5 Don’ts for Managing MBA Recommendation Writers

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com I recently got off the phone with a business school applicant who believes poor recommendations were a key reason she was not admitted …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

I recently got off the phone with a business school applicant who believes poor recommendations were a key reason she was not admitted to school last year.

RecommandationShe carefully selected her recommenders and gave them several months’ advance notice. Her first recommender gave her a copy of his letter after submitting it. It was six pages long, written with care – and all wrong. He emphasized the wrong qualities, rambled like crazy and did not provide relevant examples.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon, and it’s the reason why properly managing your recommenders is just as important as selecting the right ones. Heed these five don’ts for doing so, and you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary anxiety at a time when you are already under a lot of pressure.

1. Don’t assume he or she will remember all of your achievements or know what to write about: Your recommender is probably time-strapped and doesn’t remember those three amazing examples of your leadership. They also probably don’t know exactly what schools are looking for in letters of recommendation.

Show your reccomender your essays and decide on four or five key traits that you would like him or her to emphasize throughout the letter, such as leadership, teamwork, creative thinking, determination, focus, intelligence, charisma and integrity.

Come up with at least one concrete example that you feel illustrates each characteristic.

Here’s what an instance of initiative might look like: “Last year, when I learned that international sales were declining, I took it upon myself to research the competitive landscape and learned of two recent market entrants. I then offered to lead a team to analyze these new competitors and develop a strategy for regaining our market share. Our team of five analysts proposed a solution after one week of work. The solution was implemented and within six months, we gained back 5 percent of lost market share.”

2. Don’t bombard them with too many materials or reminders: Doing this can overwhelm your recommender and lead them to ignore what you’ve prepared for them. Create a bulleted list of all of the projects that you have worked on and an outline of your strengths that go into more detail than your resume.

You want your recommenders to actually read this document, so try to keep it to one page and do not overload them with information. It should be a helpful, quick reference.

3. Don’t allow your recommender to provide a rave review without supporting their statements with solid facts: The cardinal rule of good writing – show, don’t tell – is equally important in a letter of recommendation. The admissions committee really wants to get that third-party perspective missing from your essays, test scores and interview.

No one expects the applicant to be perfect, however. The best recommendation letters paint a vivid picture of the candidate that brings the candidate on paper to life.

4. Don’t let them submit late under any circumstances: It’s important to get started on this process as early as possible. Your recommender should know that writing such a letter is both an honor and responsibility.

Give them plenty of time to prepare for your deadline. You may find it helpful to advance the due date by a week or so in order to remove one last-minute worry from your plate.

5. Don’t write the recommendation letter for them: In an effort to save time or ease their burden, a recommender may ask you to write the letter for them to sign. Don’t do it!

For one, the admissions committee will probably recognize your writing style from your essays and that will immediately raise a red flag. And secondly, if the individual doesn’t have enough time to write a proper recommendation, you would be better off seeking out someone who is more enthusiastic about championing your business school dreams.

On the other hand, if the reason for the request is because English is a second language for your supervisor and he or she is worried about sounding unprofessional, you have two options. The first is simply to not worry about it and explain that the admissions committee is focused solely on the content of the message and understands any language limitations that may exist. However, if you fear it might become a distraction, hire a translator and eliminate that concern.

If you can help your recommenders stay on message, deliver on time and provide vivid examples of your professional skills, you will have this element of your MBA application well in hand.

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Tuesday Tips: London Business School Fall 2016 MBA Essay Tips

London Business School is a close-knit program with an international focus, set in one of the most exciting centers of culture in Europe. Among one of the top-ranked programs in the world, LBS is equally …

London Business School essay questionsLondon Business School is a close-knit program with an international focus, set in one of the most exciting centers of culture in Europe. Among one of the top-ranked programs in the world, LBS is equally valued by employers in both the US and Europe. LBS is an excellent choice for MBA hopefuls who have international experience, a goal to work in London or other parts of Europe, or just an interest in attending school outside the US.

