Selecting recommenders for your business school application might seem fairly simple, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating this part of the application process. You need to make sure that you choose a recommender whose letter of recommendation is both effective and enthusiastic, as their words will reflect directly on how the admissions committee sees you as a candidate.
Due to that, many people you encounter in your working life won’t be suitable as recommenders for this purpose, so how can you know who is a suitable recommender and who isn’t? Here is a list with some qualities to look for in an ideal recommender:
Is your direct supervisor or above
The adcoms assume that it will be harder for you to influence a superior than a peer. That does not necessarily mean that the greater the seniority or title, the better, but you do need to look for someone above you in the chain of command. Only use a peer recommendation if the application specifically asks for one.
Can provide specific examples, stories and anecdotes
As that is often seen as the most effective part of good recommendation letters, so if your recommender barely knows you, hasn’t encountered anything interesting or noteworthy with you, or just doesn’t remember much about you, you might want to consider someone else, no matter how much you like or respect that person.
Someone that brings something else to the table than just their name or title
Meaning that even if you have the chance of using a celebrity of some kind as a recommender, you might not want to do that if this celebrity (or CEO, or someone from a famous family etc.) doesn’t really know you all that well and doesn’t fulfill the other criteria we are listing here, because that might give the adcom the impression that you care too much about fame, titles and so on. Make sure you choose the best person for the job, so to speak, rather than the most famous one you can come up with.
Can provide a unique insight to you compared to your other recommender
(As 2 different recommenders are usually required)
This is especially important if you choose 2 recommenders from the same company for example, due to wanting to use recommenders from your current job or similar. Choosing recommenders with an up to date perspective on your career is generally a good thing, but 2 people from the same company might say very similar things in their letters of recommendation, which is why you need to choose these 2, if that is what you believe you want to do, wisely.
Has strong writing skills – or is willing to work with you to improve them.
As the adcom will not meet your recommender and are unlikely to even talk to him or her, but what you do know for sure is that they will read their letter. So obviously it makes sense that the letter should be as persuasive as possible, and not all charismatic or intelligent people know how to write well and convincingly. That is why you’ll want to make sure you can either take a look at their letters or encourage them to get a second opinion before sending them off.
Someone who listens to you
While you should not tell your recommender what to write, it is a good idea to tell them about the process and yourself, such as why you need an MBA, what your post-MBA goal is, how the admissions process works (if they are unfamiliar with that), what a good letter of recommendation should consist of (again, in cases where they might be unfamiliar with that) as that is likely to make their letter of recommendation stronger. Not every superior at work is familiar with this information or aware of how important the letters are, so make sure the person you choose is prepared.
Michelle Miller is the CEO of ARINGO Americas (www.ARINGO.com), a PhD candidate, and an ardent lover of dogs and coffee.
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