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How To Get A Great MBA Letter of Recommendation—4 Tips From Our Experts

Find out how to get the MBA recommendation letter to seal your application

Mon Jun 17 2019

Recommendation letters are an essential part of a strong MBA application. They can tip the scales in your favor or sink an application.

You should take an active role in briefing your recommenders and, if necessary, in explaining what is expected from them. You should also make sure that they have all the information they need to show your strengths in the best light.

Here’s four tips to getting a great MBA letter of recommendation:

This article includes insights from Sameer Kamat at MBA Crystal Ball, Stacy Blackman from Stacy Blackman Consulting, and Linda Abraham from Accepted.

1. Brief your recommender and keep some time for discussions

While you should never over-coach recommenders or write your own reference letters, you do need to take a proactive approach.

Stacy Blackman from Stacy Blackman Consulting recommends that you sit down with each recommender to let them know that a stellar reference letter is integral to your MBA admit chances.

You should  highlight the key attributes that the recommender should try to address. Think about the characteristics you’d like them to highlight and ensure they know that they should include concrete examples that illustrate each one.

The recommender may not remember every detail...

applicant’s accomplishments, especially if the recommender is from a previous company, or oversees a big team.

According to Linda Abraham, founder of Accepted, you should provide recommenders with:

- A one-page summary of your achievements while working with or for the recommender as well as a brief roundup of school values.

- Your resume

- A brief, one-paragraph statement of your MBA goals

READ MORE: How Do You Write A Winning MBA Application?


Don't look at the reference letters in isolation

Reference letters need to align with the narrative you are putting forward about yourself in your application.

It’s important to understand the relevance and function of reference letters. Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball, says recommendations should not be looked at in isolation.

“Instead of looking at the resume, essays and reference letters as standalone components, thinking of them as pieces of a bigger jigsaw puzzle can help. This would help the applicant plan the entire application in advance, instead of assuming that a sharp and coherent picture will appear magically at the end.”

Reference letters are good opportunities to identify and address gaps elsewhere in your application.

Linda agrees. “Positive comments in a recommendation about an applicant’s abilities where the reader could have concern are beneficial.

“Let’s say someone has a low verbal score, but really is an effective communicator and speaks English fluently. Their recommender can relate how their outstanding written and oral presentation contributed to their team closing a really big deal.” 

READ MORE: What Should You Include On Your MBA Resume?


3. Go beyond platitudes

A bland reference letter full of generalizations and platitudes will not work in your favor.

“Examples and specifics that show the admissions committee the qualities schools are seeking and answer the questions posed make for a great recommendation. Wonderful declarative statements are empty and not persuasive unless backed up with anecdotes and a few impactful details,” says Linda.

According to Stacy, “Sharing details of how you contributed to projects or giving specific examples of how you interact with others or went above and beyond (including funny anecdotes or quips that give insight into your personality)—these are the things that make for a great recommendation letter.”

4. Stand out

The ultimate goals of a reference letter are to paint you as an amazing candidate and to illustrate your character and ability.

Sameer warns that recommenders may incorrectly assume that an MBA reference letter looks and work similar to a recommendation letter for another job.

“Many recommenders, especially those who aren’t familiar with the MBA application process, think that if they simply sing your praises and repeat how great you are in various different ways, that will be enough,” says Stacy. “Unfortunately, it’s not.

“The best way for your recommenders to help you stand out from thousands of other highly qualified applicants is by painting a clear picture of who you are both professionally and personally. Standing out is especially important for traditional applicants from finance and consulting.”

A good reference letter should show how you are above and beyond your peers. Getting recommendation letters from people with fancy titles are not preferable over getting letters from people who really know you.

The most important characteristics of a good recommender, are their knowledge of your strengths, and their strong support for your application.

Check Out Our Updated MBA Rankings Tables


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