Updated: Apr 21, 2022
So, you’ve managed to hit your GMAT goal, to narrow down your list of schools, and to document your life story into an essay and short response prompts. Well done! Next is letters of recommendation: how exactly do you get great letters of recommendation for your MBA application? Who do you ask? How? When? And what if your job doesn't know you're planning on leaving?
1. Who are my best recommenders? Who should I ask?
Most MBA applications will define recommender as someone who can speak to your professional performance and is often a current supervisor. So, I would start there and then consider any previous bosses who can also speak to your work style. Reflect on the schools you are applying to: have any of your current or past supervisors attended the institution to which you are applying? Alumni recommendations are always great but note that they are NOT required. Ask the best person for you - if you ask someone just because they are an alumnus and not because they know you well, chances are they won't write the most personal letter, and admissions directors can see through that strategy.
2. What if I can't ask my boss?
Not to fret - admissions officers recognize that sometimes leaving your job to attend school can put you in an awkward situation. First, make sure you note that somewhere in your application, most likely in the additional information section, so that your application readers are aware of the situation. Then, find someone else who could speak well to your professional abilities. This can be a client or a professional mentor that isn’t your boss. If you are truly in a sticky spot, get in touch with admissions early and see what they can offer as advice specifically for their program.
3. When should I ask my recommenders?
As soon as possible! Once I knew I was applying to schools, I let my mentors and supervisors know right away. I reached out to my recommenders a whole 4 months before the application deadline and asked them unofficially if they would be comfortable and willing to complete a recommendation for me. I also gave them a quick timeline of what would be expected and when the letter would be due. That way, it didn't come as a surprise when I officially asked and put their names and emails in my application. Then, as applications were underway and I had my schools finalized, I circled back with my recommenders and confirmed they received information from the school on how to submit. Be cognizant of your own deadlines – there are typically three rounds of application cycles, all with different due dates. I applied to all my schools during round 2, so my deadlines for each school were similar. If you are applying to different schools in multiple rounds, make sure you prepare your recommenders accordingly. I reached out informally in September/October, formally put them down in my application in November, and everything was due in January. Note holidays and busy periods at work and incorporate those into your timelines as needed.
4. I don't want to be annoying…but can I follow up?
Absolutely! You need to own your own career and future, and while you might think it is nagging, these are busy people, and they'll probably appreciate the nudge. Not sure how to? Whether you see them daily, or need to drop an email, phrase it as "checking in to see how things are going, see if you need any additional information, and a friendly reminder of due date XYZ". It'll come across as you're doing them a favor, rather than as a reminder to not forget.
Other Tips & Tricks:
Be mindful of the number of schools you're applying to. If you're submitting 10 applications each requiring letters of recommendation and you plan on asking the same person to submit a recommendation on your behalf for all 10 schools…that's a lot of work! Not to say that they won't want to help but put yourself in their shoes. Be sure to give them a lengthy heads up and prepare them as much as you can! Alternatively, if you have a long list of potential recommenders, split your list of schools in half to lessen the load for everyone.
Prepare your recommenders. Many recommenders find it helpful for you to send them some contextual information (such as your personal statement or supplemental writing) Let them know: what about XYZ school interests you? What key traits are admissions officers looking for? What are you involved in outside of work (volunteering, community, etc.)? Some people prepare PowerPoints, others share a Word Document. Whatever your personal style is, prepare something that shares deadlines, key school information, and all the fast facts about you. Not only will this save your recommender the time in asking you questions, but it’ll also make sure the details you want highlighted come through in their writing!
Don't write your own letters of recommendation. Don't even think about it. Not only is that not how this works, but admissions will know. While you can meet with your recommender to bounce ideas or tell stories, and can provide them with necessary information, if they ask you to write it for them, that should be a red flag that they were probably not the right person to ask in the first place.
Letters of recommendations are just one piece to the puzzle when it comes to MBA applications, but don't snooze on them! Choose the right people and ask early - chances are, you aren't the first MBA candidate they are writing letters for, and you're probably not the only one they are currently supporting. Be mindful and respectful and breathe a sigh of relief when you see that checkmark in your application portal, because you're one step closer to attending your dream MBA program!
Looking for more support with your MBA application? Speak to Crimson MBA advisors today!