Part 4 Recommendations – Elements of an MBA application series

Apologies for my hiatus, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind over the past month or so. I will try and put a post up at some point everything I have been up to. Before then, it’s time to head back to my Elements of an MBA application series. Pretty good timing too as schools have recently started releasing their deadlines and essay prompts for this fall. This post is all about how to plead for a recommendation!

Getting recommendations can be a really simple process or incredibly awkward depending on your work situation and industry. For applicants from consulting and banking, you will have an easier time because your industries are big feeders into MBA programs. Chances are your recommenders will have written MBA recommendations before and may even have an MBA themselves. Throw in the fact that MBAs is almost part of the career progression in those industries, your recommenders should not be surprised or fazed by the process.

For those less fortunate, you will be coming from a non-feeder industry or maybe even a pretty non-tradition background. This post is more for this type of applicant because you will have to guide your recommender through the whole process. From my experience, the recommendation process can be broken down into the following components:

  1. Breaking the news – Chances are you are a driven high achiever at work so it may be a shock to your recommenders that you are plotting your escape. You will want to sit them down individually on a 1-on-1 basis to talk through your rationale for an MBA. Making them understand your decision will help when they write their recommendations.
  2. Putting together a guide for your recommenders – You, as applicants, will want to take your time over this stage. The recommenders guide is the key document that will help your recommenders through the process. In it, you will want to detail what you think are your most impactful experiences and contributions that you want your recommenders to think about. Do keep these points brief as you don’t want your recommenders just to copy and paste your words. Do tell them up front how incredibly difficult it is to get into business school. In all honesty, you probably don’t want a recommendation that says your performance is fair to middling. You really need it to say you have amazing potential and are a standout performer. For British applicants, this is especially pertinent. Understatements and deprecating comments will not help you.
  3. Setting deadlines – It’s a tough ask for recommenders to do all this extra work on top of their day jobs. Therefore inevitably they may struggle to meet deadlines you set for them. My tip is to tell them the deadline is at least 2 weeks prior to the actual deadline for submitting your application. Therefore you have a good buffer in case they come across an unexpectedly heavy workload and don’t complete your recommendations in time.

Hopefully, by following these 3 steps your recommendation process will be straightforward. For me, it was tough initially as my recommenders struggled to get to grips with the whole process but they definitely improved as the process went on While you can’t tell them what to write, make sure they understand that you are still a resource to help them through the recommendation process.

FAQ and debunking some myths

  • How many recommenders should I use?
    Really, it depends. I only used 2 because they were by far the best people to talk about my strengths and weaknesses. If I used more, then I think my recommendations would have suffered. However, the process was pretty tedious for them because they had to write 5 individual recommendations each. If you plan on applying to 4+ schools, it may be an idea to recruit more than 2 recommenders to spread out the load.
  • My recommenders asked me if I could just write it for them, what do I do?
    Whatever you do, DO NOT write your own recommendations. Some people try and the admissions teams have reviewed a lot of recommendations and they can spot a fraudulent one a mile away. If this recommender is not willing to invest their time into helping you, they are probably not the best advocate for you anyhow.
  • Can my recommenders write one generic recommendation and submit it to schools?
    Absolutely not. Think about it, why would a school go out of their way to admit someone who cannot follow the simplest instructions like every other applicant. Again, if your recommender suggests this they may not be the best advocate for you.
  • How much guidance should I give to my recommenders?
    This a very tricky question. Personally, I think it’s fine to give them a lot of raw materials to work with by giving them bullet points about great achievements and experiences in your recommenders guide. What you shouldn’t be doing is telling them which to use or discourage them from using their example. Remember, your recommenders probably know you far better than you think and may have a really insightful anecdote that you have forgotten.

Previous posts

    1. GMAT
    2. Profile
    3. Networking / Research
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