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MBA Admissions Edge step 7: How to effectively mobilise your MBA recommenders 

Caroline Diarte Edwards of Fortuna Admissions - September 12, 2017

How to effectively mobilise your MBA recommenders 

If your application essays (discussed in step 5 of this series) are about memorably conveying your achievements and ambitions, recommendation letters offer valuable insight into how you’re perceived by others. The champions you choose, and the enthusiasm, thoroughness and strength of their testimony, are essential components of your profile.

Most MBA programmess require two references, and you must be clear about each school’s expectations.

So who should you ask? 

The most vital ingredient is relationship – make sure that your recommender knows you well and is prepared to take the time to write a supportive and thorough letter on your behalf. Admissions committees want objective, candid insights that bring your credentials to life. They look to recommenders because they should possess specific knowledge and insight about you that few other will have – not just what you’ve done but how you’ve done it in terms of your impact on other people and your organisation. This means detailing your performance with specific examples rather than platitudes. Admissions officers are looking for a recommender’s honest reflection backed up by concrete evidence.

You won’t impress business schools with fancy titles or illustrious names if it’s clear that you haven’t worked closely with your recommender. If they can’t speak to your abilities and potential, as well as areas for growth, with any depth, they aren’t the right person for the task.

Similarly, don’t pursue colleagues who are alumni of your target program if they haven’t had meaningful professional interaction with you. While they may be well-poised to cite the qualities required of a successful student at their schools, their lack of specific knowledge about you will be obvious.

The best letters, therefore, are from a current or recent supervisor. If you think this will jeopardise your job reality, and you would prefer to ask someone else – for example, a client – consider mentioning this in your optional essay. Admissions officers understand such situations, but would rather know why you made this decision rather than having to read the tea leaves.

Ideally, your recommender is both senior and can credibly provide first-hand accounts of your excellence. But don’t make the mistake of assuming they’ll know what they’re doing. I’ve seen too many great applicants let down by lacklustre recommendations, probably unintentionally, because the person didn't know what was expected.

As former admissions directors and business school insiders, my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions and I have distilled our best advice below. 

This is how you can effectively mobilise your recommenders for your best shot:

1. Prepare your recommenders and supply them with details. Take time to meet with them to share your aspirations and motivation for your MBA, and help them understand why you are targeting particular programmes. Provide each recommender with a short briefing document on how you’re positioning your candidacy and what attributes you’re aiming to convey. Don’t assume that just because you report to someone, they’ll remember every time you did a great job. It’s your responsibility to strategically to jog their memory about your contribution to a particular project and the impact on client satisfaction, or ways you’ve demonstrated leadership.

2. Give your recommenders ample time. Ideally, give them six to eight weeks of lead time, checking in regularly after three weeks, and then again seven days before the due date. Requesting a letter two weeks before your deadline can make it very stressful for both of you. The responsibility is on you to manage recommendations from beginning to end.

3. Don’t reach too far back for a good recommender. A good rule of thumb is to include someone with whom you’ve worked in the past two years. Going too far back in time to find someone to be your champion will raise questions.

4. Remember to follow up and to thank them for their support. Keep them up to date on your progress – if you secured an interview, visited campus, or received your final response – no matter what the outcome. Especially if you didn’t get the results you’d hoped for and set your sights on reapplying, you’ll want to assure your recommenders their efforts were sincerely appreciated. In this digital age, a handwritten thank you note is a thoughtful touch.

The Fortuna Admissions team are former admissions gatekeepers from top-tier institutions including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School and Johnson Cornell.

This is the seventh in a 12-part series for Prodigy Finance by Fortuna Admissions on how to boost your chances of getting into a top business school (see below). Stay tuned for more.

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