Recommendations: The People & The Interactions

Today, guest writer George Gavrilita shares his experience finding judges to recommend him for L3. He has a lot of tips, so enjoy!

Part I: The People

George Gavrilita

George Gavrilita

I’m George Gavrilita, and I’ve had the luck to work with 6 different senior Judges from 4 different regions on recommendations for the L3 checklist. Today I’ll try to explain why starting early with recommendations is vital for your L3 process, and give you some tips on what kind of mentors you’re actually looking for, and what you can do to make the interactions as fruitful as possible.

The Requirements

“You may not begin requesting recommendations until your self-review is written and approved by the Verification Committee.”

This means:

  1. No L3 is allowed to write you a recommendation and submit it before you submit a SR and it gets approved. That’s because:
  2. If you don’t even make an effort to evaluate yourself, why would somebody else have to do it? Especially since:
  3. A L3 rec is a huge responsibility and potentially a ton of work, so we want to give the recommender at least some basic materials before starting with your recommendation, and some confirmation that they’re not wasting their time..

However, none of that stops you from:

  1. Making a public commitment for L3 as soon as you want, especially with your RC and L3s in your region, and
  2. In the light of that statement, trying to find opportunities to work with specific L3s as soon as you can, during or outside events, with specific set goals.

So, if you haven’t before, go ahead and do both of these things right away. Gauging already these first reactions can be very important. People might be enthusiastic about it, because they think you have potential, the region needs more leadership etc. Otherwise, they might tell you that they haven’t seen enough involvement from you in the community, or that they’ve heard you’re not very diplomatic. Either way you have a starting point. Knowledge is power!

Who to Look For

Keep in mind that you are looking for somebody who could mentor you to the point of being a L3 Candidate capable of passing a panel. You are not necessarily aiming for a recommender, but for people who can make you better in a variety of skills. You are not pursuing recommendations, but improvement. I’ve delayed my L3 by 3 years for making this mistake.

If you pursue improvement, that stays with you even if you have to interrupt your relationship with a specific mentor. If on the other hand, it was just for the recommendation, when the two of you need to take a break, you’re left empty-handed.

Additionally, once you’re truly skilled, then a recommender might come your way even without you actively searching for it, in the same way talent scouts might do in music or sports – everybody wants to be the one who helped create a champion. If you believe you’re a champion and still nobody notices, nobody stops you from asking the talent scouts directly.

How to Find Them

First name that comes to mind is your RC. However, since all L3 candidates in your region might think the same, the RC might not have a lot of time to work with you. Only one way to find out: go out there and ask, and share a plan (more on that below).

What other options are there for Mentors? The RC might be busy, but could suggest some names, based on geographical proximity, or likelihood of judging the same events together.

If that fails, you can do what I did: open Judge Apps, click Judges, and then go through the alphabetical list of all L3s. Mark down all the people you’ve worked with before, or you had outside of tournament interactions on projects or forums, or you heard good things about, or you notice will be on staff at the next Magic Fest you’re going to etc.

This is still a brainstorming part of the process, so do value quantity over quality. You might realize you don’t have such a meaningful connection as you thought with some L3s after all, some of the people you’ll ask will be in the middle of a very busy semester of their lives, and others might get a new job or move away and not make it anymore to the Magic Fests you planned for together midway through your L3 process. The L3 checklist is not life-proof, on the contrary, it’s a way to see how you can deal with life.

That’s why it’s important to have a clear plan in mind before you start the interaction, and keep the momentum. You’re rewarded with the fact that recommendations are one of the few items on the checklist that do not expire. When you will gaze at the horizon from the top of a green hill in I-Have-My-Recs-Land, the rest of the items will really seem easy to deal with. You cannot help progressing also on other stuff along the way, so don’t worry about dedicating all your energies to this, now.

And if you ever get three or four people that want to help you, that’s a good problem to have, and I’m not even sure it counts as one. Don’t forget: “A recommendation may be co-authored”, and I can attest that Joint Recs are as underused as useful. Simply put, L3 Alba might not collect enough data on 7 of your qualities, but she might have 6, and L3 Bart might have noticed your Teamwork and Diplomacy in an online project. Have Alba talk to Bart. You might’ve just added a tick on your checklist.

The Definition

“A L3 Recommendation is a written review that covers at least 7 of the 9 Qualities of Level 3 Judges “

The important part here is the ”review“. Often candidates complain (and I’m guilty of it too) that recommendations take too much time or never land. However, true to their nature of reviews, the recommendations are not something a L3 DOES for you, it’s something they OBSERVE and ASSESSE in you. That means the burden of DOING is on you. The vast majority of time the recommendation doesn’t arrive is because they haven’t observed enough, so they have nothing to assess. That can only mean two things, you’re either not doing enough, or you’re not showing enough.

