Tips for Picking the Right MBA Recommenders

Although most Round 1 applications aren’t due until the fall, it’s definitely not too early to start thinking about who’s going to support you as you pull together your materials. Your recommenders in particular will play a critical role in the process. So how do you ensure you ask the right people to write letters on your behalf?

The majority of programs require two recommendation letters and usually prefer one of those to be from a direct manager. However, almost all schools will waive that requirement if you think your position (or possible promotion or bonus) would be adversely affected by informing your employer of your intention to go back to school. If that’s the situation you’re in, simply note it in the “Additional Information” or “Optional Essay” space.

You also may be in a position where you don’t have just one direct manager. In that case you have an option of who to approach. In both this scenario and when considering who will write your second letter, you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of asking the most appropriate people.

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Adcoms greatly prefer to hear from managers and co-workers who know you well, both personally and professionally. They’re looking for more insight into what makes you tick, how you perform in groups, and what your potential is for the future. They are rarely impressed or swayed by a recommender’s title or alumni status—what they care about is whether or not you will be an asset to the program because of what you’ve achieved to date.

One of the biggest mistakes we see applicants make is asking their company’s CEO—who they barely know or may have never even met in person—to write their recommendation letter. If your recommender cannot go into specifics about your accomplishments or provide detailed anecdotes that highlight your positive personality traits, you’ve just missed a huge opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition.

We suggest taking some time to list out all of the people you could ask to write a letter of support for your MBA applications. Who are your biggest cheerleaders at work? Who would jump at the chance to help you get into your dream school? Who would feel like they, too, got in to Program X if you were accepted? Those are the people to focus in on, because they will go above and beyond to write a stellar—and most importantly, memorable—reference.

Remember: Surround Yourself Only With People Who Are Going To Lift You Higher

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