How to Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation for Your MBA Application

Most business schools require letters of recommendation.These letters are an opportunity to communicate strengths and other qualities that go beyond your resume and test scores, allowing the admissions committee to see what truly makes you stand out. Letters of recommendation also offer third-party credibility; in other words, you are not the one boasting about your accomplishments, because someone else is doing it for you.

Below are a few strategies for making sure your letters of recommendation reflect your full potential.

Check Recommendation Requirements for Each School

Carefully read the recommendation requirements for each school where you apply. Some MBA programs ask strictly for professional references, while other programs accept both personal and professional references. Schools may also have specific instructions about how the letters should be submitted or what they should include, so be sure to follow each school's instructions.

Choose Wisely

The content of the recommendation may be more important than the title of the person giving the recommendation, according to U.S. News & World Report. For instance, a glowing, detailed recommendation letter from a direct supervisor or a team lead is more valuable than a generic letter from an executive who is not as familiar with your work. Choose someone who knows you well and can give specific examples of your accomplishments rather than someone with an impressive title who does not have time to write a strong recommendation. By selecting references who have worked closely with you and who can speak to different strengths or aspects of your career, you give schools a more complete picture of your background.

Give Your References Plenty of Lead Time

As soon as you identify the people you would like to write your recommendations, put in your request so they can start working on them and give it their all. Nobody likes getting a last-minute request and feeling rushed or inconvenienced by it. Be sure to communicate the school's deadline so you won't get penalized for missing recommendation letters. In addition to allowing your references plenty of time, it’s important to be thoughtful and considerate in your approach. When you ask for letters of recommendation, tell your references how much you value their insight and acknowledge the role they have played in your career.

Prepare Your Recommenders

Don't leave your references to wonder what the letter should include. Provide them with an updated resume, a statement of purpose, potential talking points (such as key projects or accomplishments to mention), a list of schools you're applying to and their respective deadlines. If there are particular projects or accomplishments you would like them to highlight, let them know.  

Waive Your Right to View Forms

If your references submit their recommendation forms directly to the school, you will typically have the option to “waive your right to view the recommendation form.” This is a good practice because it encourages candid recommendations.

Send a Thank-You Note

Strong recommendations letters can help you stand out from other applicants, so be sure to communicate your sincere appreciation to references. Sending a thank-you note immediately after they submit their recommendation is a smart and thoughtful move, but it's also a good idea to update your references once you've received acceptance letters and decided which MBA program to attend. That way you can thank them again for their help during the application process and stay in touch throughout your career.