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Admissions Tip: Selecting & Preparing Recommendation Writers for your MBA Application

Preparing to write MBA application letters of recommendation

Your letters of recommendation are a critical variable in the MBA admissions equation. They allow the admissions committee to get an outside perspective on your skills and strength, and to learn about your work experience beyond that’s covered in your essays and resume.

Who Should Write my Business School Letters of Recommendation?

First, your recommenders should hold a position that is senior to yours – unless the school specifically asks for a peer recommendation. The adcom gives greater weight to statements made by your superiors rather than by a peer because a peer is assumed to be essentially a friend and therefore predisposed to write a positive recommendation.

This means that be best choices are current and former supervisors or professional mentors with whom you have worked closely. Don’t worry about title or status – a detailed and enthusiastic recommendation from a direct supervisor will go much farther than a letter from a CEO who’s only met you a few times. In addition to picking people who know you well, you should also pick recommenders with whom you have a positive relationship, since if they like and respect you, their letters are likely to be much more positive and persuasive.

If you have a number of people to choose among, it’s best to select those who can provide the adcom with a fairly comprehensive and up-to-date perspective on your professional experiences. Often, it makes sense to ask your current supervisor and a supervisor from the job you held immediately prior to your current position. If you decide to choose a recommender with whom you worked some time ago, it’s ideal if you have maintained a strong relationship with this person so they can speak to your continued professional development as well as to your past accomplishments. If you have two options who seem like equally strong choices, then considering English writing proficiency could help to break the tie.

Some candidates, like entrepreneurs and those working in family businesses, may not be able to request that a supervisor write a recommendation. In these cases, seeking recommendations from advisors, mentors, clients, or business partners may be more appropriate. It might be important to explain your choice of recommenders in the optional essay that each school provides.

Finally, when choosing your recommenders, remember that it can be seen as a test of judgment – selecting a recommender whose letter is ineffective or who appears skeptical about your qualifications may raise doubts about your ability to judge your interactions with others or to select the right person for a job.  And of course, you also want to select people that you can rely on to submit their recommendations before the application deadline.

What Should My Business School Recommendations Cover?

Each business school provides a list of recommendation questions that each recommender should address. Rather than writing a generic letter, it’s ideal for your recommendation writers to answer each prompt directly.

The most persuasive recommendation letters  contain specific examples and anecdotes. This helps to show your skills in action, and enables the reader to understand how you have persisted through challenges and made a positive impact on your teams and organizations.

It’s ideal for your recommendations to cover different aspects of your full-time work experience, highlighting varied experiences while supporting your overall message and presenting a consistent evaluation of your strengths and abilities.

How Should I Prepare My Recommenders?

It is important that your recommenders be open to input. This will allow you to build upon and reinforce the general message that you’re conveying in your essays and other application materials.

To get your recommenders on board with your positioning, prepare a set of materials for each recommender that details your plans and goals for the MBA, the experiences and anecdotes from your work together that relevant for your applications, and notes about why you have chosen to apply to each of the schools on your list. For applicants whose recommendations will come from people who work for the same company (a common situation for applicants who have only worked for one company since graduating from university), this is an opportunity to prevent overlapping letters by suggesting a different set of projects and examples to each recommender.

After providing these materials, you’ll want to follow up with each recommender every few weeks to nudge them along and answer questions they have about process. While it is important to get robust recommendations that include illustrative examples to support your recommenders’ positive comments about your abilities, it is critical the recommendations are submitted on time.

Clear Admit Resources

For candidates looking for more guidance, the Clear Admit Recommendation Guide will teach you to select the best possible recommenders, educate them about the characteristics of a strong recommendation, and exert some influence over the content – all so they can produce complementary recommendation letters that reinforce the strengths of your candidacy. This 45-page PDF file, which includes a set of guidelines you can print and share with your recommenders, a list of frequently asked questions, and two full sample recommendations, is available for immediate download.

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