In the fierce competition among well-qualified MBA applicants to get a coveted admissions interview, recommendations have become increasingly important. However, the trend among b-schools to impose standardized questions and word-count limits has added to the challenge faced by applicants striving to leverage their recommendations.
The biggest variable still within your control is the selection of recommenders. Choosing the “right” people is essential – but difficult. And you have to do it twice as most schools require two recommenders. More of an art than a science, picking a recommender can be facilitated by using a check list of key considerations. Drawing from our experience with thousands of successful applicants, The MBA Exchange provides our comprehensive consultation clients with a specific, prioritized set of selection criteria.
To help you pare down the possibilities and recruit the recommenders who will add the most value to your candidacy, here are 3 traits to look for when making choices. A great recommender should be someone who:
1. Knows you.
Your resume and transcript summarize what you’ve accomplished. But only a recommendation can provide the adcom with a third-party perspective on the person behind those accomplishments. That’s why it’s essential to select a recommender who will go beyond the “facts” to describe your character, values, personality, work style, etc. So, choose someone who is very familiar with you and your work to ensure that the featured examples will be complete and authentic. A supervisor is usually best, but don’t ignore other options like a client manager or the head of a non-profit with whom you interact.
2. Endorses you.
B-schools assume that applicants select recommenders who are their most enthusiastic supporters. So, if a recommender doesn’t view the applicant as a star candidate with exceptional strengths and unmatched potential, the rec will fall flat and the candidacy is in danger. So, in considering your options, think about which individuals are most visibly appreciative of your efforts, impressed by your growth, and committed to your long-term success.
3. Trusts you.
Even if a recommender knows you, he or she can’t know which topics and examples will add the most value to your application. Only you, as the applicant, understand which aspects of your candidacy can be conveyed most effectively through a particular component of the app – i.e., resume, essays, short answers or recommendations. Therefore, you want to find a recommender who will welcome your strategic guidance on content, and then take your directional input to a higher level in crafting the recommendation in his or her own voice.
Because MBA applicants are expected to waive their right to review recommendations, you’ll never be 100% sure what your recommenders ultimately wrote and submitted. And, you’ll never be certain how much a recommendation influenced the admissions committee’s final decision. But by choosing recommenders who know, endorse and trust you, there’s a high probability that their recommendations will help maximize your chances for admission. In fact, the same selection criteria will continue to serve you well, during and after business school, as you evaluate future employers, partners and allies.