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The Recommendation Letter Hustle

The recommendation letter is a critical component of the MBA application. The reason for its importance is that it’s the one part of the application where a third party is backing the candidate through commenting on their capability, character, and potential. Since the information is coming from a person who has worked closely with the candidate, the recommendation letter provides objectivity as well as gravitas to the application.

While completion of the other components of an MBA application is under the control of the candidate, the recommendation letter is the one thing that requires coordinating with another individual to ensure its successful completion and delivery. Although this may seem to be a relatively easy task, there is the part about identifying the recommender first. That’s why an early start is highly recommended to prevent last minute problems.

The first step towards getting a great recommendation letter is to identify the right individual. This is crucial since you will be entrusting this person with the duty of answering questions about you and providing relevant examples to back their observations. Hence, logically speaking, your recommender should be someone who you have worked with closely. The ideal choice is your direct supervisor, past or present. But what if that’s not possible?

There may be times when an MBA applicant cannot approach their direct supervisor because they don’t want to disclose their MBA plans or they may just not have a great relationship with them. Applicants also need to keep in mind that most business schools require at least two recommendation letters. Hence, even if their direct supervisor agrees, they still need to find more recommenders. So what can they do in such situations?

Apart from supervisors, past or present, MBA applicants can also consider colleagues in other departments or even vendors or clients. The last two are especially useful for entrepreneurs. After that come supervisors from your internship or volunteering days and then university professors. In any case, it’s not a good idea to get prominent individuals such as businessmen or celebrities to be your recommenders unless they have closely worked with you.

Once the identification phase is completed, it’s time to approach the recommenders. It’s also a good idea to have backups ready in case any of your top choices decline. This is also another reason why the process needs to be started early. The recommenders then need to be appraised about how the process works and what is expected of them. It’s also a good idea to familiarize them with your application, including sharing your MBA resume, and your plans.

It’s advisable to get your recommenders on board at least eight weeks before your application deadlines. This is because you have to work on the other components of the applications as well. Furthermore, it’s also important to stay in touch with them and keep them updated, especially as you prepare to submit your applications. Finally, you have to ensure that the recommendation letters have all been completed and sent out well before the deadlines.


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