Getting to write your own recommendation letters can seem like a blessing. Suddenly, you have the power to control an aspect of the application process that was previously out of your hands. So, your downside risk in these letters is mitigated and your upside is infinite, right? Well, not quite.
Admissions committees are not seeking blustery rave reviews but instead want recommendations that are detailed, personal, intimate and sincere. Can you really write about yourself with dispassionate veracity? And even if you are a master of “dispassionate veracity,” are you able to capture the subtleties that make you stand out? For example, let us say that among the many important things that you do at work, you also perform thoughtful acts without even realizing their significance—for example, you take new team members out to lunch. While you may regard “closing the big deal” as significant, others may appreciate and admire the small but significant act of inviting newbies to lunch, which helps to forge team unity. Unfortunately, you may lack the objectivity necessary to ensure that this positive detail is included in your letter.
This is but one simple example, but our point is that you probably will not know what important elements are missing from your recommendation letter if you write it yourself. So, when you approach your supervisor for a recommendation, go in ready to push back a bit if he/she ask you to write your own letter. Some individuals may be busy or lazy, while others may think that they are doing you a favor by giving you control. Be prepared to impress upon all your recommenders that you cannot help yourself but that they can. After all, that is why you are asking for their input in the first place!