SBC Scoop: Lacking a Current Supervisor Recommendation

Almost every MBA program asks you for a recommendation from your current supervisor. But what do you do if you can’t ask your current supervisor to recommend you? Maybe you just started a new job, are currently unemployed, or you have decided not to tell your boss that you plan to return to business school.

Over the past few years we have seen more and more clients who prefer to keep their business school plans to themselves. In some cases there is a promotion or special project at stake. By proving himself in several large client deals for his small investment firm, Adeel was seen as a future leader within the company. With three promotions in five years of work experience, Adeel had a strong resume. Adeel knew business school would be an investment in his long-term future, and he also wanted to maintain momentum in his career before matriculation. Because he was applying to Stanford, Wharton and Columbia and there is no guarantee of admission to such highly competitive programs, he had another reason not to risk his place at work.

When Adeel started working with Stacy Blackman Consulting we discussed his situation. I advised him to keep in mind that MBA programs are interested in recommendations to show another person’s viewpoint on your performance, and to corroborate some of the claims in your essays and resume. Adeel’s situation was further complicated because he had only worked at one firm since college. He did have an internship, but since it had been more than five years since that position we decided not to seek recommenders there. The potential references left were both senior leaders who had left the firm ”“ Laura, Roman and Jack.

Roman had been Adeel’s supervisor and pushed for one of his recent promotions. Jack had been a peer of Adeel’s and worked closely with him on several key deals. Laura had been a supervisor in the firm, but not Adeel’s direct manager. Since it was a small firm Laura was quite familiar with Adeel’s work. In addition, she had been part of a diversity recruiting initiative with Adeel and had seen him show leadership in that position. I advised that Roman was a good stand in for Adeel’s current supervisor, and should be the primary recommendation for all schools. Between Jack and Laura, I thought Laura would have the most to add to Adeel’s overall profile.

With his recommenders chosen, Adeel set out to prep them with his MBA goals and accomplishments. Adeel also outlined some potential weaknesses to help his recommenders answer that delicate question. In addition, Adeel composed an optional essay to explain why he did not feel comfortable asking his current supervisor for a recommendation.

When Adeel was admitted to Wharton he finally told his boss about his plans. Management was supportive, and Adeel is considering returning to the firm after graduation.

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