Sure your academic record, test scores, resume, and essay responses illustrate your story, but recommendation letters are a major component of your MBA application as they provide a critical, third party lens into your character and professional skills. Great recommendation letters are the vital puzzle piece that complete the picture of how you are perceived by others to the admissions committee. As the saying goes, perception is reality.
It is a MUST that you not only select recommenders that know you well, but also prepare them for the process. Trust me, selecting the CEO of your company may seem like a great idea, but I hope your occasional elevator conversations were memorable because choosing a vague perspective can derail your recommendations. More likely you should choose a direct supervisor who knows you well. Don’t be tempted to choose a recommender based on their title. Choose based on who knows you well enough to be an advocate and take your application to the next level. Now to get them prepared with three essential to-dos.
Set the stage for your what recommenders should expect
It is critical that your recommenders have a clear understanding of the basic logistics of the process and workload for completion. You should inform recommenders that you will provide their name and email address to the institutions you are applying to and that they will need to submit all materials electronically. Additionally, you should give recommenders a heads up that while there is usually overlap in the information requested, each program will require recommenders to answer specific questions. Example questions include recommenders ranking your performance and providing examples of your professional strengths/areas of improvement.
You must be firm on where you are applying so that you can confidently inform recommenders which institutions will be sending them electronic communications to fill out. This will also help recommenders plan their time accordingly based on application deadlines.
Provide guideposts for a unique testimonial of your character and MBA journey
Recommenders need clear context on why you are pursuing an MBA (and how you are defining your personal brand via your application) so that their recommendation materials align with the story you have crafted for the admission committee. Therefore, be sure to provide your recommenders:
- Your current resume
- A written overview of why you are seeking to attend business school, your short/long-term goals, and self-identified area(s) of development
- A list of key personal and professional character traits that you are seeking to demonstrate to the admissions committee (include examples of how you have demonstrated these qualities)
Think of these materials as tools recommenders can pre-read before diving into the process. These materials should be presented as simply points of reference vs. tools they must use when writing your recommendation. Recommenders may have other things that they want to write about and that is totally fine. In fact, sometimes recommenders reveal positive, impressive nuggets of your character that you would not think of presenting which is a good thing!
Give recommenders plenty of lead time
Your application will be considered incomplete without your recommendations so it is important that you give recommenders enough time to complete forms in a thoughtful manner for each institution. You should provide recommenders at least 1 month to complete all forms with the goal of having all your recommendations done at least 1 to 2 weeks before the application deadline. Like all of us, recommenders have demands on their time so planning to get forms done early provides buffer room for “life happenings."