6 Hard Questions on Preparing MBA Recommendations

6 Hard Questions on Preparing MBA Recommendations

Business school applicants have a lot to do when it comes to preparing MBA recommendations,  even though essays and admissions tests might seem like a bigger hassle.

Also known as Letters of Reference, recommendations are an essential part of the application package, especially because they provide an outside independent perspective on an applicant’s skills and expert knowledge, career progression, achievements and areas of improvement. Overall, MBA recommenders are expected to shed light on how business school can help applicants progress into management roles and whether they have the potential to succeed during demanding MBA studies.

Here are some essential tips that will help you ensure really informative letters of reference.

Should I ask the CEO for my MBA recommendation?

The rule of thumb is that your referees should know you really well professionally. Your direct supervisors, current or former ones, are in the best position to comment on your expertise, skills and managerial potential. It might be the case that you report directly to the CEO, and in this case he or she will be a perfect choice of a referee. However, if the C-level executives or board members in your company have no direct impressions of your work, then their top managerial position will not bring credit to your MBA application.

If I am the CEO or self-employed, who can be my recommenders?

C-suite MBA applicants can ask board members or their C-level peers for a letter of reference. They can also ask partners from other companies they have worked with on important projects. It adds value to the letter of reference if recommenders have been in graduate business school themselves, even if they are not alumni of the same school where you are applying for admission.

Should MBA letters of reference always be positive?

Members of MBA admissions committees value candid and informative letters of reference focused on the potential of the applicant to benefit from MBA studies. Referees will be asked to comment on different aspects of the business school applicant’s professional performance, personality and career aspirations. Work-related examples and comments within the scope of the recommender’s knowledge should support the evaluation.

Why go to business school if there is no need to improve some of your knowledge and skills? So, clearly the letters of reference should also comment on the applicant’s areas of improvement, but only those that can be addressed during MBA studies. Naturally, recommenders should provide evidence of the potential for growth in a managerial role and the skills and attitudes that are needed for this career path.

Check out: How to Ensure Impressive Recommendation Letters

Can I apply to all MBA programs with a general letter of recommendation?

Business schools have specific forms for theie letters of recommendation that have to be submitted online directly by the referee. These forms have different types of questions, a comments area, and evaluation grids. To be really informative and relevant, the letters of reference should take into consideration the features of the particular MBA program and business school.

Most MBA programs require two professional letters of reference. Depending on the number of programs where you apply for admission, you may need to find more than two recommenders. Why? Preparing a letter of reference takes time, and time is one of the scarcest resources of your recommenders. So, if you want them to be able to focus on an informative letter, you should not overwhelm them with too many recommendation requests. Having in mind that each letter should be different, you would do well to plan ahead whom to contact.

Should I write the letters of reference for my recommenders?

Indeed, it can often be the case that the busy superiors whom you ask for a recommendations suggest that you prepare them yourself, so that they only sign and submit the forms to the business school. In this case, the best approach is to prepare all data, facts, and stats that will enable the recommender to fill in the required forms quickly and informatively. It also helps if you provide to the recommenders your professional CV/resume, and examples of your achievements and career progression. A brief statement of your motivation for choosing the particular business school will also contribute to the quality of their letter of reference.

So, you can do a lot to prepare the recommender, but you should not write the recommendations yourself. The experienced eyes of the admissions officers will quickly spot it and this will devalue the recommendations and your overall application.

Check out: How to Receive Strong Recommendation Letters

Do business schools contact recommenders?

This practice varies by school but you, and most importantly your MBA recommenders, should anticipate being contacted by MBA admissions offices. This can be the case especially when additional information is needed to complete the evaluation of your application or when officers want to explore in more depth a particular area of your profile, skills, or  areas of improvement.

A final piece of advice: take a moment to thank your recommenders, and also keep them informed about the progress of your MBA application. They will be glad to know that they have invested their time and reputation in a successful endeavor. What if you are not admitted? Then they can be a valuable advisor on how to take the next step forward.

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