The importance of recommendations in business school application is beyond most applicants’ idea. At the same time, because applicants do not write recommendation letters by themselves, they do not know what should deal with recommendations. Tuck Business School of Dartmouth provides s some very valuable suggestions (The original article can be found here).
To start with, recommendations are critical because they provide the school reference on your achievement, strengths and even weaknesses. Although they are not and should not be prepared by applicants, a quality recommendation from a suitable source is a big plus in application.
The first common question is “who should I invite to write my recommendation?” B-Schools prefer to see recommendations from your professional career, and the best recommender should be your direct supervisors because they work directly with you and are familiar with your experience, leadership, maturity, teamwork, communication skills. Also they can use examples to support their point of view. Please remember: title does not matter. A generic recommendation from a CEO is definitely not as good as the one from a manager who works closely with you.
Another question applicants often ask is “what if I do not want my direct supervisor know I may be leaving the job?” B-Schools understand this situation. So if you can invite someone else, for example your previous supervisor, a senior you do not directly report to or a client, to recommend you but you have to make a clear explanation using optional essay. If you have brilliant extracurricular activity, you may ask someone there to recommend you.
For those who work in family business, they usually ask whether they can ask their father/uncle to write recommendation letter. The answer is a firm no because no relatives can be perfectly unbiased. In this situation, you can ask your outsourced consultant, a business partner or an executive who is not in the family to recommend you.
Most of B-School applicants, especially MBA applicants, have worked full-time for several years. Therefore, recommendation from your previous professor is generally not valuable, because B-Schools can see your academic achievement from your school report. Neither is recommendation from your friend. A government or NGO leader’s recommendation only values when he/she actually works with you. Remember title means very little.
Answers to some other frequently asked questions:
“I have worked for two employers, should I have to split two recommendations between them?” – Please make a professional judgement. If the first employment is very long ago, a recommendation letter from it would be less valuable. If you have distinct responsibilities or the two recommendations from one of them are likely to be very similar, B-Schools prefer to see one from each.
“What if my director supervisor just landed on his/her job?” – Please find someone else to recommend you and use optional essay to tell B-Schools this situation.
“Will a recommendation from alumnus be more helpful?” – Only if he/she knows you. Again, title means little.
“Will it help if I submit one more recommendation?” – No, unless the third one would make a huge difference.
“What if my recommender cannot write in English?” – Find a third-part translator to help you. You cannot translate it by yourself.
In the end, please remember to thank your recommenders!