Recommendations

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Recommendations are a vital part of the MBA application. However, they are typically under utilized by applicants. Walking a recommender through the process can ensure your recommendation will add another dimension to your application. A recommendation can validate claims you made in your essays, it can add stories that you cannot fit into the limited confines of the essays, and it can also further build on the stories you do write about in your essays. The key to a great recommendation, like with the rest of the application, is leg work. Don't just ask your supervisor for a recommendation and then type his name into the online application system a month before its due. As soon as you narrow down your schools, provide them with the materials in the list below. Give them as much time as you can because you don't want a missing recommendation to be the reason your application wasn't accepted for Round 1.

What to Provide a Recommender

  • Cover Page
    • Name of each school
    • The Round you are applying and its deadline
    • The first of many "thank you's" you should be writing to them
  • A request for you Recommender's Information
    • Note: this is because your recommender may not want schools to send them the forms to their work email or to call their work phone.
    • Phone number
    • Email address
    • Home address
  • Personalized version of Aaudetat's Writing a Business School Recommendation (see below)
  • Copies of each school's recommendation form (available on most school's websites)
  • Positioning Statement: material similar to most school's essay #1
    • Why you want an MBA
    • Why you need an MBA NOW
    • What your short and long term post MBA career goals are
    • Accomplishments you want them to talk about
      • Teams you have lead
      • Improvements you have made
      • Facts, Figures, Percentages, Statistics...any numbers you can provide to quantify your claims that they can reference
    • Weaknesses
      • How you are already working on improving these
      • What will a school help you to overcome


Writing a Business School Recommendation

First of all, thank you so much for taking this on. I know this represents a time commitment for you (and one with firm deadlines!) and I can’t say how much it means to me that you’ve agreed to take this on. I’ve summarized a chapter that I read on recommendations to help you get started with your letter.

The recommendation is an important part of the application. The school will use your recommendation to see if you confirm my own claims, to understand my character, and to find out how I do in the work world. Your view of my managerial potential will also get special attention. It’s important to note that business school recommendations are very different from recommendations for employment. Basically, thousands of candidates are applying for a few hundred places in the next incoming class, with a very limited number of staff to manage the process. Few applicants are granted an interview, which usually lasts only 30 minutes. It’s also very rare that the admissions committee calls a recommender. Therefore, a well-written, well-organized recommendation, usually about 2 pages long, is a necessary component of a strong application package.

Generally, there are 3 key areas for you to discuss: business skill, brains, and character. Below, I’ve listed some aspects of each area. I probably don’t show all these traits, and you may not have experience with all of them. But, if possible, I would like you to discuss components from at least 2 of the areas.

  • Business Skill
    • Maturity
    • Thoughtful decisions
    • Self-control in stressful situations
    • Work habits
    • Self-confidence and poise
    • Creativity
    • Thoughtfulness
    • Ability to listen
    • Ability to work well with others
    • Ability to motivate others
    • Organizational and planning skills
    • Judgment
    • Leadership qualities
    • Problem-solving & analysis
    • Overall managerial potential
  • Brains
    • Analytical ability
    • Quantitative skills
    • Mental agility
    • Healthy skepticism
    • Imagination and creativity
    • Communication skills (written and oral)
    • Mastery of other languages
    • Thoroughness
    • Research methods
    • Breadth of scholarly interests
  • Character
    • Ethics
    • Integrity
    • Dependability
    • Motivation
    • Initiative
    • Sense of humor
    • Personal relationships
    • Civic responsibility
    • Dealings with “subordinates”
    • Social skills


I am building an application package that will not only show that I can handle the workload of an MBA program, but also that I stand out from the usual candidates. Your recommendation will be particularly credible and powerful if you can use specific anecdotes to illustrate your points. Your stories will make me real and memorable for the admissions committee. It’s also helpful if your letter focuses on skills that are valuable in a business context. Of course, you will also want to address any areas for growth – hopefully with a positive spin! Generally, I hope you and I will agree on my strengths and skills and that your letter will support my positioning (see positioning paper).

I am applying to 4-6 schools, and each school will have slightly different criteria for your recommendation. I suggest writing a general letter and then making any slight adjustments as necessary for each school. For example, Harvard’s emphasis on the case method might lead you to emphasize my ability to grasp real world situations and keep up with and contribute to fast-moving discussions. Cornell’s small class size might prompt you to discuss how much I enjoy working in small groups in a cooperative atmosphere. Of course, I will give you a short list of any relevant school-specific variables.

  • Some other tips:
    • Feel free to use headings to organize your letter and make it easy to read
    • Weaknesses: List what you view as your weak points in your profile
    • A well-written letter – grammatically correct and organized – is very important
    • They like it if you can show my growth and development over time
    • Similarly, a drive to improve myself is well appreciated
    • Quantify your claims (top 3 or 50% improvement or whatever)
    • Discuss your view of how I meet the requirements of a top manager or leader
    • Make sure you have the right school name on each letter (I hear this is a common mistake)
    • Explain why you make a good recommender
    • Don’t brag too much about the company; it’s all about me!
  • Questions to consider:
    • How do I add value to (insert your company name)?
    • How would I fit into the b-school environment?
    • How do I fit into multicultural and international environments?

Appropriate Gifts for a Recommender

  • A handwritten thank-you note included with all gifts
  • Gift Certificates to a store or restaurant
  • Bottle of wine, port, or other adult beverage depending on their known preference
  • Box of chocolates
  • Gift basket
  • Tickets to a game, music event, or play
  • Memorabilia from the school you were accepted into or matriculating (can be an additional gift if you already gave one earlier)

Only you can decide how much you are willing to spend. Your recommenders most likely aren’t expecting anything, so this is a gesture of your gratitude. Whatever you decide, ensure that it is appropriate for the individual. The above examples will work well for some but not others. There is no consensus on whether to give the gift before or after an admittance, so it is up to your own judgment. If you're applying R1, the holidays is a great time to give a gift (big or small) and then give another one when your decisions come in. For other rounds, giving a gift either after all your recommendation letters have been submitted or after you receive decisions would both be appropriate.


Here are some links to discussions on gifts:

http://www.gmatclub.com/forum/t43272

http://www.gmatclub.com/forum/t41429

http://www.gmatclub.com/forum/t40796

http://www.gmatclub.com/forum/t37772

http://www.gmatclub.com/forum/t25597

{{#x:box|This article is largely based on the material provided by User:Riverripper and User:Aaudetat.}}

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