Whom should I ask? Similar to many other top programs, Chicago Booth requires that all applicants submit two letters of recommendation. One of these must be professional in nature and should come from your current supervisor. If you’re unable to acquire such a recommendation, the admissions committee asks that you explain why. The second letter of recommendation does not need to be professional and could come instead from a club, organization, team, or volunteer project, if appropriate.
Does title or status matter? As many top business programs claim, Booth is more concerned with the content and quality of your recommendations than the reputation or title of your recommenders. Choose individuals who know you well, can speak to your qualifications as an MBA candidate, and can add “valuable insights to your application.” We see candidates try to call in favors to try to get their company’s CEO to write a letter on their behalf. In general, the admissions committee will be far more impressed by a genuine and passionate letter from a middle manager with whom you work every day than a polite letter from a well-known CEO that lacks depth and detailed anecdotes about you. The latter will likely be discounted or completely ignored. In fact, Chicago Booth says outright, “Avoid choosing people simply based on their title or status.”
What will they be asked? The actual “letter” of recommendation is submitted through an online form. Once you begin your online application you will provide the names and email addresses of your recommenders and they will receive a link to complete the online form.
First, your recommenders will be asked to fill out basic contact information (pre-populated with information that you provide). Then they will be asked the following questions:
- For how long have you known the applicant? [text box]
- Do you have an MBA degree? [Yes/No]
- Are you affiliated with Chicago Booth or the University of Chicago in any way? [Yes/No]
Skills assessment. [This is a multiple-choice assessment based on the following skills/qualities: Ability to adapt to change, Awareness of self and others, Maturity, Openness to feedback and constructive criticism, Interpersonal skills (with colleagues/subordinates), Interpersonal skills (with superiors/executives), Confidence, Initiative/Self-Motivation, Collaboration/Teamwork, Critical Thinking Skills, Intellectual Curiosity, Problem Solving Skills.] Each recommender will be asked to rate you on each skill with the following scale: Unable to Assess, Area of Concern, Opportunity for Development, Solid/Meets Expectations, Strength/Exceeds Expectations. The recommender is advised that “most candidates will have a range of marks; it is extremely rare for a candidate to exceed expectations in all areas.”
Your recommender will then be asked:
- Based on your professional experience, how does the candidate rate within his/her peer group? ? [Recommender to select one of the following: Unable to Assess, Below Average, Average (top 50%), Very Good (top 25%), Outstanding (top 10%), Truly Exceptional (top 5%), The best I’ve encountered in my career].
Recommendation letter. Finally, your recommender will be asked to answer the two “common app” questions adopted by several other schools this year:
How does the applicant’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.
What should they say? Booth admissions officers are looking for specific examples of your performance, teamwork, and leadership qualities to shine through in your letters of recommendation. Your recommenders should be up to speed on the overall theme of your application and should be aware of your reasons for getting an MBA and applying to Booth to ensure consistency throughout your application. The use of specific examples combined with genuine enthusiasm about your candidacy is the key to a successful letter.
Should I draft it myself? Many applicants to business school are asked by their superiors to draft the recommendation themselves and the recommender will approve it. We strongly recommend that you do not write the recommendation yourself for several reasons. First, your writing style and choice of phrasing are unique, and admissions officers will notice if the recommendations are similar to each other and to your essay. If they notice too many similarities, your application could be denied outright. Second, you may tend to be too humble or generic. Your supervisor might use language such as “one of the top analysts I’ve seen in my entire career” that you wouldn’t dare include if writing it on his or her behalf. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the admissions officer is looking for a third-party perspective on your candidacy, so writing a recommendation yourself is an unethical breach of trust with the school you are looking to join. Some schools even require applicants to certify that they have not been involved in drafting their recommendations.
Preparing your recommenders. Instead of writing the recommendation yourself, you should sit down and have candid conversations with your recommenders about the reasons you want to go to business school and why you’ve selected your target schools, your professional goals, and your experience together. Ask them if they would have the time to write a strong recommendation on your behalf. (This also gives them a nice “out” by telling you that they are too busy rather than saying they don’t feel comfortable giving you a positive recommendation.) Bring a copy of your resume and a bulleted list of projects that you’ve worked on together and accomplishments they have seen you achieve. Let them know that admissions committees prefer to see specific, detailed examples in recommendations. Then, let them know that you’ll serve as a “project manager” to follow up and ensure that they are able to submit your recommendation ahead of the deadline.