How to Decide Who Will Write Your Letters of Recommendation

Every business school application requires you to submit at least one letter of recommendation, and usually more than one. These letters corroborate your admissions story, providing additional evidence of the leadership skills, analytical abilities, teamwork skills, and maturity that you have highlighted in the rest of your application. The best person to do this is normally your direct supervisor, but what if you can’t get a letter from your boss for some reason?

What most MBA programs want, more than anything, is to hear an assessment of your abilities by someone who knows you well and has been in a position to evaluate you. That’s why your direct supervisor is usually the ideal choice — he or she should spend a lot of time thinking about your performance, making it easy to provide an assessment of you as a young professional. Assuming that person is out of the picture, then you need to find someone else who meets these criteria:

Has your recommender worked with you in the past year?
We frequently talk to business applicants who have a seemingly good candidate in mind, but they haven’t worked with that person for a few years. When you’re a young professional, a few years is an eternity in terms of your development. Ideally, your substitute recommender will have worked with you in just the last year or two, or (even better) still works with you now.

Does your recommender know how to evaluate people in a work setting?
If your recommendation writer has never delivered a performance review in any setting, how will he or she be able to speak about your candidacy with authority? This doesn’t mean that your recommendation writer needs to have managed an entire department for years; the point is to find someone who can deliver a fair, even-handed-sounding (but still glowingly positive!) review of your candidacy.

Does your recommender know you well, and not just as your buddy?
This person must have worked closely with you for some period of time; otherwise, they don’t really know your professional abilities and potential. We wrote “non-social” to make clear that this person needs to be more than an acquaintance, but we stopped short of saying “professional” since this person may come from outside of your job. For instance, if you devote serious time to a non-profit organization, someone who has served as a coordinator there may know you very well and may be a good person to provide a letter of recommendation.

Does the person in question have enough time to do the job?
This question always applies, even if your recommendation comes from your current boss. Too often, the recommendation writer will underestimate the task, or will simply say, “I don’t have time. You just write it for me and I’ll sign it.” Make sure that your recommendation writer understands the task at hand, and devotes enough time to it. You can help a great deal by providing specific examples of your recent successes that he or she may not remember. Doing that makes the recommender’s job easier, and makes the final product significantly stronger.

It’s critical that your letters of recommendation provide all the clues that schools look for. Not only should your recommendations reflect your most marketable skills and traits, but they should also clearly demonstrate the enthusiasm that your recommenders have about you and your business school candidacy. Find someone who can do that, and you will be fine.

Applying to the world’s top business schools? Be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s