Part II: The Interactions

A quick recap: you’re trying to give to select people relevant data over a limited amount of time. It’s more easily said than done – if you don’t have a plan. From the L3’s point of view, 90% of the work is everything that happens before, only 10% of effort necessary for writing a recommendation is actually sitting down and writing. Things that are so complicated naturally scare us, because we’re not even sure where to begin, how long it would take, and so on. By following the steps described below, you’ll make it much more easier for them. If you ever done any teaching or tutoring, you know it’s more enjoyable when you don’t have to run after students. Don’t make the L3 run after you. Spoiler: they won’t.

Adapting to Your Mentor

For all the work outside of tournaments (and you’ll read below, there’s a lot on that), be aware of the huge dependency issues you have for this item of the checklist. If you write your TO, and they don’t answer, you simply can’t progress. Contrast this with going through your notes and writing a review to another judge: you just need to find the time and the willpower, but it all depends on you.

Therefore as a rule of thumb, any activity that requires someone else’s intervention, whether Judge-related or not, has higher priority than one which depends on you only. That’s because you cannot know the other person’s availability, efficiency, or energy left to do stuff. You need to give them as much time as possible to account for that, and the earlier they know about it, the earlier they can plan for it as well. If you do your stuff first, and then on Sunday night you’re like, ”Oh btw could you spend another two hours doing this for me, like, now?”, don’t be upset if it doesn’t happen.

I recommend asking them about their habits: do they check mail in the morning? Use an email scheduler to make sure your mail is the first one on top of their inbox when they wake up. Are they very busy during workdays? You might be as well, but since it’s you the one who has more to lose from this relationship not working out, I’d make sure that your mail is in their inbox by Friday afternoon the latest, otherwise it might take a whole other week before they respond.

For Tournaments, start as early as you can, and ask them about the next tournaments they’re going to. Compare schedules, and if they’re not flexible, try as much as possible to go where they’re going. That might include rescheduling your days of leave, or not breaking even from a tournament. As much as in the end it’s up to you to decide how much sacrifices you want to make for L3, and how much the situation requires it, it’ll probably still be you the one who has to make them. With the risk of repeating myself, you’re the one who wants something, and you are not entitled to anything. It’s great when it’s the L3 the one who goes the extra mile, and you should always appreciate that, but you should never expect it to happen.

Now that you’ve picked and event to work at together, make sure to clearly express your needs and goals in your cover letter to the TO, and for good measure, write another mail to your RC, with the L3 in copy. I can’t guarantee it will work, but I can assure you that “I want to work at this event so I can team up with L3 Charlie, my L3 mentor” works better than not saying anything at all. Once the HJ asks for your preferences, talk with your mentor, and draft together a single mail to send to the HJ, with the L3 in copy, describing the shifts and roles first for the L3, then for you, highlighting how this will allow the L3 to assess you on Qualities XYZ. The L3 will answer that mail simply confirming.

What to Talk About

A well done, constructive Self-Evaluation should figure out the weakest links in your chain. It’s good that you’ve recognized your Areas of Improvement, but you should also set goals and create some Activities to help you improve. Ask your L3 Mentor for advice, you’ll be a stronger candidate as a result, and the process underwent together will give lots of material for them to make an assessment of you. I talk more about Self-Reviews here.

Before you actually go to the panel, the L3 Advancement process has an additional check: the Pre-Event Interview. Guess what prepares you very well for that, while giving your mentor grounds to evaluate you on? You guessed it, a similar kind of interview with your Mentor. Go ahead and suggest that. The L3 knows how it looks like, otherwise they wouldn’t be L3s, right? You can have them throw hard, open-ended questions your way, but I also recommend being proactive.

If you’re unhappy about a policy, believe me, they want to know about it. Been doing something for your community? This is not the moment to be modest – let the L3 know: the facts, the rationale, the path ahead. You’re not sure why the HJ of a Magic Fest you worked together at behaved the way they did? Ask first: it’s easier for someone to help you by answering precise questions, rather than formulating “wisdom” in small, digestible chunks and giving them to you. All these talks will narrow down the number of qualities the L3 does not have any info on. Those are the ones you need to target for the next Magic Fest you are at together.

When to Talk About It

Self-Evaluation is covered by the Self Review, and Program and Policy are discussions that can be started and sometimes finished online, so give precedence IRL to the qualities that can be observed better IRL. However, don’t forget to have your recommenders check both practice and theory when possible.

For example, I ended up having a silly Minor deficiency in my first L3 Panel in Leadership: everybody was enthusiastic about my way of leading, but only the Panelists realized that I didn’t have the definitions right in my head. This is something rare, but it’s always up to you to avoid it. In general, whenever something bad happens, asking yourself if you could’ve done more, rarely yields “no” as an answer. Therefore, do more. This kind of attitude is very inspiring and sometimes can make other Judges, including your recommenders, uneasy in a good kind of way: the best way to make somebody care is showing how much you care.

