Recommendation letters are a key factor in MBA admissions.
“Getting that third-party perspective on [applicants] is really important to figure out their personality, their passions, and their goals,” Natalie Lahiff, an MBA admissions consultant with Solomon Admissions and a former admissions counselor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, tells Fortune. “The recommendation will either boost that application—or it could go the opposite way.”
Experts say how you manage your MBA recommenders matters. But there are many ways a recommendation letter can go wrong and raise red flags for an admissions committee. Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently highlighted common mistakes applicants make when managing their recommenders and explained why properly managing your MBA recommenders is just as important as selecting the right ones.
MISTAKE 1: MAKING ASSUMPTIONS
One of the biggest mistakes applicants make when managing their recommenders is assuming that the recommender knows what to write about. In reality, Blackman says, recommenders are more than likely time-strapped and don’t remember key examples of your leadership.
“Show your recommender your essays and decide on four or five characteristics you would like them to emphasize throughout the letter,” she says. “For example, think of leadership, teamwork, creative thinking, determination, focus, intelligence, charisma, and integrity. Next, come up with at least one concrete example that illustrates each characteristic.”
MISTAKE 2: OFFERING TOO MANY MATERIALS & REMINDERS
While it can be beneficial to provide your recommender with helpful materials and information to write your letter, offering too many can be overwhelming. The key is to provide your recommender with strong examples of your professional skills and leadership.
“First, create a bullet-point list of the projects you have worked on,” Blackman says. “Next, give them an outline of your strengths that goes into more detail than your resume. You want your recommenders actually to read this document. So try to keep it to one page and don’t overload them with information. It should be a quick, helpful reference.”
MISTAKE 3: WRITING THE LETTER YOURSELF
Sometimes, recommenders may ask applicants to write the recommendation letter themselves. But Blackman says this is a huge mistake.
“For one, the admissions committee will probably recognize your writing style from your essays,” she says. “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.”
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