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Letters of recommendation

Almost all MBA programme applications require two to three letters of recommendation from third parties capable of commenting on your qualifications for business school. Why? Letters of recommendation serve an essential purpose in the application process by adding the perspective of others. They are meant to supplement everything you set forth in your own essays and personal interview.

The very best recommendations support and reinforce the rest of your application by providing specific details about your work experience and professional success. They can even push borderline candidates into the admit pile. The very worst provide negative information that cast doubt on the picture you've worked so hard to create. Even mediocre recommendations are potentially harmful by failing to add that extra oomph to an otherwise strong application.

Here are a few tips for you to ensure you get great letters of recommendation.

Tip #1: Present yourself truthfully throughout your application
Recommendations should not contradict or call into question anything you have written about yourself elsewhere in your application. Make sure you represent your accomplishments accurately. Tooting your own horn is fine, but exaggerating your achievements can get you into trouble.

Tip #2: Choose your recommenders wisely
The best recommendations will be written by people who know you well in a professional capacity, sincerely like you, and can discuss those same points you have already iterated in your own essays and statement of purpose. Just as you highlight your career advancement to date, maturity, professional and interpersonal skills, and leadership qualities or potential, so should your recommenders. If you don't have many people who fit the bill, start cultivating relationships with those who do.

Unlike other graduate programmes, MBA admissions committees prefer professional recommendations to academic recommendations. If a school requires two letters of recommendations, try to get both from professional sources. If three letters are required, it is usually permissible for one to be from an academic source. At least one should be from your current immediate supervisor. If this is impossible (for example, your current supervisor is in the dark about your business school plans), a former supervisor is an appropriate substitute. Other alternatives, in decreasing order of desirability are: an indirect supervisor or manager, current colleague, or former colleague. Whomever you chose, make sure they have worked closely with you and are able to comment in detail about your qualifications.

Tip #3: Provide your recommenders with background information
People are busy. People like direction. Give it to them. While we do not advise writing your own recommendations for others to sign, we do advise providing your recommenders with the background information they need to write compelling letters of recommendations. Here are some items most recommenders will find it helpful to have:

  • Your resume / curriculum vitae: Give them the same one you plan to submit with your application.
  • Your statement of purpose: In order for your letters of recommendation to do their job, the people writing them need to know how you are presenting yourself in your application. Your statement of purpose will inform your recommenders what you have chosen to stress about yourself. If you haven't completed your statement of purpose, provide them with a rough outline of what you plan to say.
  • Talking points: If you feel that a particular individual is able to comment on a specific project you managed or assignment you worked on, let them know. Think of these as examples they can use to present your analytical ability, quantitative skills, maturity, leadership, etc.
  • A list of schools: Tell them what schools you are applying to and why you chose those particular schools.
  • A list of deadlines: Ask for recommendations well in advance of deadlines. If you do need a recommendation in hurry, try to ask in person and explain the time constraint.

Tip #4: Send a thank you note
Writing letters of recommendation is a favour. Sending a thank you note two weeks before the deadline will relate politeness, gratitude and respect. In addition, the note will be a gentle reminder that the letter should have been sent already.

Following these basic tips should ease the stress of asking for, and receiving, the letters of recommendation that will augment your application.

Source: The Princeton Review, www.princetonreview.com

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