Your recommendations are a crucial part of your application, yet are often the one part of the process you have the least control over. Choosing your recommenders strategically and coaching them effectively will help you with confidence in your overall package.
The absolutely, positively most important factors in choosing a recommender are to select someone you know well and who has the time to focus on your recommendation. Though it is tempting to ask that Managing Director you have met once (but your boss knows well) or your aunt’s cousin who is a Senator, instead ask your immediate supervisor or a co-worker who has seen you grow through your career. Some schools specifically ask for a peer recommendation, in which case the recommendation should come form a real peer, preferably at work. For most sets of recommendations you want to choose your immediate supervisor and someone else who knows you professionally, perhaps from a different angle than your immediate supervisor.
If you have the option to choose three recommenders, you may want to select a third person who knows you outside of work. Try to find someone who can speak to your leadership capacity, or unique personal attributes.
Coaching your Recommenders
The key difference between a strong recommendation and a weak recommendation are specific examples. Weak recommendations provide vague accolades, while strong recommendations show the reader of your application what potential the recommender sees in you.
It is important to prepare your recommenders well for the application process. Asking your recommenders in person is most effective, and will give you the chance to outline your MBA plans and what you hope to accomplish through the degree. When you have set your application strategy and have some idea of your essay topics, it will be useful to provide your recommenders with the application questions. If your recommenders are open to it, you may want to suggest examples that may be helpful to answer the questions.
Prepare your recommenders well in advance, and gently remind them to submit the letters once the application deadlines near. As recommendation letters are the one part of the application you do not control yourself, you will want to avoid last minute panic.
Never, ever, ever take the bait to write a recommendation for yourself. This avenue may be suggested by recommenders who do not have time to craft a thoughtful submission. If that is the situation, it would be better to seek someone with a lower title who has the time to write your letter. If you decide to write the letter yourself it will be painfully obvious and hurt your application.
If you choose wisely and coach your recommenders successfully, you will be confident that this part of the application is as strong as possible!