A business-school application has six tangible components: transcript, test score, resume, short-answers, essays, and recommendations. As an MBA applicant, you’ll have total, or at least some, control over five of these components – all except recommendations.
Schools require that recommendations be submitted directly by a third party on behalf of the applicant. In fact, adcoms expect applicants to waive their right to view final recs before submission. So, in reality, recommenders have total freedom to write whatever they want about the MBA candidate.
Before you let this lack of control keep you awake tonight, here are some insights into how typical recommenders think and act. The following is intended to help you choose, approach and support your recommenders in the most beneficial way possible.
Consider the thoughts that race through the mind of, say, an immediate supervisor when an applicant asks him or her to become a recommender:
1. “What is the value of my recommendation for the applicant?”
The recommender wants to know how important MBA admission is to the candidate’s career. Producing a proper rec takes time, thought and energy. And recommenders are busy people. So, they want to know if this is really important and worthwhile for the applicant. With this in mind, you’ll want to convey true passion and conviction about your MBA plans. Help the proposed recommender understand the true importance of this education for you.
2. “What is the significance to the company?”
Since a recommender is acting in an official capacity by supporting a subordinate’s MBA application, he or she must consider the impact on the company. This prompts a number of questions: Will the application process become a distraction that hurts the applicant’s current job performance? If admitted, will the applicant enhance the organization’s visibility and reputation as an MBA student and alum? Would supporting this candidacy now increase the likelihood of him or her returning to the company to take on a bigger job after graduation? By anticipating these questions in the mind of the recommender, you can build your case as to exactly how the organization can benefit during and after you attend b-school.
3. “What are the implications for me?”
Recommenders instantly realize they’ll be impacted personally, near-term and long-term, by their subordinate’s desire to attend business school. Declining the request to write a rec, for whatever reason, is likely to alienate the applicant and jeopardize the relationship. Writing a glowing recommendation that helps lead to admission could disrupt the recommender’s current team and require recruiting a replacement. Writing a luke-warm recommendation will increase the chances for rejection and a possible decline in job performance. And, on a very personal level, helping a subordinate gain admission to an MBA program could evoke a feeling of inferiority, or perhaps even jealousy, for a non-MBA recommender. So, it’s essential that you watch for any indications – in tone of voice or body language – that the prospective recommender is uncomfortable with your request. One way to pre-empt doubts and fears is to emphasize how important your supervisor has been to your career thus far and what you’ve learned from him or her that encourages you to grow, take risks, advance, etc.
Effectiveness in selecting, cultivating and guiding recommenders is one reason why the vast majority of more than 5,000 past clients at The MBA Exchange have achieved admission. In fact, recommendation development is a core element of our Comprehensive Consultation.
So, if you want to maximize the chances of being admitted to your dream b-school, start now to plan who you’d like to be your recommenders, how and when to ask them, and what to do once they say yes. Addressing this now could make all the difference in the world for your MBA candidacy. Just because you don’t fully control recommendations doesn’t mean you can’t positively influence them.