Getting Killer Rec Letters

When preparing for your business school letters of recommendation, there are two major questions you’ll need to answer: Who should write your recommendations? And how can you best prepare that person so that he or she writes the best recommendations possible?

Let’s answer each of these questions individually.

Who should write your letters of recommendation?

Ideally you should choose a supervisor or employer who has seen you develop from the “raw” employee that you were when you first started out in the field into the seasoned professional that you have become over the course of a few years. However, if you don’t have a potential recommender with that kind of lengthy perspective, your recommender should still be someone who knows you well and would be pleased to provide a positive recommendation.

People you should not ask to write your b-school recommendations: family members (even if you work in a family business) and friends. Also, do not attempt to pressure or persuade employers or supervisors who hesitate when asked to be your recommender. Let them decline gracefully. You want enthusiastic recommenders. Finally, don’t ask a “higher-up” or VIP who barely knows your name because you think their title will impress. A fancy title combined with a weak or generic letter won’t do your cause any good.

How can you best prepare your recommenders?

You want to make your recommender’s job easy—not only will that encourage your recommender to get the job done in a timely fashion, but it will also confirm a positive impression of you as a responsible and accommodating professional.

Here are some specific steps you can take to help prepare your recommender:

  1. Give your recommender enough time. Emailing your request to your recommender at the last minute will make you appear irresponsible and won’t give your recommender enough time to create a thoughtful recommendation. Give him or her at least a month to write your recommendation. A friendly reminder as the deadline approaches is completely acceptable.
  2. Provide a copy of your essays, if they are ready. You want your recommendation to dovetail with, not conflict with or duplicate, the rest of your application.
  3. Provide a copy of your resume. Your recommender should have accurate, up-to-date information about your education and work experience. You neither want to make him or her do any time-consuming research to learn the details of your past, nor do you want any errors.
  4. Provide a brief summary of achievements as well as an outline of your reasons for wanting to attend School X.
  5. Offer to have a conversation. If you haven’t spoken to your recommender in a while, you may find that an in-person or over-the-phone conversation is in order. Reminding your recommender that you’re not just a success on a paper but a charming, sociable individual is important if this person is going to vouch for you. If possible, arrange to take your recommender out for lunch or coffee so you can talk in person and update him or her about your recent past, your goals, and your reasons for wanting to attend top b-school X.

For more information on obtaining excellent letters of recommendation, please see MBA Letters of Recommendation 101, a collection of resources that will help you collect stellar letters or recommendation.

By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of, the leading MBA admissions consultancy, and co-author of the new book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.  Linda has been helping MBA applicants gain acceptance to top MBA programs since 1994.

Our Series on the Essentials of an Awesome MBA Application

Part I: The GMAT

Part II: Grade Point Average

Part III: Extracurricular Experience

Part IV: Work Experience

Part V: Leadership

Part VI: MBA Goals

Part VII: The MBA Resume