What every MBA candidate should know to select the right persons to write your letters of recommendation. The right choice can be the difference between being accepted and getting turned down.
With services that help candidates with MBA applications increasing in popularity, business schools have gotten very good at vetting candidates. Schools are able to detect personality, authenticity, and originality. These trends make letters of recommendation a highly critical piece of an application. Therefore, you want to choose the ‘right’ recommender not the ‘best’ recommender. Choosing the wrong recommender and/or not managing the process effectively can be the difference between being accepted and getting turned down. Consider the following things when determining your recommender:
1. Know Your Application.
Very few applicants have a perfect application (strong academic performance, high test scores, exceptional work experience, impressive extra curricula’s, etc). So having a good understand of where you’re strong and where you’re weak is important when considering a recommender. The Admissions Committee is going to evaluate your undergraduate performance, GMAT/GRE, community involvement, work experience and professional progression. Are one or more of these areas lacking? Perhaps you have a poor quant score on the exam and didn’t have a strong quant undergraduate performance. In a scenario such as this, schools may have concerns about your ability to handle the rigorous quantitative part of the curriculum. So you’re going to want to select a recommender that can highlight your strong analytical ability. Having a recommender who can highlight relevant skills, abilities, and performance will serve you well.
2. Titles Don’t Matter.
While it may be tempting to have the head of your company write a letter on your behalf, it actually may not be the best strategy. The Admissions Office would much rather see a recommendation from a direct supervisor that you work with every day than they would the CEO who barely knows you. Using strong, specific examples exhibiting your characteristics or how you improved the company make for the best letters of recommendation. Such illustrations are best and most authentically told from the perspective of those with whom you work with the closest. So choose a recommender that you’ve worked closely with and can speak to your attributes and strengths.
3. Who Cares the Most?
Ask yourself one simple question – of all the recommenders you’re considering, who do you think cares the most about you going to business school and advancing your career? The best letters are often written by the recommenders who care deeply about the candidate. With multiple applications, and different questions and ranking systems demanded by each school, the process can be quite demanding for a recommender – oftentimes more than they may have thought. As a result, having a recommender who cares is more likely to spend the time needed to write a strong letter. They’ll highlight the right examples, use superlative language, and write about you favorably about your strengths and attributes.
That being said, one caution is to not use peers, professors, or mentors, as schools much prefer current or past supervisors as recommenders.
And once you’ve selected the right recommenders, manage them effectively.
4. Manage The Recommender.
Engage your recommender early and be respectful. Chances are they are busy and in demand, so make the process as easy as possible for them. They will be appreciative, and you will get a better letter. You’ll want to let the recommender know the basics: how the process works, what they need to submit, the deadlines, schools to which you’re applying, and the actual questions. As they gain comfort around their obligations, you’ll want to prepare the recommender with content and examples that you’d like them to cover in the letter.
Choosing the right recommender can both be an afterthought and a very difficult process. Consider these things when selecting a recommender, as it can play a major role in the success of your application.