Fortuna’s MBA Edge Step 6 – Letters of Recommendation

September 17, 2012 | by Matt Symonds

The preferred MBA letter of recommendation is typically from your immediate boss, the person you work with on a daily basis. Of course, he or she may be the last person you intended to forewarn about your project for heading to business school the following September. The school recognizes this, and will understand if it is more expedient for you to have chosen other recommenders. Nevertheless, by asking your immediate supervisor you are also making a clear statement to the school just how committed you are to the MBA project.

And though it may be tempting, you should probably avoid approaching the celebrity or CEO for a letter, if that person doesn’t really know you. A few vague generalities, or something that looks like a standard letter for all employees will do more harm than good.

It is clear from the questions asked by business schools that it is better not to approach a professor from college for one of your recommendations. Though well-placed to describe academic achievement and class participation, they would struggle to describe your potential for senior management. If you in a doctoral program however, your academic supervisor would be a natural choice.

Other alternative recommenders could include clients and suppliers. Given that they are expected to describe the circumstances under which you have worked together, make sure to choose a professional contact with whom you have a substantial working relationship (not just selling them advertising space every six months).

In some cases your recommender may have been to business school, and is well-versed with the need for a detailed letter, and well-placed to identify the qualities required of a successful student at the school.

Coach your recommenders. Make sure they know why you are applying to business school and what you want to get from it. Ask them to include anecdotes or particular details that might be enlightening to the Admissions Committee.

The best thing you can do with your recommenders is to make it as easy as possible for them to support your candidacy. A few simple rules of thumb will make their job (and your application process) go much smoother. The initial “ask” should be done in person, if possible, and not via email on the fly on Friday afternoon.  Try the approach of “As you know, I am applying to business school in the fall. Would you be able to write a supportive letter of recommendation for me?” That way, you don’t put them on the spot so much- it gives them an “out” if they feel that they can’t be as supportive as you would like, or if they are simply too busy to do so. The last thing you want is a recommender who feels “coerced!”

Ask for specifics. The more specific your recommenders can be, providing concrete examples of your abilities, contributions and achievements, the better the Admissions Committee will be able to understand you.

Once again, you will want to look at the application questions for all of the schools to which you will be applying, and do an aggregate list of the questions. This will help you prepare your summary document, which will contain bullet points of your strengths (with examples from the work place), your weaknesses (with examples from the work place), and any overall comments that you think would be helpful for your recommender to know. You should also provide an updated resume. These tools will help them when they sit down to answer the questions on your behalf, so they are not left scratching their heads trying to come up with an example of how well you manage teams you work with.

You also want to give the writers plenty of time. The online applications for many top schools enable you to check the status of your recommendations. If necessary, two weeks before the deadline, you might want to send a friendly check in email or voicemail, and of course let your recommenders know what the final outcome is. A great handwritten thank you note is always a classy touch.

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