SIX SMART TIPS FOR YOUR MBA RECOMMENDATION LETTERS

July 01, 2015 | by Matt Symonds

In our previous blog, we discussed the topic of who to ask for your letters of recommendation, and common mistakes to avoid, and now we’d like to share some additional tips around your own recommenders. Based on our prior experience reading thousands of recommendation letters as admissions committee members, we can immediately spot an average letter of recommendation from a letter that’s great. You can’t just assume that your recommenders will submit strong letters of support without taking the necessary steps to facilitate the process. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Tip #1: Recognize the significance of your letters of recommendations. It’s important to realize that while essays are important, schools are looking for input on your performance and personal character from a third party to provide greater insight and depth into your candidacy. Make sure to communicate with your recommenders and take the time over coffee, a meal or a scheduled phone call to discuss your decision to go to business school with them. You want your recommenders to understand your post-MBA plans and what you plan to focus on in your applications. By communicating this information in advance, they will be better able to advocate on your behalf.

Tip #2: Think strategically about the timing of your application based on your relationships with your recommenders. This might not be an issue if you have worked with your recommenders for some time (a year or more) but if you have only worked for your current manager for a few months, you should weigh the advantages of postponing your application from Round 1 to Round 2. You want to make sure your recommenders have several examples to write about, but sometimes you need more time for your boss to observe your quality of work and to see results. Especially if you have started developing a strong relationship with your boss or have exciting projects on the horizon, it sometimes makes sense to push back your application so that you have more successful examples under your belt.

Tip #3: Your recommendation should work in conjunction with your application. You’d like for the strengths and successes that you highlight in your application to be supported by the recommenders, or at least ring true with what they say about you. Your recommenders can provide greater credibility around what you wrote about in your essays and other application components, however, you don’t want there to be too much duplicative information. Think about how what your recommenders say can complement what you have already communicated yourself. One suggestion is to share the content from your essays with your recommenders to help them understand your point of view.

Tip #4: If possible, select recommenders who can focus on different aspects of your experience. Instead of selecting two recommenders who work with you on many of the same projects or in a similar capacity, try to find individuals who can share different examples of your performance. As an example, you could select your current boss and a prior boss at your last employer; a client and your boss; or your boss and a senior member of a cross-functional team with whom you work on a regular basis. Letters from clients or suppliers can also provide great insight, and complement the perspectives shared by your supervisor.

Tip #5: Provide your recommenders with some highlights of your performance, especially for examples that might not be top of mind for them. Since recommenders will likely focus on what they recall most easily (often on what’s happened most recently), they might not think to highlight other examples from a while back. If there are specific examples or particular achievements that you want them to cite, consider including bullets about these and specifically what your role was and the results. By opening up a conversation around some of these examples it will make it easier for your recommenders to draw on prior achievements in their letters of support. While your professional history may be branded on your memory, don’t expect that your recommender will recall the details so clearly.  By taking the time to discuss specific examples with your recommenders, you can help refresh their memories and remind them of specific details that might not be top of mind for them.

Tip #6: Update your recommenders on your application status. It’s a good idea (and polite) to keep them informed of decisions, for example, if you’ve been invited to interview or if unfortunately you don’t gain admission to any schools. In some cases candidates hold off on applying to other schools in later rounds based on their Round 1 or early decision outcomes. In case you apply to other schools and need additional letters of recommendation, do let your recommenders know well in advance, especially for many Round 2 deadlines that are usually right after the holiday season. By keeping your recommenders involved they are more likely to be supportive to you throughout the process.

And in the end, regardless of your outcome, don’t forget to thank them for their support and keep them informed of your final plans. It’s a good idea to let your recommenders feel that their time and efforts on your behalf were truly appreciated. A nice final touch in this digital age is handwritten note to express your thanks

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