Scott Edinburgh
May 16, 2018

Keeping Your MBA Plans A Secret At Work?

Every year we have clients who do not feel comfortable telling their employers about their MBA plans. Regardless of the reason for this hesitation, many of you may be wrestling with how to handle the LOR process if your boss is not as supportive as you might like.

Should you: (1) keep your B school goal a secret so it does not affect your job, forcing you to ask someone outside of your company to write a recommendation or (2) tell a few choice people at the office because you want them to write your recommendations, and then hope they do not tell others?

The right answer depends on how long you have been at your current job, what other options you have outside of work, and who else could write your recommendations within the company. Although admissions committees like recommendations from current managers, they understand that not everyone is comfortable asking their current boss for a recommendation. While it will not work against you to ask someone else, if you do not have someone who can speak to your current successes, your application may be weakened. This is even more pronounced if you have only had one full-time job post undergraduate and do not have anyone else who can write directly about your performance at work. In this case, I would consider your other relationships within the firm. Perhaps there is an indirect supervisor or a more senior manager who might be more supportive? Perhaps your boss might be more open to the idea than you initially thought? Spend some time testing the waters with others at the firm to get some additional insight on potential options.

If you are unsure of who to ask because you do not know how your boss would react, then tread carefully. I often help applicants navigate these tricky waters, and when doing so, make sure that time is on your side. You may want to have an initial conversation to explore “your development” and see where the conversation takes you. I have had clients who assumed their bosses would not be supportive only to have them actually suggest an MBA during these “development” discussions. That said, be sure to understand the politics internally so that you protect yourself and your career while doing so.

Finally, when thinking about who to ask, think about who will write the best things about you and the best letter. If your former boss loved you and would put you in the top 1-2% while your current boss would rank you high, but perhaps not best in class, it may make sense to go with the older boss even though he has older content to write about. The choice of recommenders is an important one, so make sure to spend enough time thinking about who to ask.

Keep in mind, if you cannot ask someone you work with, then you can write a brief optional essay about why you chose not to get a recommendation from your current employer.

If you would like individual and personal support with any aspect of the MBA application process, include early planning, school selection, GMAT/GRE tutoring, essay editing or interview preparation with former M7 interviewers, please find information about Personal MBA Coach’s comprehensive packages or contact me to learn how I can help!

As a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate, I have been helping candidates get into the schools of their dreams with a 96% success rate for over 10 years. Last year we not only got applicants into all top programs, but also helped them to receive over $4.5M in fellowships. Email me today at: