it’s time for a change, especially if you hope to be successful in the graduate school process. I swear on everything it takes a village to get it done.
Take some time to realize who is in our corner. When we traverse along life’s tumultuous path, are we building allies or collecting enemies? Are we being cognizant of what we’re putting out into the ether and how people are perceiving us, both personally and professionally? Because if we are not, this next hurdle we are trying to triumph over will prove extremely difficult. As you know, the JD and MBA processes require letters of endorsement from peers/managers. The importance of this is twofold: (1) it provides the AdCom a useful third-party assessment of your character and your ability to perform in a professional environment, (2) it shows your own judgment and ability to gauge how people perceive you. Why would you solicit a letter of recommendation from someone who isn’t feeling you?
My goal here is to get y’all thinking about a board of “ride or dies”. Similarly to an individual board of directors, who offer counsel and review throughout your career, a board of “ride or dies” have worked with you professionally or know you personally and would be more than willing to write a letter verifying that you that hot ish a graduate program needs in their incoming class. “Ride or Die” ship, however is a two-way street—meaning you need to ride or die for that individual as much as they ride or die for you.
These individuals can only gas you to the extent in which you facilitate said gas. After, you have to have a command of the narrative you’re trying to convey. Only then, can we really optimize our letter of recommendations. For example, if our aim is to transition into social impact investing and we’ve had two potential recommenders from working at a big-CPG conglomerate versus working at a financial institution, you may want to select the financial institution. This highlights the importance of why we need to know our goals.
Once we know what kind of narrative we want to tell, then we should orient our minds to reflect on which of our “hot shit” qualities we want to unveil. Maybe if it’s clear on your resume that you’re a strong writer, maybe you want an opportunity to show you can manage projects or design processes.
Now finally, the hard part, we gotta select the people who are going to endorse us—the ride or dies. Since we have some criteria now, this should smooth the selection process. It doesn’t matter so much which ride or die we choose, but what matters is the mechanism in which we choose them. As I mentioned before they can only ride or die for you as much as you facilitate said “ride or die” ship. That’s why we have to arm them with the narrative we want to convey, the goals we want to achieve, and the characteristics we want to showcase. It’s the best way to get additional synergies (“b-school” terminology) extracted in the application.
Don’t forget your home training either, or for the purposes of this exercise, your professional etiquette. For one, don’t expect everyone to drop what they’re doing for your application. When we do that BS, we not being ride or die for the individual because they have responsibilities as well. You should at minimum be giving them six weeks to draft the letter. Second, be very available to answer any questions they may have and respond to them quickly. Whereas you should give them six weeks at minimum to draft, you should aspire to respond to their inquiries in under six hours. Third, and finally, communicate your progress throughout the cycle. Do not by any circumstances allow them to find out your submission, admission, wait list, or denial status from a third party. It’s tasteless, inconsiderate, and not a good look.
IF WE REALLY BOUT THAT LIFE, always consider how you exit a situation. Unfortunately, the ending of an engagement is often the most memorable and can be the driving force on how people evaluate us. Exercise class, (when possible because people do try it!) Also, check in with these ride or die endorsers every now and again to maintain the health of this relationship. Please don’t just hit these people up when you need something, like a letter of recommendation. It really isn’t a good look. People will boldface write you a purposefully subpar recommendation. I do think the most disappointing thing to the AdCom, is that you lacked the ability to maintain a relationship and select someone who can do a good job of showcasing how great you are. It’s almost nothing worse in an application. Like you couldn’t even control the one thing you could control? Please people, let’s get it together.