Debunking Common MBA Admissions Myths (Part 3)

MBA Admissions Myth #4: I should get my recommendations from people in my company who have impressive job titles.

Your recommenders job title will not help you get accepted to any B-school. AdCom wants recommendations from people who really know you so it is important to choose your recommenders very carefully. A good recommendation can really help your application. On the flip side, a lukewarm or poor recommendation can drastically weaken your application.

Make sure that you sit down with whoever is writing your recommendations and share about why you’ve decided to apply to b-school. You should also give them a draft of your personal statement (the Why do you want an MBA from XXX school right now? essay) so that they can reference it as they work on your recommendation(s). Don’t forget to get them a nice gift after they’ve submitted all of your recommendations!

So how do you pick two people to write your recommendations? Here are my thoughts on some of the most common questions:

1. Do I need a recommendation from my current supervisor?
AdCom definitely prefers a rec from your current boss, but you can definitely get in without one (I did!). There may be several reasons why you cannot get a letter from your current supervisor:

1) Asking for a recommendation would paint you as disloyal and possibly jeopardize your job;
2) You would still like to be considered for possible promotions just in case you don’t get in to b-school;
3) You do not think your boss will write you a good letter of recommendation;
4) You have recently changed supervisors.

What AdCom does want is a current recommendation from a supervisor. If you end up not asking your current supervisor to write a recommendation, you should probably briefly explain why in the Additional Information section at the end of the application.

2. Can I get a peer to write a recommendation?

The short answer to this is “No.” While peers may know you better on a personal level, recommendations from supervisors are definitely preferred by the schools. Make sure you pick someone who has worked closely with you. You want your recommendation to say more than “John Doe is a hard worker and a team player.” That statement is very generic and doesn’t really tell AdCom anything about you. Select a recommender who was/is your supervisor in some capacity who knows you well enough that they can write more specifically about things you’ve done for the company.

3. I’ve worked for more than one company since I finished my undergraduate degree. Should I get both recommendations from people at my current company or ask someone at my previous job to write one of the recommendations?

You’re the only person who knows your work experience at these various companies well enough to make an informed decision. When I was debating this issue, the main deciding factor was thinking about what different prospective recommenders would say. I thought that all of my choices at my current job at the time would say similar things because the work I had done for each of them was essentially the same. I then decided that choosing a supervisor from my previous job was the better choice because the work I had done there was drastically different from the job I was at. You don’t want your recommendations to say the exact same thing so keep that in mind as you’re selecting your recommenders.

4. I asked someone to write a recommendation and they asked me to write it and agreed to sign it. Should I still use this person?

I know that AdCom definitely frowns on applicants writing their own recommendations. It definitely might look suspicious if the writing style is remarkably similar to the essays. My advice would be to ask someone else if the person you asked does not have the time to devote to writing you a good recommendation.

5. I haven’t spoken to my previous supervisor in a while. Can I still ask for a recommendation?

Yes. However, if your supervisor has very little recollection of details about the work you did for him/her, you may want to ask someone who can write a more detailed recommendation.