Obtaining a great letter of recommendation is one of the most important aspects of the business school application process. This is one of the only external reference points the Admissions Committee can use to evaluate your performance and future potential for success, so it goes without saying that your recommendations are really, really important!
For most applicants, the request and submission process for their recommenders is pretty straightforward – at top firms and large companies, many recommenders already have some experience writing recommendations and fully support the applicant’s pursuit of an MBA. For others, however, this process can be far more difficult. Let’s discuss a few ways a recommender can prove challenging during the MBA application process, and what you can do to counter such issues:
This is probably the worst of the recommender offenses, because if a recommendation is not submitted on time, then your application is not considered complete by the Admissions Committee. Therefore, you must be confident that your recommender will adhere to all formal and informal deadlines you impose on them to write your letter of recommendation. There are many things an applicant will stress about during the application process – whether a recommender submits their evaluation or not should not be one of them. I recommend setting up faux deadlines a week in advance of the actual ones to ensure you have a few buffer days just in case your recommender slips up.
Not all recommenders are supportive of applicants leaving their company. Whether it is because they do not think the applicant is ready, do not want to replace them, or are just plain jealous of the opportunity, the decision to apply to business school is not always met with a positive response. Ideally, you will have some feel for this potential problem in advance of selecting your recommender, but if you can’t get around it, make your rationale for applying to business school clear and be openly thankful of the training and inspiration provided by the firm and by the recommender. Charm and holding a polite, thankful disposition can go a long way here.
A Poor Writer:
Is your recommender a bad writer? This can be a problem if the clarity of their evaluation is impacted by their lack of writing skills. Keep in mind, you will not be penalized for the writing of your recommender, but the better the writing, the more effective and better-received the recommendation will be by the Admissions Committee, so don’t be afraid to lean on your recommender to give it their best!
The lazy recommender is, unfortunately, more common than we’d like to see. Whether it is a case of being too busy or just putting the minimal effort into writing the recommendation, laziness can have a very negative impact on your application. If a recommender can’t commit to writing as thorough of an evaluation as possible, then that person is probably not your best option. The more you can support this type of recommender with information about your candidacy, the program you are applying to, and the application process, the better their evaluation will be. Be active in providing the necessary coaching and support to your recommender when it comes to this aspect of the application.
Be aware of these challenging profiles when reaching out to a potential recommender, and use the above tips to make the most of your MBA letters of recommendation.
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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more articles by him here.