Top 3 Tips for Powerful MBA Recommendation Letters
by: Grayson Leverenz
Today I’m going to let you in on a secret. English is not the only language you need to practice as you prepare for an MBA in the USA; you also need to practice the language of US business culture.
American businesspeople are achievement oriented, individualistic, direct communicators. Understanding this will help you succeed in crafting effective applications. Importantly, it will also help you add powerful recommendations to your application puzzle.
International applicants occasionally run into problems securing US-style recommendations. Sometimes people don’t have the time to write compelling recommendations. Other times, recommenders don’t fully understand the process. And still other times they believe they are doing you a favor by allowing you to write your own recommendations.
Here are my top 3 tips to address these issues, and get the powerful recommendations you need.
1. Choose recommenders wisely.
US admissions officers value recommendations from people that know you well above recommendations from anyone else; this includes high ranking executives in your company that you have not worked with closely. Admissions officers want to understand your strengths, weaknesses and potential as a leader.
Choose recommenders that know the skills and attributes you want to highlight in your application to help you remain true to your positioning.
2. Give them the tools they need.
Either email each person, or schedule ½ hour to walk them through the process and ask if they would be willing to contribute a recommendation. Begin with a thank you for considering the role of recommender. Then, explain that recommendations are highly valued components of the application consisting of two parts: multiple tiered evaluation questions (e.g top 10% of peers) and several essays. Tell them to expect to dedicate 3-5 hours on the recommendation for the first school, and 1-3 hours on each additional school.
If they do not have the time to dedicate, be very understanding; it is a big commitment. Thank them for their consideration, and move on to the next person on your list. If the person indicates they do not have the time, but would be happy to sign off on a recommendation you write, politely explain that US Admissions Committees discourage this approach. They really want to learn about candidates from the recommender’s perspective. This can be an uncomfortable situation, but is actually a great segue to prepare the recommender with a brief overview of expectations from a US cultural perspective.
Cover the direct communication preference by explaining that the Admissions Committee is looking for specifics on strengths and areas to develop. Focus on the achievement orientation by asking them to highlight measurable success. Speak to the individualistic orientation by asking them to highlight your accomplishments rather than those of your entire group.
Give your recommenders your positioning statements as overarching themes for their contribution, and provide them with your current resume to help highlight achievements.
3. Be available for help as needed.
Ask if the recommender has any immediate questions. If not, assure them you are available if they need help with any part of the process. Assist in meeting deadlines with friendly reminders via email or phone.
Update the recommender as the application process unfolds. If they contributed a recommendation, they are invested in your career development, and will be excited to know which program you choose to attend!