Mom: Your biggest fan, but not the right choice for a letter of recommendation to business school.

By: Dana

We have discussed the importance of the campus visit, how to make a good first impression, and tips for a successful business school essay.  What’s left?  For many people, the most challenging piece of the application puzzle is securing a positive letter of recommendation.  Not because you aren’t brilliant, or because nobody wants to write one for you, but rather because you don’t know who to ask, when to ask them, or even how to approach asking in the first place.

What is important to remember about the letter of recommendation is that it is the one component of your application that you are leaving in the hands of someone else.  You earned the degree and grades on your transcript, you studied for months to achieve that score on the GMAT, you spent hours writing your essay, and you traveled all over the map to visit schools and meet with admissions representatives.  Now you are left to the opinions of another in completing a work of art that you have, to date, been meticulously crafting, perhaps even at the expense of spending time with your friends and family.  So before you begin frantically hitting the send button in your email, mass mailing requests for a letter of recommendation from everyone in your contact list (although I am sure your mother could write pages about how wonderful you are), here are a few things worth considering to ensure that the recommendation you submit is a complimentary and professional supplement to your already well-crafted business school application.

1.)    Plan ahead.  Begin thinking about the people in your life who could say positive things about you relevant to the world of business.  Asking a best friend seems like a good idea at first, but aside from the fact that this person likely cannot speak to your professionalism in the work place or how you have performed as an employee, and are typically the harshest of critics because they know you so well…almost too well.  Rather, you want to ask someone who can objectively speak to your success in the business setting; someone who always sees you putting your most professional foot forward.  Someone who will give an accurate, honest, and positive overall account of your work ethic and value you add to the company, and even in noting your areas for improvement, can discuss your progress and willingness to work on your shortcomings.  To accomplish this, most business schools will suggest asking your supervisor to serve as a recommender.  In the event that your current supervisor is unaware of your plans to leave for business school (or you are hesitating to mention it because you are afraid it will hurt your chances at that promotion you are up for), asking a former supervisor or a client is a perfect alternative strategy that can position you for success in achieving the same end result.  While we are on the topic, and in keeping with the theme of planning ahead, it is also worth mentioning that when leaving any position during the course of your career, it is best to part on good terms.  Don’t burn bridges.  Keeping in touch with supervisors from previous jobs is not only a wise networking move, but also one you might be thankful  for later in life should you find yourself considering masters or even doctorate level study, and wondering who to ask for a letter of recommendation!

2.)    Once you have determined who to ask, invite that person out for coffee or lunch.  Spend some time with him/her discussing your plans for the future.  Explain why business school is a logical next step for you, and inform your recommender of your goals for the future.  Give this person every reason to believe that investing a recommendation in you is worthwhile because you have given this a lot of thought and will be successful in your plans.  Bring a copy of your most up to date resume, displaying the progression you have experienced in your career thus far, and mentioning how a business degree will assist you in meeting your future objectives.  At the end of your conversation, ask this person if he/she would be willing to write you a positive letter of recommendation.

3.)    If your recommender agrees to write you a letter at the conclusion of this meeting, be sure to provide him/her with a copy of your resume, as well as any additional forms that he/she will need to complete the letter on time.  Discuss with him/her a reasonable time frame in completing the letter of recommendation.  While you are certainly being cognizant of your own deadlines, you must also be aware of the deadlines and workload your recommender may be experiencing as well.  The more time you allow your recommender to complete the letter, the better off you will be.  Rushing a quick turnaround doesn’t leave your recommender with a good impression of your time management or planning abilities.

4.)    Last, but certainly not least, thank your recommender!  The things that he/she says about you in that letter could be the deciding factor on whether or not you are admitted to your dream school!  Also, let him/her know how things pan out for you- where you end up going to pursue your studies, what your next steps will be in your career.  Maintain communication with your recommender beyond that coffee or lunch meeting.  You never know when you might need to call on this person again in the future, or perhaps where you might bump into them as you progress along your career path.

Good Luck!

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