When applying to an elite MBA program, one’s letters of recommendation are pivotal. Submit vague letters of recommendation that don’t say a whole lot about you and you’ve done your candidacy quite the disservice. And, yes, MBA admissions officers can read between the lines. There’s indeed a lot to be said for what goes unsaid in letters of recommendation. Irrespective of the MBA program’s requirement for letters of recommendation (e.g., the Yale University’s School of Management allows applicants to use the GMAC common letter of recommendation form whereas New York University’s Stern School of Business asks more specific questions including about applicants’ emotional intelligence), you can be certain that it’s one of the more significant elements of an MBA applicant’s file.
And who should write your letters of recommendation? As Sydney Lake reports for Fortune in a piece entitled “A recommendation letter can make or break your MBA application,” “It can be tempting to seek out a C-suite executive or school alumnus to write your recommendation letter, but MBA admissions experts agree it’s more important to have someone who knows you well speak on your behalf. Applicants should ask a direct supervisor or a coworker with whom they’ve closely worked. For applicants who are fearful of asking a boss who may not support their decision to attend a full-time MBA program, experts suggest asking a former manager or client if they’ve worked in a consulting setting.”
Most importantly, applicants should not count on people to write great letters of recommendation on their behalf. While most people generally want to help, they often don’t know how to help. Thus, MBA applicants should take control of their letters of recommendation by offering their recommenders reminders — in the form of anecdotes — of what this person has observed about them. If it’s a direct supervisor, he or she should be reminded by the MBA applicant of contributions the applicant has made to the company. If it’s a professor, he or she should be reminded of how the MBA applicant contributed to the classroom. And so on.
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