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How Your Recommenders Can Get You In

Joe El Rady

MBA admissions committees depend on crucial information from recommenders. Think about it. They need to know about you, about your personal qualities—but not from your mother! They need to hear it from the people with whom you work, to whom you report. They need to learn whether you have the right stuff. Which stuff? The stuff that will make you the next famous CEO, giving interviews, flying on private jets. Let’s face it, big time b-schools aren’t into wasting space on folks who won’t go big time—remember, they want you for the same reason you want them: branding! You are going to use their name to help make it and then they will use yours to continue to make it.

So what type of information do business school admissions committees want?

They seek critical understanding of your leadership potential—and they want to read that information in a very specific way. Given both the importance of what admissions committees want and how they want it, you need to choose the right recommenders. You also need to coach those recommenders with specific guidance on how and what to write.

So what should recommenders say and how should they say it?

The schools ask specific questions regarding your leadership and management style, ability, and competence. The way to answer these is not to list your accomplishments or your abilities. Recommenders need to recount specific stories that ILLUSTRATE the qualities sought by each question. Ideally, a recommendation (much like an essay) should concretize the qualities that the question seeks. If a question enquires about leadership ability, recommenders must define specifically why and how you exhibit leadership abilities. This requires recommenders to describe your behavior by telling stories about you in certain situations. The stories should contain drama by presenting you in high-stakes situations. The stories should also portray high impacts resulting from your actions.

In answering the questions, recommenders should focus their discussion in terms of your accomplishments rather than your job duties, tasks, and descriptions. They should also employ superlative language when comparing you to your peers. Since almost all recommendations portray applicants in a positive way, your recommenders should attempt to stand out by using hyperbolic language about you. Therefore, given that you will ask them to brag about you, ensure that you enjoy a high level of rapport with your chosen recommenders. Also, given the specific way recommenders should approach the process, do not register your recommenders until after you have provided them with some sort of cheat sheet that highlights your successes and accomplishments while working them.

Finally, all of the elements of your application should speak in one voice. 

As such, recommendations should reflect your essays. This means that each recommendation will not only illustrate the same qualities that you portray in your essays, but also depict those qualities with different stories—thereby hammering the admissions committee with demonstrations of your qualities visualized through several situations. This ensures that the components of your application strengthen each other while affirming and reaffirming your branding and positioning.

MBA Letters of Rec Recommendations Letters of Recommendation

Joe El Rady


Joe El Rady

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