LBS has a slim set of required questions. It will be a challenge for you to present everything you may want about your career, extracurriculars and personal attributes. Make sure you formulate a clear game plan for this set of essays so you can maximize the questions and the space permitted to make your case for admission.

Essay 1
What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)

Most MBA applicants are pursuing the degree for a specific career goal post-MBA, but if you need a bit more reflection to answer this question it is worth doing the work. Self-awareness about your strengths and interests will help you refine what you want. To take your research deeper it could be helpful to talk to colleagues and alumni who have MBAs in your field to identify your career path options. Make sure that your career goals are both realistic and aspirational. An MBA will certainly open doors for you, and also may define a specific career path.

Your past experiences have certainly informed your post-MBA plans, and touching on those most relevant will be helpful to setting the background for your current pursuit of an MBA. To make this essay more than a rehash of your resume, think about explaining the rationale for your decisions throughout the essay. Why did you pursue your past experience and what has been the impetus behind subsequent career choices? At this point, why are you choosing LBS? If space permits, you will want to discuss the question of timing – why you have made the choice to pursue an MBA at this time, and why you want to attend LBS now.

Essay 2
What specific areas of London Business School life are you most excited about getting involved in and where will you add value? (300 words)

This essay is an opportunity to demonstrate passion for the school, London, activities and the community. Thorough research will be crucial here, whether online or in person. Consider both the academic community and the extracurricular communities. Reaching out to the clubs and organizations you are most interested in may allow you to interact with current students who can provide context for you. Visiting LBS would be an invaluable experience to feel the excitement in person.

To be most effective in answering this question you will want to be specific and logical in your choices of activities you will impact. What activities make the most sense in the context of your career and industry interests? What about your hobbies? Any community involvement you are currently pursuing and plan to continue could start to demonstrate your value to the groups you plan to join or lead at LBS.

International experience may be another area that is important to the LBS community and where you can add value. LBS is seeking applicants who are well traveled and thoughtful about cultural differences beyond their home countries. If you focus on your international background make sure you are able to explain what you have learned from interacting with cultures that are not your own, and relate your experiences back to what you will bring to LBS.

Optional Essay
Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (300 words)

This essay can be used to explain possible weaknesses in your application like a low GPA or GMAT score, or could be another opportunity to reveal an aspect of your candidacy that has not been covered in the previous questions.

If you use this space to explain a less than stellar aspect of your candidacy make sure you are offering explanations and not excuses. Keep all background information succinct and factual (no whining!) and explain the concrete steps you have taken to improve your candidacy and to be ready for an MBA programme like LBS.
If you are in the enviable position of having nothing to explain, this open-ended question would be a great opportunity to touch on a personal story or add color to your career goals. This could be the ideal place to describe a unique background, experience or attribute that did not fit elsewhere in the application.

Challenged by the LBS essay questions? Contact us to learn how Stacy Blackman Consulting can help.

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Michigan Ross Reports Record GMAT Scores for Class of 2017

What do a Broadway violinist, a former White House aide, the founders of a single origin Colombian coffee company, and a former member of a boy band in Taiwan have in common? For one, they …

Michigan Ross class profileWhat do a Broadway violinist, a former White House aide, the founders of a single origin Colombian coffee company, and a former member of a boy band in Taiwan have in common? For one, they are all members of the MBA class of 2017 at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

The program is celebrating its most competitive admissions season in a decade in terms of the volume and quality of applications, MBA admissions director Soojin Kwon reveals in her latest blog post detailing some of the unique aspects of the newest Ross MBA class.

For one, Kwon says this incoming class has the highest GMAT average ever at 708. Approximately 35% of students hail from outside the United States, and 25% of the class is made up of students from non-traditional backgrounds, which includes education, government, medicine, the military and non-profits. “In fact, this year’s class boasts the largest cohort of veterans and teachers to date,” Kwon notes.

Almost two-thirds of the accepted applicants participated in the optional Team Exercise, which thrilled the admissions director because it shows “they value the team-oriented environment at Ross and aren’t afraid of ambiguity,” since this is one aspect of the admissions process that candidates cannot prepare for.

