About six weeks before your first MBA application deadline, you need to have identified a couple of MBA application references who are willing to write strong letters of recommendation for you. In the intervening weeks until the deadline, you are then faced with the challenge of working with your reference letter writers to help them craft letters that will help you stand out from the rest of the MBA applicant pool. Fortunately, MBA Prep School can help by breaking down what you need to do to prepare and manage your references during one of the more stressful parts of the admissions process.
First, provide your recommenders with a reference letter guide:
There are two critical documents that you should provide to each of your references: your MBA application resume and a reference letter guide. The reference letter guide should be personalized for each of your recommenders. The guide should be no more than a couple of pages. Remember to include the due dates for each university that you’re applying to and to briefly reiterate the importance of both the reference letter and the completion of an MBA program in achieving your career goals in a cover letter to your recommender. You should begin working on this guide approximately two months before the admissions deadline, after you finalize your recommenders. We recommend that you give your references earlier deadlines than the actual school deadlines in order to ensure that their letters are submitted in time.
The body of the reference guide should focus on the evidence and qualities that you would like your reference to emphasize in their letter and remind them of the projects that you’ve worked on together and your achievements that they have witnessed. You want your letters to provide admissions committees with a third party endorsement about how well you’d fit in with the school’s culture, your leadership abilities, career readiness, and management potential.
Next, schedule a meeting with each reference:
It’s a good idea to have an in-person meeting with each of your references about a month and a half before your application is due. This is your chance to go through your reference letter guide together and clarify any questions or concerns that they may have about the reference letter process. At this time, you can also establish how much collaboration they are comfortable with.
While, in an ideal world, the recommendation letter process is entirely collaborative, remember to leave your references space to be creative. The admissions committees have already heard from you in your essays and resume – the reference letters should provide a fresh perspective. Remember that some recommenders may not be open to your input on their letters. You used your best judgment in selecting them as your references; be careful not to micromanage them and have faith that they will use the information that you provided them to write a strong letter.
Offer to provide your references with input on their recommendation letters:
If your references are willing to accept input from you on a draft of their recommendation letters, you will want to keep in mind what admissions committees are looking for from your references. MBA Prep School detailed the aspects of a strong recommendation letter in a previous post.
When reviewing a draft of a reference letter, make sure that every assertion that your reference makes about you is supported by evidence, such as anecdotes about your leadership accomplishments from projects that you’ve worked on together. You’ll also want to pay special attention to how consistent the recommendation is with your other application materials. Ideally, the reference letter should provide evidence that corroborates your own claims about your preparedness for an MBA program – you want to avoid a scenario in which your recommender contradicts the picture painted by your other application materials.
Finally, check in with your references and verify submission:
Around three weeks before each program’s deadline, touch base with your references to ensure that they’re making progress. Rather than pressuring your recommender, ask if they would like you to provide additional materials or feedback. This check-in is also a good time to convey any changes or recent updates.
A few days before the letter is due, you’ll want to check in with your references again. If your reference is still working on the letter, offer any additional support you can to ensure they make the deadline. If the letter still hasn’t been submitted by the night before the deadline, gently remind them that missing the deadline will mean that you won’t be able to apply in that round and will hinder your chances of admission.
Thinking about applying next year? Start your prep now with MBA Prep School’s comprehensive three-part MBA Application Timeline series starting a year from your deadline, six-part Essay Writing Bootcamp Series, MBA Application Resume Tips, and suggestions for selecting your MBA applications references to get ahead of the curve.
Tyler Cormney is the co-founder of MBA Prep School, a full-service, boutique MBA admissions consulting firm that specializes in helping aspiring MBA candidates realize their dream of attending an elite business school. As a graduate of both Harvard Business School and USC’s Professional Writing Program, Tyler draws upon his unique blend of creative writing, strategic thinking, and coaching skills to help applicants stand out from the competition for a place in the most selective MBA programs, including Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.