During my 15 years on admissions committee, I read thousands of recommendation letters. Every so often a letter would STOP. ME. IN. MY. TRACKS. This kind of letter would shine a whole new light on the candidate and place them firmly on my radar screen.
Here are four steps will help you get your very own five star MBA recommendation.
1. NURTURE THE RELATIONSHIPS
Any strong relationship has a natural give and take. Before you ask someone to invest their time writing a recommendation, consider making several “deposits” into this relationship. These “deposits” can be coffee chats or lunches to share your career goals and gauge their enthusiasm. With a direct supervisor, some of this might happen naturally in your performance review. Ask for feedback on areas for improvement and take steps to address it. As you discuss your future goals, make note of their response. Not all managers will be supportive of goals that would result in the departure of top talent from the organization.
Most programs expect a recommendation from your current immediate supervisor. However, there are plenty of good reasons for exceptions. Select individuals who are truly your champions, can highlight your specific accomplishments, and are willing to put in the effort to write an excellent recommendation. Invest in the relationship NOW and plan to give recommenders six to eight weeks notice in advance of deadlines.
2. THINK STRATEGICALLY
Do a thoughtful self-assessment and share your thoughts with your recommenders. If you are presenting key themes about yourself, let your recommenders know and provide specific supporting examples. For instance, if you lead from below, share how you did this on a particular work project. Alternatively, if your GMAT Q score is low and you were a liberal arts major, ask a recommender to comment on your demonstrated quantitative effectiveness.
Think about how your recommenders can highlight different aspects of your profile. If you have been active in a volunteer activity, a recommendentation from the head of this organization (especially if it is relevant to your future MBA goal) might present your leadership skills in a unique way.
3. SHARE THE RIGHT INFORMATION
Impress your recommender by providing them comprehensive guidance. In addition to sharing your motivation for an MBA and your post-MBA goals, provide your resume, and share submission deadlines along with a bit of background about the culture of each program. Let them know that you will include their email address in online applications which will trigger invitations and specific instructions from each program.
Consider sharing Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants’ (AIGAC) advice for recommenders so that they understand what is expected. The guidelines are available in several languages.
4. TRUST THE PROCESS
Once you have given your recommenders background information, step away from the process and trust them to do their job. Business schools place a high value on integrity and you should be living this value throughout the application process. Your recommenders should be writing an honest assessment of your performance and ability to be successful in business school. There is no reason for you to review what they have written as you want to be able to honestly check the box that you waive your right to see the recommendation.
Touch base occasionally to make sure recommenders have everything they need and are on track to submit by the deadline. If your manager is particularly busy, ask their assistant to block time on their schedule to work on your recommendation. Show your recommenders your gratitude with a note and/or gift.