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Virginia Darden Letter of Recommendation Questions


  1. How long and in what capacity have you known the candidate? (No word limit)
  2. If this is a work-related reference, in what position is/was the candidate employed and for how long? (No word limit)
  3. What do you consider to be the candidate’s principal strengths/talents? (No word limit)
  4. What do you consider to be the candidate’s weaknesses or areas that need improvement? (No word limit)


Virginia Darden Letter of Recommendation Example – 1

1. Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant. (WL: 50 words)


I am an Associate Principal at ZS and lead a 60-member team at the New Delhi office of ZS. I have known Abhinav for the last ~ three years, and I have worked with Abhinav on multiple projects. My most engaging and exciting interaction with him has been on the project called Retina, an R-based self-serve tool in Market Research space. We have also worked on many innovative projects together and have participated as a team during Quest 2017, the annual hackathon at ZS.

2. How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (WL: 500 words)

In early 2017, Abhinav was working directly with me on a critical project “Retina”. The project involved creating an online Market Research self-serve analyzer using a new technology stack – “R and Shiny”. At the start of the project, we faced various technical hurdles as the technology stack was new to both the tech community and ZS as a firm (it was the first project of its kind at ZS).

I remember one specific instance when we were running against time to deliver the product to the client and were stuck on a technical issue. As the technology was new, we did not get much support from ZS internal Tech teams. Late in the evening, Abhinav started reaching out to R and Shiny experts outside ZS through various channels like Github and other open-source technical platforms. Upon finding a person (a freelance consultant) who could help, Abinav convinced the person to provide immediate consultation over a call and explained the situation. The Consultant could not solve the problem, but the conversation gave Abhinav vital clues as to what might have gone wrong, and he was able to figure out a solution the next day in time.

When I look back, I think what Abhinav had really done though, was inspire a very start-up like culture in the team and it encouraged everyone in the team to go beyond their capabilities. For me, it is this commitment to deliverables and willingness to invest his own time in developing new innovative solutions for ZS describes who Abhinav is.

In my ten years of career, I have come across a limited number of young analysts who show such dedication in solving a problem at hand, and it was this instance that made me notice Abhinav’s intensity & passion for problem-solving.

The next day, we successfully delivered the product to the client. The client was impressed by the solution and committed to a long-term engagement right-away. Abhinav’s dedication towards work and willingness to be creative and go outside of the boundaries was very well appreciated/exemplified by both ZS Regional and ZS India leadership.

3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. (WL: 500 words)

During the project that I explained above – ‘Retina’, I noticed that while Abhinav was doing great on the technical implementation front, he lacked the business understanding on some fronts. Abhinav tended to side-step on functional/strategic aspects and focus more on technical issues. Domain knowledge is critical to the success of any product.

I discussed this feedback with him. Abhinav took the feedback very positively and showed great improvement. He took the feedback very positively and started demonstrating a keen interest in learning more about Market Research as a Practice Area at ZS. He would often connect with seniors and other team members who have worked on similar projects in the past; try to review and draw insights from previous deliverables, and read internal ZS resources to keep himself abreast of the latest happenings.

Over time I could see that Abhinav was able to plan/implement the tasks more effectively, ensuring that the solution handles all the relevant business use cases. He was also able to share his viewpoints more coherently with business users and was provided with the opportunity to present Retina at Business Consulting Summit at ZS. It was nice to see him take the feedback so positively.

4. Is there anything else we should know? (WL: 500 words)

Throughout these years, Abhinav has demonstrated good mental capacity and appetite to learn. He is a keen observer and keeps himself updated through reading relevant material online and enrolling in courses as per the needs. Being resourceful and using his network strength optimally, he is able to gain significant business knowledge quickly from his juniors and seniors alike. He showed his innovative side when we as a team participated in Quest 2017, eventually winning the ‘Best ROI of Business Idea’ award.

He is also a very good ZS citizen, often going to great lengths for project work to help others – even if it meant late nights for him. He has helped several teams to set up and scale R-Shiny capability.

Overall, Abhinav has shown a good aptitude to solve problems and deliver results. I believe he has the fundamental qualities of a great team player, and with proper mentorship and exposure, he will develop into a fine ZS leader to manage his own portfolio one day.

1. Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant. (WL: 50 words)

I lead the global analytic tools team at ZS and Abhinav has been a key member of this team for more than four years. As his team Principal, I have observed him closely as he progressed from one role to another, first on Excel/VBA projects and then setting-up & driving adoption of R-Shiny technology capability at ZS.

2. How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (WL: 500 words)

Over the years, from what I have observed, I think the areas where Abhinav stands apart from other well-qualified individuals are his commitment to team efforts/deliverables and willingness to invest his own time in developing new innovative solutions for ZS.

On his first major project, Abhinav fractured his arm while playing outdoor sports. The project was intense (timelines, the scope of the project, and nature of the problem all contributed) and required dedicated effort of the team members over a considerable period. Despite the injury, Abhinav reported to work after a week of absence and played a key role in successfully delivering the project. Since the timelines were crunched, the team had to endure numerous stressful late nights in the office. Abhinav’s personal commitment despite his injury created such a positive environment within his team that they were all motivated and able to successfully deliver the project. As for Abhinav, this was not a one-time display of heroic effort; every project Abhinav works on becomes an example of stellar leadership and teamwork.

On another analytics heavy project, Abhinav proposed using a new technology stack – R-Shiny – for analytic projects to overcome some of the limitations that Excel/VBA posed. Having closely monitored his performance and ability to drive a situation, we decided to allow him to take a lead on this important strategic initiative to figure out the workings of R-Shiny, which was new to both the tech community and ZS. Within a short span of time, Abhinav was able to build proficiency and successfully deployed a prototype solution for one of our clients. That solution created quite a buzz at ZS and the client committed to a long-term engagement during the first demo meeting. This led to the seeding of R-Shiny capability at ZS. Seeing the potential of this new technology stack, we decided to upscale the R-Shiny team which now has more than 15 members across two ZS offices. Being the founding member of the team, Abhinav shared his knowledge and learnings with other new members of the team and helped drive the adoption of the new technology stack at ZS.

While we have many strong performers and high achievers within our team at ZS, Abhinav stands out even within this select group due to his die-hard commitment to his team and consistently deliver best-in-class solutions.

3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. (WL: 500 words)

As is usually the case, strong performers tend not to delegate project work to juniors fearing that the task will not be performed to the level of quality they themselves can achieve. About a year into Abhinav’s tenure at ZS (about three years ago), I sensed that Abhinav was not delegating enough work to others frequently making himself the bottleneck. A conversation with him confirmed that hypothesis. So, while I congratulated him for his desire for increased quality and willingness to work extra hard to deliver it, I also suggested that doing so was not a viable long-term strategy. We at ZS operate in an apprenticeship model where people grow by doing things on their own. Making mistakes and learning from them is an essential part of the progression.

My suggestion to Abhinav was to rely more on his teams while expecting that not all of the tasks will be completed optimally or on time. His role relative to junior members should be to review and advise rather than direct or do the task himself. I could see that Abhinav seemed a bit uncomfortable with this idea at the time. It took a few reminders and some reinforcement from me for him to start experimenting with delegating complicated tasks to others. We occasionally met to discuss some cases where he had to redo the task as the work performed by the delegate was sub-standard. But after a while he began to see the benefits; his juniors became reliable leaving him time for more important activities such as project and stakeholder management.

Fast-forwarding to the current time-frame, Abhinav has been able to build incredible leverage by investing in his teams through early delegation. He takes the time to review the work of others and gives them pointers on how to improve their game. He encourages his team members to take risks and I have never seen him being harsh or condescending when things don’t pan out. The level of trust between him and his teams is exceptional.

It took a conscious effort on the part of Abhinav to effect his change. I have seen many others struggle with it, as have I various times during my career. Seeing the success of Abhinav’s teams is a positive reinforcement for me to let go at times when I feel the desire to jump-in.

4. Is there anything else we should know? (WL: 500 words)


Abhinav has shown good leadership skills and aptitude to challenge the status quo. He has displayed great fundamental qualities which will surely lead to personal and professional success for him and his team members. An MBA from ISB at this point of time will serve to speed-up his success and amplify his contributions to the organization and people he comes in contact with.

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