MBA Life

How to Choose the right Recommenders

Recommenders play a larger role in the overall admission process than most applicants realize. Business schools get a good picture of your profile from your CV and essays. But they also require an independent perspective from those with whom you have worked. The opinion of a recommender who has observed you closely in a professional context is a valuable data point that admissions committees use to judge your overall suitability for their MBA program. While some schools might require just one recommendation, most schools require you to provide two recommendation letters.

However, whom you choose as your recommender is up to you. Given how crucial recommendation letters are, you need to choose your recommenders carefully. Here are the three criteria your recommenders need to fulfill to be able to provide effective recommendation letters.

1. Your biggest supporters

Your recommenders need to be someone who has worked with you closely, ideally in a supervisory capacity. They also need to have worked with you long enough to provide vivid examples of their experience working with you. The best recommenders are people who have been positively impacted by your work. They should want to do it for you and are pleased that you asked them. Writing a recommendation letter is additional work for your recommender, so they are more likely to take the extra efforts if they are enthusiastic and supportive of your efforts to succeed.

2. Write it themselves

Your recommenders need to be willing to write the recommendation letter themselves and not ask you to ghostwrite it. It is not only unethical but also tricky to write objectively about yourself while impersonating someone else. It is risky because business schools will figure out what you are doing. You will never fully replicate your recommender’s perspective because their impression of you made over several memories, anecdotes, and stories that you may not even remember.

Some recommenders may request you to write the draft text yourself and submit it for their approval. Often recommenders, especially the inexperienced ones, might want you to draft the text for fear of making mistakes. If this happens, resist the offer to take control and decline the offer politely.

It is perfectly acceptable to refresh their memory by sharing your CV and a bullet point list of the projects you worked on with them. Providing a list of your contributions and achievements is also a good idea, especially if it has been a while since you collaborated with them. But then take a step back and allow them space to express themselves. Micromanaging the recommender is not a good idea. You want the recommender to speak freely about you in their own words in an authentic manner.

3. Provide clear answers to the recommendation questions:

Most schools don’t accept free form essays. Each school has specific questions and instructions to recommenders on how to answer each of them. In general, though, most are along similar lines.

Here is an example for London Business School:

1. How do you know the applicant? How long have you known them?

2. What would you say are the applicant’s key strengths and talents?

3. What would you say are the applicant’s key weaknesses or areas for improvement?

4. How do the applicant’s performance, potential, and personal qualities compare to those of other individuals in similar roles?

5. What do you think this person might be doing in ten years? Why?

Your recommender needs to be able to articulate clear responses supported by concrete examples for each question.

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