MBA Life

Three Common Misconceptions about Recommendation Letters

Recommendation letters are an important feature of any MBA application. Unlike application essays, crafting a good recommendation letter is not up to the candidates. 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. But choosing a recommender is not an easy process. Here are three misconceptions around the choice of the recommenders that we need to address.

What if asking your current manager is not possible?

 For some candidates, asking your direct supervisor could be risky. If your desire to attend business school were to become common knowledge, there could be repercussions – for your employment, or your performance reviews and bonuses. It is quite a common occurrence, and business schools do make allowances for such a scenario.

Remember to make a brief note about it in the additional information section on the application, along with a brief explanation of why you were not able to get your direct line manager to be one of your recommenders.

But you still need an alternative to fill in for your line manager. Former managers who have switched companies, a supplier or a client are all acceptable substitutes. But steer clear of college professors or colleagues at your volunteer organization. Business schools are interested in references from an independent voice in a professional context.

Does Seniority Matter?

No. The recommender’s title or standing within the company does not matter. Your recommender would already be higher up in the organization than you. But how high doesn’t make any difference. Getting a reference from the CEO sounds mighty impressive on paper. But only if they have worked with you directly in a professional capacity. They need to know you well and provide stories and anecdotes about your contributions in a meaningful manner.

What if I work in my family business?

Getting a professional reference from your close family members is not a good idea, even if one of them is your line manager. You could ask someone else at your company, a vendor, or a client as a substitute.

Remember that your recommenders are busy, and writing a letter is not their top priority. Keep sufficient time to brief your recommenders and allow them enough time to write the recommendation.

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