Posted on June 30, 2017

Getting Stellar Recommendation Letters for Your MBA Application

Letters of recommendation are a critical part of the MBA application package. Yet some MBA applicants make the mistake of undermining the importance of recommendation letters. Letters of recommendation provide the only outside information the admissions committee receives about you. A recommendation can validate the claims you have made in your essays. Also, it can add stories that you cannot fit into your essays and further build on the stories you have shared in your essays. A great recommendation paints you in a positive light and complements your application.

Choosing Your Recommenders:

Choosing a recommender who can write a valuable letter for you can sometimes be extremely challenging for the applicants. Your recommendation should come from people who know you very well, who are very familiar with your work, and with whom you have interacted on a regular basis. These people are capable of writing a letter that discusses your talents, accomplishments, potential, personal and professional traits. Your letters will have more credibility if they are written by people who are senior to you and are in evaluative positions.

Best Recommenders: Your direct supervisors are your best recommenders as they are familiar with your working style, work ethic, accomplishments, and your contribution to the company and are in a position to substantiate them with powerful examples. However, sometimes people do have certain issues with taking their letters from their current supervisor for different reasons. For example, some applicants are too new in their current job so they hesitate their new employer is asking for a letter, and sometimes they simply don’t feel safe in telling their supervisor that they plan to quit soon. Therefore, if taking a recommendation from your immediate supervisor means jeopardizing your job or not getting the best recommendation you deserve, then you may not go that route.

If you can't get your direct supervisor or think your supervisor's Boss will be better, you should definitely give them a shot. However, you need to make sure that they are familiar with your work. You may also reach out to the previous boss for that letter. This is why it is important to keep strong relationships even after leaving your previous job. (Most applicants take one letter from the immediate boss and one from the previous boss). Finally, if you have strong extracurriculars or community work, then it is a great idea to ask the president or supervisor of that organization to write about your awesome contribution to their organization.

Thus, your best recommenders are those who know your work very well, are impressed with your work, and are open to improving their LORs to ensure your success.

However, your job is not done even after you have picked the right recommenders. Guiding your recommenders is as important as choosing the right recommenders.

Guiding your Recommenders:

Here are some important steps you can take to ‘guide’ your recommenders.

  1. Request a meeting with them: I always advise applicants to request a lunch or coffee meeting with their recommenders so they can explain to them in person the importance of their recommendation and apprise them of the themes they can discuss in their recommendation letters. You may also jot down relevant anecdotes in which you have demonstrated professional and personal traits being asked about and share details of how you contributed to a particular project or how you interacted with others or went above and beyond. If your essays are ready, you may also share your essays with them, so they are familiar with your personal and professional stories.

  2. Guide them about the Process and Format of Recommendation Letter: Most recommenders are not familiar with the MBA application process and think that they have to write a formal letter of recommendation letter wherein they simply have to sing your praises. Unfortunately, a laundry list of robust adjectives doesn’t make a good recommendation letter. Therefore, you need to appraise your recommenders of the process and let them know that they will need to respond to specific questions that each school will ask about your strengths and personality traits and substantiate them with examples from your work.

  3. Follow up with them: You need to keep following it up with them to avoid ‘surprises’ and unnecessary stress when deadlines are hovering on your head. In my experience, I have seen some applicants having a difficult time with their recommenders as the recommenders waited until the last day to share their LORs with them, and when they did, it was not in the desired format that the school required. In the past two years, two of my clients were not able to submit their application in Round 1 because their recommenders could not complete their work on time.

  4. Give them Enough Time: To make your life and your recommenders' life easy, choose your recommenders well ahead of time before the deadlines. They are busy people, so they need to be given enough time to help you with this important document in your application process. Please remember your application is your utmost priority at this time, but it’s not a priority for them. They are doing you a huge favor by investing their time in vouching for you.

Some recommenders don’t intend to share what they have written. If you are confident that you have guided them well about the process and the expectations, you don’t need to worry. They are not obligated to share their letters with you. They are competent people who will try their best to set you apart from the crowd.

Lastly, after they submit their LORs, don’t forget to thank them for this favor.

Thus, if you plan and choose the right recommenders, engage with them early on in the process, guide them about the process and expectations, you will not only save yourself unnecessary anxiety before the deadline but will also succeed in getting stellar recommendations.

Good luck on your application,

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