As you consider which schools to apply to this season, make sure to look beyond the websites and reach out to students and alumni to find out if they are truly passionate about their MBA experience or merely came to “check the box and get a great job,” as Kwon describes it.

Fit is hard to describe or define—you know it when you feel it—but is such an important aspect of the MBA experience that applicants should make every effort to ensure the schools they apply to are a good “fit” for them.

“It can mean the difference between just going through the motions so you can check the MBA box and loving your MBA experience,” Kwon says.

You may also be interested in:

UM Ross School Receives $60M Gift for Entrepreneurship Program

Tuesday Tips: 2015 Michigan Ross MBA Essay Tips

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Kelley School Fall 2016 MBA Application Deadlines, Essay Questions

Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business has posted the following MBA application deadlines and essay prompts for the 2015-2016 admissions season. Early Round Deadline: October 15, 2015 Notification by: December 20, 2015 Priority Round Deadline: …

Kelley School of Business horizontalIndiana University’s Kelley School of Business has posted the following MBA application deadlines and essay prompts for the 2015-2016 admissions season.

Early Round
Deadline: October 15, 2015
Notification by: December 20, 2015

Priority Round
Deadline: January 5, 2016
Notification by: March 15, 2016

Third Round
Deadline: March 1, 2016
Notification by: April 30, 2016

Final Round
Deadline: April 15, 2016
Notification by: May 31, 2016

Fall 2016 Essay Questions

Required Essays:

1. Please discuss your immediate post-MBA professional goals. How will your professional experience, when combined with a Kelley MBA degree, allow you to achieve these goals? Should the short-term goals you have identified not materialize, what alternate career paths might you consider? (500 words)

2. Please respond to one of the following short essay prompts. (300 words)

  • My greatest memory is…
  • I’m most afraid of…
  • My greatest challenge has been…
  • I’m most proud of…

3. Please share with the admissions committee an interesting or surprising fact about you. (25 words)

Optional Essay:

Is there anything else you think we should know as we evaluation your application? If you believe your essays and credentials represent you fairly, you shouldn’t fell obligated to answer this question. (300 words)

Please visit the Kelley MBA program admissions website for more information.

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MBA Students Hit Campus Early to Brush Up Skills, Network

While classes may not officially start for weeks, a new article in the Wall Street Journal reports that more and more MBA students are coming to campus early to participate in the crash quant courses …

summer programs for incoming MBAsWhile classes may not officially start for weeks, a new article in the Wall Street Journal reports that more and more MBA students are coming to campus early to participate in the crash quant courses traditionally offered to bring candidates from non-finance backgrounds up to speed before school starts.

The reason? Many students—even those with a finance background—have realized these early weeks on campus provide a valuable opportunity to network and bond with their future classmates before the rush of  classes and recruiting hit in the fall.

In response, business schools have expanded beyond statistics or math courses for these early birds. At Kenan-Flagler Business School, first-year MBAs can also participate in career workshops, resume reviews, and receive coaching on presentation skills, the WSJ reveals.

Meanwhile, summer program enrollment is up 30% over last year at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which told the WSJ that about 300 of the incoming class of 850 arrived on campus early for refresher classes and to take exams that might allow them to place out of required courses.

Pre-term coursework functions a bit differently at NYU Stern School of Business, which allows some students to start in July in order to lighten their course load during the school year. Isser Gallogly, assistant dean of MBA admissions at Stern, told the WSJ the school has seen a jump in requests for these spots, which allow students to “get to know each other quite well” and form close bonds.

It’s interesting to note that Harvard Business School is not providing summer courses this year to bring new students up to speed. Instead, WSJ reports that the school has offered members of the HBS Class of 2017 its online learning program known as HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) at a slightly reduced rate: incoming first-years pay $1,500 for the program rather than the full price of $1,800.

You may also be interested in:

Summer Programs Bridge Biz Gap

Image credit: Flickr user Richard Foster  (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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