Letter of Recommendation (LoR) Tips for MBA Admissions

By Arvind Kumar

Getting admitted into a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program is a competitive and transformative endeavor. Among the various components of a strong application, letters of recommendation hold a special place in shaping an applicant’s profile. These letters provide insights into an applicant’s character, capabilities, and potential as a future business leader. 

In this article, we will delve into the importance of letters of recommendation in MBA admissions, the process of selecting a recommender, strategies to assist your recommender, timing considerations, and essential tips as well as pitfalls to avoid in the pursuit of securing impactful recommendation letters.

The Significance of Recommendation Letters in MBA Admissions

Recommendation letters (LoRs) play a crucial role in MBA admissions by offering a third-party perspective on an applicant’s capabilities and accomplishments. They provide the admissions committee with insights that go beyond the applicant’s own self-presentation in essays and interviews. These letters give credibility to an applicant’s claims, as they come from individuals who have observed the candidate in various contexts and can attest to their skills, leadership qualities, teamwork, and overall fit for the program.

Choosing the Right Recommender for MBA Application

Selecting the right recommender is a critical step in the process. Ideal recommenders are individuals who know you well and can speak authoritatively about your professional achievements and personal qualities.

Ideally, your recommender should be your current direct supervisor or manager who has observed your work closely and can provide specific examples of your achievements and contributions. However, if you are not planning to divulge your intent of doing an MBA to your manager then you could choose someone else. This could be a former direct supervisor, a client,  a mentor, or a senior colleague, depending on who can provide the most compelling and relevant information about you.

When choosing a recommender, consider the following factors:

  1. Relevance: The recommender should be able to speak to your qualifications, leadership abilities, and character in relation to the MBA program.
  2. Authority: Opt for someone with credibility and authority in your field who can vouch for your achievements.
  3. Specificity: The recommender should be able to provide specific examples and anecdotes that illustrate your strengths and contributions.
  4. Longevity: Ideally, the recommender should have known you for a significant period and worked with you closely to accurately evaluate your abilities and growth.

Guiding Your Recommender

To ensure that your recommender produces a compelling and effective letter, it is essential to guide them adequately. 

Here are a few strategies to help your recommender craft a stellar letter of recommendation:

  1. Provide Information: Initiate an honest conversation with your recommenders about your MBA goals, and your reasons for pursuing an MBA. Share your resume, a summary of your career achievements, and your aspirations with the recommender. This will help them better understand your background and goals, enabling them to tailor their recommendation accordingly.
  2. Discuss Your Accomplishments: Have a conversation with your recommender about your most significant accomplishments, experiences, and skills. This will allow them to highlight specific examples that showcase your potential as an MBA candidate.
  3. Share Your Story: Communicate the narrative you want the recommender to convey. This can help them align their perspective with your intended image in the admissions process.
  4. Highlight Your Traits and Skills: Emphasize the key traits and skills that are relevant to the MBA program. This will guide your recommender in addressing the specific qualities that the admissions committee seeks.
  5. Mention the Deadlines: Clearly communicate the deadlines for submission and any necessary guidelines.
  6. Be Respectful of Their Time: Give your recommender ample time to write the letter. Avoid last-minute requests that may lead to rushed or subpar recommendations.

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When should you approach a potential recommender?

Approaching potential recommenders for MBA admissions is a crucial step in the application process. Timing is essential to ensure your recommenders have enough time to write thoughtful and compelling letters. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when approaching a potential recommender:

  1. Plan Several Months in Advance: Ideally, you should start thinking about potential recommenders and approach them several months before the application deadlines. Most MBA programs have deadlines in the fall between September and January, so consider approaching recommenders in the spring or early summer, at least six months before the first application deadline.
  2. Communicate Early: Reach out to your potential recommenders as soon as you have a clear understanding of your goals and the MBA programs/ B-schools you plan to apply to. This early communication allows you to gauge their willingness and availability.
  3. Consider the Recommenders’ schedules: Be mindful of your recommenders’ schedules and commitments. If they are in roles that have busy periods (e.g., accountants during tax season, retail managers during holidays), try to approach them well before these periods or after they’ve concluded. This ensures they can dedicate time to your recommendation without feeling overwhelmed. Provide your recommenders with a reasonable timeframe to write the letter. A minimum of four to six weeks is recommended.
  4. Follow Up: After your initial conversation, periodically follow up with your recommenders to check on the progress of the letter. Send reminders as the submission deadline approaches to ensure they don’t forget.
  5. Have a Plan B: If a recommender cannot meet your requested timeline or has reservations about providing a strong recommendation, it’s better to find an alternative recommender who can meet your needs. It’s also wise to have a Plan B to avoid last-minute stress, in case one of your recommenders unexpectedly becomes unavailable or fails to meet the deadline. 

