There is perhaps nothing more satisfying in life than having someone else do the work for you. This applies to tough manual labor, exhausting deep thinking, and everything in between. For some, it represents the pleasure of being able to relax while someone else takes care of things. But, for others, it means making their own tough jobs much easier.
This idea of “They do the work for me, and therefore make my own job easier,” comes up frequently in the graduate management education space. We’ve heard this same idea come up in two areas that almost seem to be at exact opposites of the MBA spectrum, but are in fact closely related: MBA admissions and the post-business school job market. We’ll start with the latter.
MBA Admissions Officers Do the Work for Future Employers
When employers are pressed for why they tend to recruit MBAs from the same top business schools, their answer often boils down to: “The schools wouldn’t have admitted them if they weren’t great, so we know we’re fishing in a pool of highly skilled talent. The schools make it easy for us to find a lot of great potential hires in one place.” That’s not a new idea — yes, getting one’s “ticket punched” at a top MBA program can sometimes seem to be the real value in earning an MBA — but it cuts right to the heart of what employers must deal with.
A large management consulting firm may want to hire 80 associates this year. While they could theoretically cast a net as wide as the entire world, it makes their jobs much easier when focus on the top five or ten (or whatever the cutoff may be) MBA programs. This isn’t elitism as much as it is a need for convenience and a lack of infinite time and money. These employers are saying, “They got into these schools, so they must be pretty good.” Out of necessity, they put their trust in the top schools admissions offices to do their jobs right, and to keep their classrooms stocked with A-level talent.
… And Reco Writers Do the Work for Admissions Officers
So, now the pressure is entirely on business school admissions officers, right? They have to sift through thousands of great essays, GMAT scores, and resumes to separate the wheat from the chaff. (HBS alone had to sift through more than 9,500 applications this past admissions season.) Even after interviewing some or all of the applicants, how can tell who’s great vs. who merely talks a good game?
Fortunately for them, much of the proof resides in each applicants’ letters of recommendation. We recently heard an admissions officer say (I’m paraphrasing here): “Recommendation writers have seen the applicant in a variety of situations, and knows him far better than we can after reading a few essays. They know the applicant’s true grit, and they’re communicating that to us. A well-written letter of recommendation makes our jobs much easier in this way.” It’s the same exact dynamic at work in both instances: The person in the decision maker’s seat needs to make an important decision without having perfect information. So, they need help from someone else who knows you better.
Use This Dynamic to Get Into Business School
When business school applicants talk about the admissions game, they spend a lot of time talking about the GMAT and their essays. Their letters of recommendation seem to reside in a place in their minds somewhere below their essays and above the data sheets — important, but not quite as exciting as some of the headliners in their application. Nothing could be further than the truth. Although your recommendation writers most likely (you hope) support your candidacy, what they say about you — and how they say it — is critically important for an admissions officer who needs to make a decision on your candidacy.
So, recruit recommendation writers who know you well and will be very enthusiastic about your candidacy. Spend as much time as you can preparing them with specific examples to support their answers, and drive home the message that they should communicate nothing less than 100% passion about your candidacy. When MBA admissions officers see these elements in a recommendation, they know they’re on to something good. They can only learn so much about you from your test scores and essays, so this “second voice” is a critical voice in the evaluation process.
Use it to your advantage, and you can put admissions officers at ease as they review your application, because they’ll know that someone else has done the work for them in finding a terrific young professional.