Letters of recommendation tend to cause applicants more anxiety than the rest of the MBA application because this is the only component that is out of their control. Luckily, this also can be one of the more straightforward parts of the application. I encourage applicants to get their recommendations out of the way as soon as they decide where to apply so that they can give their recommenders as much time as possible to compose their letters.
In this post, we at Stratus offer a high-level perspective on how to solve the recommender piece of your MBA puzzle and provide a template to make your recommenders’ lives easier!
When pondering who will write your recommendations, consider this: do they know you well enough to answer questions addressing your leadership development and potential, what makes you unique, how you compare to your peers, and how you respond to feedback? If they are unenthusiastic or uncomfortable about writing you a strong, detailed letter, it is best to give them an out. Similarly, resist the urge to ask someone who has an impressive title but doesn’t know you well or doesn’t have the time to invest in writing a strong recommendation.
Most schools will ask for two recommendations, including one from a direct supervisor. If you’re unable to ask your direct supervisor, be prepared to address why in the “Additional Information” section of the school’s application or in an optional essay.
Preparing Your Recommenders
Recommendations take time, and your recommenders aren’t getting paid for this work. Therefore, you should be as supportive as possible in asking for this favor. A reasonable and polite amount of advance notice to give your recommenders is eight weeks—but they still may wait until the night before it’s due.
Several schools have adopted GMAC’s Common Letter of Recommendation (LOR), making it possible for recommenders to submit their responses to a given set of questions for multiple schools. Be sure to let your recommender know which schools are on the Common LOR list so the total number of recommendations feels less overwhelming.
Template for Your Recommenders
Recommenders are often busy people, so it’s best to make the process as streamlined as possible for them. I recommend putting everything they need into a single email so it’s in one place and they won’t get confused or waste time searching for information. Here is a high-level perspective on what you could include in your email:
- Warm intro: Thank them for being one of your recommenders, and let them know you’re available if they have any questions.
- Deadlines: Include the date, time, and time zone of the deadline for each school to which you’re applying.
- Technical information: Provide guidance on how they will navigate the portals for each school.
- Your background: Include your short- and long-term goals, how you plan to grow through your MBA, and the traits you’d like them to convey in their letter.
- Your relationship: Recap your relationship with the recommender, as it may have been a while since you worked together. Schools will specifically ask them for these details.
- Experiences: Mention three examples you’d like each recommender to highlight in the Challenge, Action, Result (CAR) format. If any of the schools ask your recommenders to share a time they delivered feedback to you, get ahead of the ask by naming an example along with the steps you took to integrate their feedback over time.
Trusting the Process
Once you have selected your recommenders and have given them the required information, step back and let them do their job. Check in occasionally to ensure that they are on track to complete the recommendations by the schools’ deadlines.
You should never log into the recommender’s portal yourself, as many MBA programs have tracking systems that record the IP addresses that have accessed the recommender’s portal. If you want to know what questions each school is asking recommenders, search online or ask your recommenders to share the questions once they have accessed the portal.
You should also waive your rights to review the letters of recommendation. Failure to do so could cause the admissions committee to think you don’t trust your recommenders or that you wrote your recommendations yourself.
Be sure to thank your recommenders for investing the time to write your recommendations. Also, make sure to follow up and inform them of the decisions (whether positive or negative) from each school for which they wrote you a recommendation. Finally, be sure to let them know which school you ultimately decide to attend.
If you still have questions about the recommendation letter process, or any part of your MBA application journey, sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with a Stratus admissions expert today!