How To Manage Your Recommenders

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How To Manage Your Recommenders

When it comes to asking for something, the cardinal rule is, “The worst they can say is no.” However, that can be dangerous advice when you ask for a letter of recommendation. With MBA admissions, no letter is often better than a bad letter.

Think about everything that could possibly go wrong. Your recommender could hype the wrong qualities or even inadvertently contradict something you wrote. Worse yet, they could introduce something that creates questions or red flags.

Handling a recommender is similar to managing a boss (and they are often-in-the-same).  Provide information – but don’t overwhelm. Establish timelines, but leave plenty of cushion. Make the process easy for them. And – most important – do the heavy lifting behind the scenes so your boss looks good.

Stacy Blackman, a leading business school consultant, recently shared several strategies in U.S. News & World Report on how to get the best from those who’ll write your recommendation letters.

First, she reminds applicants of a difficult truth: You are not your recommender’s top priority. In a high-speed, deadline-driven world of complex problems and ambiguous options, your recommender has probably not slowed down to reflect on your value. And a recommendation letter is just another bullet point on a growing to-do list.

Don’t assume he or she will remember all of your achievements or know what to write about,” writes Blackman. “Your recommender is probably time-strapped and doesn’t remember those three amazing examples of your leadership. They also probably don’t know exactly what schools are looking for in letters of recommendation.”

To counter this, Blackman advises applicants to spell out exactly what you need (preferably in writing).
“Show your recommender your essays and decide on four or five key traits that you would like him or her to emphasize throughout the letter, such as leadership, teamwork, creative thinking, determination, focus, intelligence, charisma and integrity.”

Blackman adds that applicants should “come up with at least one concrete example that you feel illustrates each characteristic.” One way to do this, Blackman reveals, is to submit a “bulleted list of all of the projects that you have worked on and an outline of your strengths that go into more detail than your resume.” That way, recommenders can reinforce their statements with facts and examples, which, in Blackman’s words, “paint a vivid picture of the candidate that brings the candidate on paper to life.”

However, before doing this, applicants must choose the right recommender, writes Jon Fuller, a Clear Admit consultant and former senior associate director of admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. In a Q&A session with Poets&Quants readers, Fuller noted that familiarity, not title, are key in receiving great recommendation letters. “It can be a mistake to ask someone to write you a letter just because they hold a really senior position at your company. The title is nice, but what ultimately matters more is how well the writer knows the quality of your work, your potential, your interpersonal skills, etc. If that applies to the CFO, great, but in most circumstances, you’ll have better options.”

Obviously, one recommendation must come from a current (preferably) or former supervisor – preferably one, as Fuller notes, “is supportive of your MBA plans.” However, many applicants pair a current and former supervisor. And this requires a balancing act, where you must provide anecdotes that are “thematically compatible,” but different enough to highlight your range of experiences, accomplishments, and skills.

One final piece of advice: Don’t write your letter for your recommender. Chances are, as Blackman warns, the adcom “will recognize your writing style.” If a recommender doesn’t want to write a letter, find someone else. “You would be better off seeking out someone who is more enthusiastic about championing your business school dreams,” Blackman adds.

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Source: U.S. News & World Report