One component of the business school application process that applicants typically delay and undervalue is the recommendation letter. Almost every accredited MBA program worldwide requires at least one individual to submit candid observations and impressions about the applicant, supported by specific examples. Some programs also have a chart of attributes on which recommenders rate a candidate’s relative strengths.
What makes a recommendation so important is that it’s the only vehicle for third parties to endorse an applicant and make a case for admission. Adcoms seek assurance that a candidate is qualified and genuine. So, both the substance and style of recs are critical to success. Despite this importance, many MBA applicants postpone the planning and execution of recommendations because they may be:
• uncertain about whom to ask to write them
• reluctant to reveal their b-school plans
• (mistakenly) under the impression that it’s better to craft their essays first
Regardless of the reason, delaying the recommendation process is a choice that could place your MBA candidacy in serious jeopardy!
Based on our experience working with more than 5,000 applicants over the past three decades, The MBA Exchange offers the following three-step approach to help even the most reluctant applicant move forward promptly and productively:
- Select Your Recommenders Wisely
Don’t be distracted by lofty job titles. Far more important than having a “CEO” or “Partner” as your recommender is choosing someone who knows you well – professionally and personally – and cares about your future. A recommender who truly understands how you would benefit from an MBA education and contribute to the learning of others is an ideal choice.
- Approach Your Recommenders Thoughtfully
Potential recommenders are busy people. They’re not expecting to be asked to plan and produce a detailed document on your behalf. So, the way in which you approach them is a key to winning their enthusiastic support. Conveying respect, admiration, dedication and appreciation should prove effective. In addition, it’s important to allow sufficient time for recommenders to fit this task into their schedules. Furthermore, contacting them sooner rather than later also gives you the option to pursue another recommender if, for any reason, your first choice declines.
- Support Your Recommenders Strategically
Allowing recommenders total freedom to choose which aspects of your candidacy to feature can contradict other elements of your application. However, dictating what recommenders write – or worse yet, drafting the rec for them – dilutes authenticity and raises ethical concerns. The best route is to share insights and illustrations that help recommenders align their observations with the rest of your application. Your goal is to have recommendations that complement and reinforce, rather than confuse or repeat, the rest of your application.
If you find any of these three steps difficult, confusing, or possibly even overwhelming, you’d be wise to enlist the guidance and support of an experienced MBA admissions expert. Recommendations are much too important to treat this process like a game of chance. So, save “roulette” for your post-MBA vacation to Las Vegas, Monte Carlo or Macau rather than your application to business school.