How to Lead Your MBA Recommendation Writers Astray

Putting forward excellent letters of recommendation in your MBA application is a challenge: You’re asking someone who probably knows very little about the business school admission game to argue persuasively that an MBA admissions officer should take a chance on you instead of another ultra-impressive candidate. We’ve written before about how you can boost your chances significantly by choosing someone who knows you well and by arming that person with specific examples of your past deeds to illustrate just how terrific you are. Doing these things can dramatically improve your ability to stand out vs. other applicants.

How can you manage to sabotage your own recommendation writers? Here are three ways:

Give Them Confusing or Conflicting Career Goals for Yourself
If your recommendation writers are left wondering why exactly you want and MBA and what you want to do after you earn your degree, how can they possibly write letters that persuasively support your application story? Even if you’re not 100% certain about what you want to do right after business school — much less in another ten years — you and your recommendation writers need to be on the same page about your career story. Yes, that story may change, and that’s normal and healthy, but if you say one thing and your letters of recommendation say something else, then MBA admissions officers will be left scratching their heads.

Rush Them
One sure-fire way to receive bad recommendation is to put undue time constraints on your recommendation writers. Giving someone anything less than three weeks (ideally you’ll give them more like a month) is just asking for them to crank out a marginal letter of recommendation at the last minute. Don’t forget that these are busy people and, as much as they support you and want to see you succeed in your career, they have 1,000 other obligations to worry about. Not giving them enough time to plan out your recommendation is just asking for trouble.

Encourage Them to Keep It Low-Key
We like to say that your letters of recommendation should ooze “pound the table” enthusiasm about you and your future potential. It’s easy to think that a very enthusiastic letter will sound unprofessional and may undermine your candidacy, but admissions officers read hundreds of thousands of words of boring stuffed-shirt drivel. Your recommendations should shout “You have to admit this person! He’s a rock star, and here’s why!” Anything less can make your candidacy a forgettable one.

Remember that these are ways to make your business school application recommendations less effective… You want to in fact do the opposite in order to garner clear, enthusiastic recommendations that support your own application story!

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