Letters of recommendation are an integral part of your MBA application that requires more work than you might think. As you begin to narrow down your school lists, study for the GMAT/GRE and draft your essays (do not miss our essay writing 101 tips), LORs should also be top of mind. Not only must you select the ideal recommenders, but you must also prepare them adequately!
Personal MBA Coach is here to guide you through this process!
Selecting Your Recommenders
As you make this crucial decision, it can be tempting to select the person with the most prestigious resume or the person with whom it is easiest to discuss your business school plans. I encourage you to carefully weigh your options, keeping these tips in mind.
Do not just look for impressive titles: This is not to say that impressive titles are a bad thing, but title should not be the primary criteria for selecting your recommenders. Admissions committee members will see right through a strategy to have the CEO of your company, with whom you sat in on one meeting, write a letter for you. Not only will he not be able to explain the most important aspects of your candidacy, but the letter will also not be as credible if it is clear that you do not have a strong relationship with the recommender.
Look for someone who will take the time to write a great letter: This tip addresses two very important criteria. It is best to select someone who is not only a good writer but who will take the necessary time to write a great letter. Not everyone is great at writing and similarly, not everyone really has time to draft a carefully thought out letter. The quality of the writing is important in demonstrating your candidacy. That said, do not worry about English proficiency. Letters are not evaluated based on grammar alone.
Select someone who knows you well: This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can provide. It is crucial that your recommender be familiar with your work, your character, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your career aspirations. The best letters show an intimate familiarity with the candidate. The recommender should also be familiar with your peers and be able to talk about how you compare. The use of specific examples will be important and the better the recommender knows you, the easier and more genuine these will be.
Consider non-professional references based on your personal circumstances: While the general advice is to select professional supervisors to write your letters of recommendation, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you have taken a considerable role in an activity outside of work, such as a leadership role in a sizeable charitable organization, you might consider asking a colleague/supervisor in this organization to write on your behalf. If you devote a considerable amount of time to this activity, particularly if it requires strong leadership, this person should know you well and be positioned to write a strong letter. Further, they will be able to provide a different perspective on your candidacy.
Similarly, if you do not have a suitable professional reference option, perhaps because you absolutely cannot tell your supervisor you are applying to business school or because your company is structured such that you do not work closely with one particular person, you may be best suited selecting a non-professional reference.
Preparing Your Recommenders
Share your career aspirations: The more your recommenders know about your short-term and long-term goals, the more they can highlight examples and skill sets that would best demonstrate your ability to succeed in these endeavors. Need help thinking through your goals?
Tell your recommenders what you plan to discuss in your essays: If you have taken our advice and started early, you may be preparing your recommenders before you have finalized your essays. However, share highlights from what you plan to discuss. Beyond your goals, let them know the traits you are highlighting and the success stories you are telling. The idea is for the letter to complement the rest of your application. This means you do not want them to repeat exactly what you are already saying, yet at the same time, you want to make sure there is no conflicting information. If they have a sense of your stories, they will be better equipped to share examples of accomplishments that demonstrate a complementary skill set or touch on an area you were not able to cover in your essays.
Remind your recommenders of your key accomplishments: Do not be shy about reminding them of your successes. This will not only make their lives easier but it will ensure they share the best stories. Your recommenders are busy and it is easy for them to forget details. Take the time to think of the top stories you would like them to recount and remind them of your role in certain projects or assignments.
Model the behavior now that you want them to write about later: If you have a skill set your future recommender has not seen yet (especially one that fits with your story), now is the time to let it shine! Take on an extra project, sign up to volunteer within the organization or mentor a junior colleague. Whatever you can do to show your strengths will help ensure they have enough examples to write a glowing letter of recommendation. Keep this in mind when you are at the office or client site at 8 PM and debating whether to leave or burn the midnight oil.
Scott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate and founded Personal MBA Coach over 11 years ago with the goal of providing customized one-on-one support. Scott also serves on the Board of Directors for AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants and is invited to speak at MBA
Admissions events globally. Our clients have been accepted to all top schools globally
with a 96% success rate. They received $4.5M in total scholarships last year.