Recommendations Really Matter

In recent years business schools have reduced the number and length of essays. And there remains no certainty that an applicant will get an interview invitation. However, there’s one more manageable element of the MBA application that has grown dramatically in its significance — recommendations.

The observation and assessment of your candidacy’s strengths and weaknesses captured in a recommendation provides the admissions committee with insights and information that go beyond what you reveal in the application.

To ensure that your recommendations add maximum value, here are 3 considerations to keep in mind:

1. Who
Some applicants believe that the more senior the title of the recommender, and the more prestigious his or her academic and/or professional credentials, the more beneficial the rec will be. And even more applicants think that the only recommender who counts is someone who is a graduate of the targeted b-school. Not true.

The recommender is not the applicant. So, his or her resume is not critically important, especially if the content of the recommendation is less credible and compelling than it would be if written by a more junior, less credentialed recommender who could have provided stronger content on your behalf. So, pick someone who knows you thoroughly — personally and professionally — and who you can trust to be a convincing champion and cheerleader for your admission.

2. When
Approaching a potential recommender to request his or her support can be a stressful moment for an applicant. That’s why you might be tempted to postpone that request as long as possible. However, waiting until just a few weeks before the application deadline is a huge risk. First, the less time you allow a recommender, the less opportunity he or she has to craft a rec that will serve you best. And second, your preferred recommender may say no for any number of reasons, leaving you to scramble for a replacement.

Granted, it might be problematic to ask your supervisor to support your MBA application if doing so could jeopardize your current job and near-term advancement. However, this is a common challenge and there are proven tactics to work around it. But that takes time. So, we urge you to make recommendation planning an early component of your admissions campaign.

3. What
When it comes to recommendations, content is king. You want only content that adds credibility to your strengths, helps mitigate your vulnerabilities, shares meaningful facts about your candidacy that merit emphasis or are otherwise unstated, and reflect total confidence that you would both benefit from and add value if admitted.

This kind of beneficial content doesn’t happen on its own. No matter how well or for how long a recommender knows you, he or she will not intuitively know which topics and examples will bolster your candidacy, complement the rest of your application, and align with the admissions criteria for the targeted schools. The right recommenders will welcome your input yet insist on writing the final draft themselves. That’s why we help our clients produce succinct "recommendation input outlines" as part of our comprehensive admissions consultations. You’ll be surprised how appreciative a recommender can be about getting this kind of directional info from you.

If you take these considerations to heart, the resulting recommendations are far more likely to become statements of support that resonate with the admissions committee, round out all that you’ve already presented, and position you as someone who they really want to know. And we can help. The MBA Exchange is ready to advise you on the "who, when and what" of your business school admissions campaign.