What Makes a Great MBA Recommendation Letter

recommendation letterRound 1 deadlines are almost upon us! That means it’s time to check in with your recommenders asap. Find out if they’re on track to submit your MBA recommendation letter on schedule.

If you have any doubts about your recommender’s ability to come through in time, it’s wise to have a backup in place. As host Erika warned earlier this week on the B-Schooled podcast, a late letter could hold up your entire application and push it to the next round.

Now, onto some advice for candidates still finalizing this aspect of their application. The MBA recommendation letter is an integral part of your application package. Frankly, it can make—or break—your chances of admission.

In essence, the letter provides a fresh, third-person perspective on your skill sets. Above all, your recommenders should enhance your application by offering new and valuable insights into you as a person.

recommendation letter

That’s why it’s so important to choose people who have worked closely with you. That way, they can provide specific and relevant examples of your work. Avoid submitting two same-sounding recommendations. It’s more powerful to have recommenders who can share different perspectives on your candidacy.

What about side letters or VIP recommenders?

A client recently asked what our resident HBS experts think about alumni submitting supplemental letters on behalf of candidates. The answer, unfortunately, is not cut-and-dry.

On the hot topic of side letters, a former HBS Admissions Officer on the SBC team commented, “They really do discourage it.  However, if the alumnus is influential, it can be helpful.”

Often, applicants sabotage their efforts when they select bigwig recommenders with impressive titles. While they hope to impress the AdCom, this tactic almost always backfires.

A person with a fancy title who doesn’t know the applicant can’t offer specific examples to support even the most generous platitudes. The most effective endorsements come from people who can highlight your professional, personal, and interpersonal skills.

recommendation letter

Pick recommenders who will showcase your leadership, analytical ability, communication skills, and integrity. These are traits MBA admissions committees want to see in applicants.

A Winning Recommendation Letter Requires Guidance

Consider providing a packet of materials to help your recommender understand why business school is the next step for you. This could include an updated resume, your application essays, and information about the program you hope to attend.

In today’s busy world, it’s not uncommon for a recommender to suggest that you write your own letter. Do not ever do this!  If they don’t have time to write a proper recommendation, find someone more enthusiastic about championing your business school dreams.

Besides being unethical, your application reviewer can usually recognize your writing style from your essays. This is a massive red flag about your integrity. Also, it will likely lead to an automatic ding. That said, you can still play a large role in influencing the final product.

What should a recommendation letter emphasize?

Sit down with each recommender and let them know the key attributes you’d like them to include. This could mean emphasizing your charisma, intelligence, determination, or creative thinking.

recommendation letter

Next, make your recommender’s life easier by providing them with at least one example to back up each characteristic.  Share details of how you contributed to projects. Give specific examples of how you interact with others or went above and beyond. When possible, include anecdotes or funny quips that give insight into your personality. These kinds of things make for a great MBA recommendation letter.

Most schools ask recommenders about your weaknesses or areas of development. Make your self-awareness a strength. Give the recommender a growth area for you as well as examples of how you are working on it. A recent performance evaluation is an excellent place to start.

Also, address how getting your MBA will help you further develop in this area. Then the recommender can speak to your maturity and awareness. This shows you intend to hit the ground running and improve through their program.

The goal of managing your recommenders is to make it as easy as possible for them to write glowing letters. That’s why a recommender package is a win-win for all. Your recommenders will appreciate your help and thoroughness—and produce a better recommendation on your behalf.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Wharton and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

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