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MBA Recommendation Letters: What To Avoid

Recommendation letters play a strong role in an MBA application. Thus, choosing the right recommender is critical. Selecting the right MBA recommender, however, is only the first step.

Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently discussed the importance of effectively managing MBA recommenders and highlighted common mistakes that applicants make in the process.


The first step of the recommendation process is identifying who would be a good candidate to write your recommendation.

“Unlike most other programs, MBA recommendation letters require your writers to answer a set of questions that helps schools determine whether you’re a strong applicant who can bring the necessary skills to succeed on campus and in the field long-term,” Padya Paramita, of InGenius Prep, writes. “Alongside understanding your goals and skills from your essays and resumé, institutions want other perspectives so that they can evaluate where you stand as an applicant.”

Most B-schools require two references. And, Paramita says, it’s important who those two references come from.

“Since most students take a few years off between undergrad and applying to these programs, your employers and supervisors (and not professors) are the best people to speak to your leadership, teamwork, and communication skills,” Paramita writes.


Once you’ve selected your recommender, you’ll want to set time aside to walk them through characteristics or traits you want them to highlight.

One common mistake that applicants make after selecting a recommender, Blackman says, is assuming that the recommender remembers all of their achievements and traits.

“Show your recommender your essays and decide on four or five characteristics you would like them to emphasize throughout the letter,” Blackman writes. “For example, think of leadership, teamwork, creative thinking, determination, focus, intelligence, charisma, and integrity. Next, come up with at least one concrete example that you feel illustrates each characteristic.”


While it’s important to discuss with your recommender what you’d like them to highlight, actually writing the recommendation yourself is a big no-no.

“For one, the admissions committee will probably recognize your writing style from your essays,” Blackman writes. “So, that will immediately raise a red flag. And secondly, if the individual doesn’t have enough time to write a proper recommendation, you would be better off seeking someone more enthusiastic about championing your business school dreams.”

Sources: Stacy Blackman Consulting, InGenius Prep

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