Admissions Tip – Choosing Recommenders

Your recommendations are one of the most important pieces of your business school application. Along with your essays, your recommendations give schools a chance to see the person you are beyond your numbers and resume. However, you have a lot less control over your recommendations as they are written by someone else.  In fact, there are only two ways to make the most of your recommendations — choose your recommenders wisely and prepare them well. In today’s blog, we’ll give some tips on choosing recommenders. In next Monday’s blog we’ll discuss how to prepare your recommenders.

Professional recommendations are best
In most situations, current and recent supervisors are the best choices because they can speak to your current skills, values, and work ethic as well as future potential. In fact, HBS states that they want at least two professional references. (Note that HBS and Stanford ask for three recommendations while most schools ask for two.) Also you should choose professional references instead of professors. As the Wharton blog notes, schools can see your educational background from transcripts and test scores; for that reason a recommendation from a professor won’t add much to your profile. Whereas supervisors who have worked with you recently can elaborate on the aspects of your character that aren’t seen in resumes, transcripts, and scores.

People who know you well are best
Choose recommenders who know you well and can provide specific examples that speak to your personality, character, and values. Many applicants are tempted to ask their CEO or a famous school alum to write a recommendation. But as etc and etc points out you shouldn’t just go for the big name. The Wharton blog confirms that “more important than pedigree or title is how well a recommender knows you.” If the CEO of your company is your direct supervisor and knows you well, then he/she is the right choice. However do not skip several levels of hierarchy just to have the CEO write your recommendation. In fact, like HBS, most schools specifically request your current supervisor as a reference, recognizing that this person is the most familiar with you and your work style. If for some reason you cannot have your current supervisor write your recommendation, you can submit a quick note to schools explaining why — eg, you just switched roles and have a new supervisor, you are not comfortable informing your place of work that you are applying to school.

Build your relationships
Though the deadlines are a still many months away, it is important to start thinking now about who your recommenders will be in order to build your relationships with them. Your recommenders should be invested in your future and enthusiastic about helping you reach your goal of getting into business school. Though you don’t need to tell your recommenders right now that you want them to write a reference, you can take time this spring to make them mentors. Find opportunities to discuss their career path and ask their advice in order to involve them in furthering your career. Then it will seem natural for them to write your recommendations this fall.

Impress recommenders
Ideally you have already impressed your recommenders over the past few years with your performance. However, you want to be especially aware this spring and summer to demonstrate your leadership, initiative, maturity, and self-awareness. Your recommenders should see that you are ready to take the next step in your career by going to business school.

Prepare recommenders
Schools expect a lot from your recommenders by requesting that they answer school specific questions rather than just writing a general letter. As Asiangal notes you can’t just give recommenders one month and expect them to complete everything on time. So you should be deciding on your recommenders now in order to give them plenty of notice and also prepare them well in advance of the application deadlines.

Check out our blog next Monday for tips on preparing recommenders.

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