A dear friend of mine is in the process of applying to business school, and she asked me to write one of her letters of recommendation. I was so excited that she wanted to embark on the business school journey, but also eager to share with her the nuggets of wisdom I learned about the application process. Here’s my two cents about your letters of recommendation…
The Entire Package
The main emphasis of your admissions packet should be conciseness, passion, sincerity and your application should convey why you’re good match. Ultimately, you should be a leader of some sort (Career Leader is a great tool that will help you self-assess). This requires a lot of pre-work for you, the applicant. Understanding why you want an MBA, what you plan to do with it, why now, and why this school are harder to answer than the toughest GMAT question. After reading your application, an admission’s officer should have a good sense of who you are, or at least, who you want them to perceive you to be. In order to do so, you must be aware of some things about yourself like your leadership style, your abilities, both weaknesses and strengths, your interests, values and motivations, passions, goals, and have evidence of your potential to achieve these goals. Also, knowing your “interpersonal effectiveness,” or how you get along or don’t get along with others is extremely important.
Tone of the Letter
The first step is to determine what your applicant profile looks like. If you had to sum up your story in three words, what would they be? Another way of saying this is, if you were a brand, how would people describe you? For example, Gatorade is athletic nutrition for dominance. Gatorade is more than just red electrolytes that hydrate, and the words “athletic nutrition” convey that its a fuel for more than winning. For me, I am an action-oriented leader who loves influencing through media. You want your recommender to use specific examples that embody the essence of your brand.
Selecting the Right People
This is the easy part. You absolutely must select people from your professional world. Ideally, your current manager is your first pick. If you have a another dotted line manager that can speak to your leadership characteristics, they should be number two. Finally, if you have demonstrated significant leadership skills outside of work, such as a leading a local community organization, that may be included as well, but getting professional recommenders is a must. You need people who can speak to who you are at work and how you get along in that environment.
Here is where your writers convey the three words your entire application exudes. You can select a topic for each recommender to focus on, based on your relationship. For example, if you have a weakness you know your manager can communicated that you’ve overcome, ask them to focus in that area. Ultimately, your letters should speak to your demonstrated leadership, leadership potential, your relationships with peers and management, your mistakes (hopefully infrequent) and how you’ve learned from them, your sense of self-awareness and your motivation to improve your skills. All of these responses should also connect why you want an MBA.
At your first meeting with your recommender, share what’s important to you. Express your interest in business school, explain your goals, why you want to go, and why now is the best time to go. Finally, ask them if they are comfortable writing a strong, uber-cheerleading, fiercely positive letter of recommendation. If they can’t do this, pass on them.
At meeting number two, give them the school questions and the timeline you’re working within. Provide your resume and a recap of your projects and results at work you want them to reference. Include an overview of the stuff you do outside of work. Most importantly, communicate the points you want expounded. This should include a focus on your “soft skills” or people skills. You really want your personality to come through the letter.
At meeting three, follow up on any questions your recommender may have now that they’ve seen the questions they need to answer. Review the letter if possible before they submit it. Finally, write a hand written thank you.