Once you narrow down what you want to talk about at the next Magic Fest, be aware that it doesn’t hurt for you both to be on the same Team on Day 1, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to specifically ask for it. Team Leading on Day 1 can be so challenging and hectic for a L3, and the needs of the tournament can be so demanding and unforeseeable, that TLs might have a hard time simply carrying out tasks at their best, without even doing something as draining as L3 Mentoring or something as time-consuming as observing you on top of everything else. Consider also that the L3 might want to try out new stuff as well, so they might apply for Logistics TL for the first time at the next Team Sealed GP Vegas. Can’t really blame anyone if there’s little time for chats.

You can use Saturdays to work together with another judge to finish a review, or apply for an early shift regardless of what the L3 does as to be rested for Sunday, where the best opportunities are.

Number 1 is HJing as big a Side Event as you feel comfortable with. It also doubles as another item on the checklist once you have staff, and having the L3 on staff gives them enough opportunities to shadow you especially in Leadership, Stress & Conflict Management and Investigations, which are particularly hard to get data on.

Number 2 is the same kind of tournament, but switching roles. As a shadow, you can give feedback (Development) to the L3 on their Logistics and cooperate with them (Teamwork).

The Role of the Mentors

You might wonder, if you’re basically becoming your L3 mentor’s secretary, travel agent, and doing your own PEI, what use is there for the L3? Aren’t they just watching? Can’t I just submit a checklist of qualities straight to the Verification Committee? Isn’t this just a repeat of the Self Review?

The L3s are useful intermediaries for a number of reasons

  1. Sometimes, you simply cannot assess yourself, or might be biased, so having someone else redo it comes in handy.
  2. Second, there’s the concept of subsidiarity, which basically means that the one closest to you and that knows you better is better suited to make decisions about you. Otherwise said, the Verification Committee knows you less, so if you don’t have a strong case, they might dismiss it, whereas a L3 could make minor adjustments, adding things that are true, but that you didn’t realize were relevant in your dossier, and turn things around.
  3. Third, the Verification Committee is made just by a handful of people that do this in addition to all of their other L3 duties, and couldn’t keep up with all the candidates worldwide. The other L3s are helping out.
  4. Lastly, remember you shouldn’t be doing this only for the checklist, but be genuinely interested in your development. If you do that only for the L3 process, that might mean you stop doing it after you get the shiny badge, and you would lose your level very fast: the self-evaluation and improvement continues once you’re L3, maybe even more than before.

As much as they are an asset for you, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be demanding on some specific aspects. There’s a difference between being collaborative, and not knowing your value. There is a direct correlation between the detailedness and clarity of the recommendations, and the difficulty of the Panel. Otherwise said, if your recommendations have only one line about Investigations, saying “They’re OK”, don’t be surprised if your Panel will spend a lot of time trying to figure out if you’re good enough in Investigations for a L3.

This is why, before even submitting the checklist, I would discuss short recommendations with your mentor. They are doing you no favor by telling the Committee you’re ready, when you’re not: they’re just setting you up for a huge disappointment when you think you got so close, and then end up leaving the room heart-broken. When you are unhappy about how the recommendation looks, do keep in mind that there are multiple good-faith reasons why that can be: the recommender rushed it because you really wanted to test at a specific event, or the recommender is doing this for the first time, and might need some orienting themselves.

Understanding When It’s Over

Having perspective helps. You adapted to your mentors rhythms and followed through your plan, but you are still moving slow. This doesn’t necessarily mean the L3 doesn’t care about you, but that they may be mentoring other two or even three candidates at the same time, so if I suggest to simply do everything you can do yourself, and no less, it’s only to make this as beneficial, smooth and fast as possible for you.

Talk about your disappointment in a diplomatic way, and make sure you know why things are not proceeding as fast as you would want. It might turn out that your expectations are out of place, and for that L3, you’re one of the fastest progressing candidates they ever worked with.

As much as I encourage you to keep a positive mindset, there will be times the L3 is ignoring you, and maybe are ashamed to admit they no longer have time for you. Try to find out through common friends whether that’s the case, and make it clear that you’re happy for the help they provided so far, but that it’s best for both if you can start working with a new mentor, and maybe just have the first one provided data on a couple of qualities for a Joint Recommendation.

Other times a L3 might refuse to recommend you and tell you you’re deficient in a quality other L3s say you’re clearly fine in. Well then, when things are no longer mutually enjoyable, constructive, or achievable, don’t waste time worrying about who is there to blame, but focus on what were the mistakes, and how to avoid them next time.

Because there will be a next time, up until the day you’ll see yourself smiling back at you from the front page of the Judge Blog.