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Guillaume thought he was on-target for MBA admission the first time around. He had very competitive GMAT scores and found a pair of schools that he felt were a great fit for him. Guillaume was confident when he sent in his applications. Instead of the acceptances he expected, Guillaume was surprised by two rejections. The next cycle he decided to hire a Stacy Blackman consultant to see what he could do to improve- and possibly identify what went wrong.
Guillaume’s experience with a French investment bank seemed to tie nicely into his plan to work in international finance after his MBA program. Guillaume and his consultant polished his essays a bit to better fit each program, but his consultant felt they were strong to begin with. When she got to his recommendations, however, she was sure she had found the issue.
For one of his recommendations, Guillaume had gone to a high-level executive at his bank. The executive was a graduate of a top-tier MBA program as well, and Guillaume assumed his impressive title would lend his recommendation weight. What he had overlooked was that his work was several levels below this executive and their contact was relatively minimal.
When his consultant read the recommendation, she saw a generally positive tone held back by generic language and a lack of tangible details. This recommendation might tell the reader that Guillaume would be a good hire at a similar company, but didn’t provide the personal connection and story needed to catch the attention of an admissions committee.
Guillaume’s consultant found a slightly different problem with his second recommendation as well. He had gone to a supervisor from a previous position, and while he left on good terms personally and professionally, Guillaume had never been fully comfortable at the firm, which was why he left to find a better job he was more passionate about.
Unfortunately, Guillaume’s supervisor had perceived his lack of enthusiasm for his job as well. Along with a few years distance from Guillaume’s work as well, the former supervisor wrote a recommendation that was polite and mainly positive to a hurried reader, but a closer read revealed some deliberate omissions and even a few veiled criticisms. Guillaume’s consultant clearly saw a case of a recommendation that could be called “damning with faint praise.”
As they discussed these recommendations, it was easy to see why Guillaume had overlooked their importance. He had done so much work for the applications himself, and simply getting a few people to say yes had been tough enough, but he was too close to the situations and the recommenders themselves to see the flaws with each.
Together they brainstormed some ideas for new recommendation sources, and Guillaume found his immediate supervisor and a colleague from his university alumni group both happy to write him a glowing, specific recommendations. This time Guillaume and his consultant worked on a document to guide each recommender on specific stories and examples. The strategy worked, and Guillaume was admitted to LBS and Duke.
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