Round 2 applicants! If you haven’t already, now is the time to begin selecting your recommenders! But what if you have too many to choose from? I recently had a discussion with one of my clients about his recommendation strategy because he faced some tough decisions. Like many of you, he had multiple people he could ask for a recommendation and did not know who to choose. Summarizing our conversation, here are a few things to consider when deciding who to ask.
1. It is often simplest to ask the same people for all schools: While this may seem obvious, you can ask the same people to write all of your letters. If you have a specific instance where someone is closely connected to a school or an alum, it may be worth changing recommenders for a particular school but these decisions should be made carefully. The process of managing recommenders can be challenging and the best thing to do is to select the same recommender for all schools. After all, most people are loved the most by a couple bosses so you may as well pick the best.
2. Don’t ask the highest person in your company: You are much better off asking a mid-level executive for a rec if s/he will write an amazing, kick-ass letter instead of the president who may not know you as well and thus may be less confident writing something so great. That said if the president works closely with you, it is great to ask him/her.
3. Ask your recommender how strong of a letter they feel they could write: This may seem weird, but hearing the response will tell you something. If s/he thinks you are foolish for asking since s/he would blow people away with the letter, that tells you something different than if you get a lukewarm response.
4. Make sure they know how to write!! Writing these letters is tough, especially for people who are used to writing business proposals all day. Don’t be afraid to coach them if you feel necessary. Coaching is different from writing the letter though. Be sure not to write your letter, rather advise your recommender on what the schools are looking for.
5. Consider adding a non-professional references in some instances: While the general advice is to select professional supervisors to write your letters of recommendation, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you have taken a considerable role in an activity outside of work, such as a leadership role in a sizable charitable organization, you might consider asking a colleague/supervisor in this organization to write on your behalf. Note: This is not very common and most applicants use professional references.
6. Use additional influential / alumni letters in some cases: While I said title should not be the main factor in selecting your recommenders, some candidates might be lucky enough to have a close relationship – even a personal one – with someone who has strong ties to the school of their dreams. In this case (and you never know what connections you might actually have until you inquire), it is worth taking the time consider them as an additional recommender. Again, this is a case by case basis and I am happy to advise clients on this specific situation. This would not be a standard letter, but rather a separate email or form submitted to the school as more of a character reference.
Regardless of who you choose, make sure you prepare them adequately! I always tell my clients to prepare a packet for their recommenders to remind them of your accomplishments, the reasons you are pursuing an MBA, and a theme for the recommendation. Ideally each letter focuses on something slightly different about your candidacy so the school sees a complete picture after reading all of them. For more on this, check out our blog: Preparing Your Recommenders.
Remember, early notice is key. Don’t wait too long to make these requests.
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