In the MBA application process, recommenders play an extremely important role in supporting your candidacy. By pointing to your qualities, achievements, and areas of development, they add more color, breadth, and depth to the picture that you are painting of yourself throughout the application.
So, whom should you choose as your recommenders? Practically every business school requires two recommendation letters, of which one should be from a current, direct supervisor. I also suggest that the second letter be from someone who has managed you in a professional capacity (from your current or a prior employer). In some rare circumstances, it may make sense to ask someone who has supervised you in an extracurricular activity to write the recommendation letter, but this needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. If you are applying to a deferred program, such as at Harvard Business School, Stanford, or Yale, professors, college personnel who have managed you through an extracurricular activity, or supervisors from internships are typically all fair game (but as always, check the requirements of each school).
As you think about which recommenders to choose, here are three things to keep in mind.
Your recommenders should know you well
I often get the question as to whether the title of a recommender matters, and the short answer is no. It is much more important that your recommenders have supervised you in some capacity, have worked directly with you, and can comment on your work and qualities through the interaction they have had with you; in other words, they should know you very well. So, having the CEO of your company or a well known Managing Director write your recommendation letter can actually backfire if they have not directly supervised you.
Your recommenders should believe you are one of the best
Given how competitive the business school admission process is, you should choose recommenders whom you have the confidence will say that you are one of the best they have worked with. Many schools will ask recommenders to rate candidates against their peers in the workplace; needless to say, you want to be ranked highly on that scale. You want the strongest advocates supporting you; don't leave anything up to chance.
Your recommenders should complement one another
Choose recommenders who will complement one another, so that when viewed together, they provide a holistic picture of your qualities. If both of your recommenders focus on all of the exact same qualities, that is a lost opportunity to provide the Admissions Committee with a broader perspective of who you are.
With the right recommenders on your side shedding important light on your candidacy, you will be able to submit your strongest applications.
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Ivy Groupe is a boutique MBA admissions consulting company founded by Shaifali Aggarwal, who received her MBA from Harvard Business School and undergraduate degree from Princeton University. Shaifali’s philosophy focuses on authenticity and storytelling to help clients craft compelling and differentiated applications that stand out. With this approach, Shaifali’s clients have gained admission to top-tier MBA programs such as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogg, MIT, Columbia, Booth, Tuck, and Yale, among others.