Obtaining effective letters of recommendation for MBA admissions requires careful planning, clear communication, and a collaborative approach with your recommenders. By avoiding common mistakes and following these tips, you can significantly enhance the quality and impact of your recommendation letters, thus strengthening your MBA application.

Tips for Getting Effective MBA Letters of Recommendation (LoRs)

Know What Makes an LOR Impactful

To make sure you have a strong letter of recommendation, you should first know what makes a LoR impactful and compelling. This way you would be able to guide your recommender to get the best possible outcome.

Here’s what sets a strong recommendation letter apart:

  • Has Specific Examples: A strong recommendation letter provides concrete examples that illustrate the applicant’s skills, accomplishments, and character traits. These examples give depth and authenticity to the endorsement.
  • Is Relevant to the MBA program: The letter should directly relate the applicant’s qualities to the skills and attributes valued in an MBA program. It should demonstrate how the applicant’s experiences align with the demands of business school.
  • Provides Personal Insights: The recommender’s personal insights and observations about the applicant can add a unique perspective that goes beyond what’s stated on the resume. These insights can shed light on the applicant’s character, leadership potential, and contributions.
  • Is Consistent with the Application: The letter should harmonize with the applicant’s personal essays and other application components. Discrepancies can raise doubts about authenticity.
  • Is Honest and Balanced: A good letter doesn’t shy away from constructive criticism. It presents a balanced view, acknowledging areas for growth while highlighting strengths.

Now that you are ready to guide your recommender, here are a few tips that will help you get the best possible Letter of Recommendation (LoR) for the MBA application:

Make Your Recommender’s Job Easy

Make sure you assist your recommender as much as possible. People keep juggling a lot, and giving them some direction can really help.

Here’s what they usually find helpful:

  • Share Your Resume: Just pass them the same one you’re planning to submit with your application.
  • Fill Them in on Your Goals: Let your recommenders know how you’re portraying yourself in your application. If you haven’t nailed down your essays, at least give them an outline.
  • Point Out the Highlights: If you want them to focus on a specific project you handled or a task you aced, give them a heads up. Remind them about those moments that really showcase your skills.
  • Name Your Schools: Tell them where you’re applying and what drew you to those schools.
  • Mind the Timelines: Make sure you ask for recommendations well before the deadlines. If it’s a last-minute thing, have a chat and explain the time crunch.
  • Walk Them Through the Logistics: Don’t forget to let them know how they should submit the recommendation letter when it’s ready—whether through the school’s online system or e-mail. If the schools want a physical letter, share the envelopes and stamps. Any help you can give them will be a big relief.

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Mistakes to Avoid When Seeking MBA Letters of Recommendation

Here are a few mistakes you should avoid while fetching MBA letters of recommendation:

Last-Minute Requests

Avoid approaching your recommenders at the last minute. Rushed letters tend to lack depth and may not adequately highlight your strengths.

Generic Recommendations

Discourage your recommenders from writing generic letters that could apply to any candidate. The letter should be personalized and specific to you.

Not Assisting the Recommender

Don’t assume your recommenders know everything about your achievements and experiences. Help them by providing relevant information and context.

Micromanaging the Process

While offering guidance is helpful, avoid over editing or scripting the entire letter. The recommender’s authentic voice should come through.

Ignoring Guidelines

Ensure your recommenders adhere to any guidelines provided by the MBA program. Failing to follow instructions could reflect poorly on your application.

Choosing Based on Title Alone

Avoid selecting a recommender solely because of their impressive title or seniority. Choose individuals who can provide specific insights into your abilities and accomplishments.

Not Diversifying Recommenders

Relying solely on one type of recommender (e.g., supervisors) might limit the breadth of perspectives in your application. Aim for a mix of professional and personal recommenders, if possible.

Assuming a Positive Recommendation

Never assume someone will provide a positive recommendation without discussing it with them first. Always have an open and candid conversation about your intentions.

What is the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation form?

GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council) Common Letter of Recommendation (LOR) form is a standardized recommendation form that is accepted by several business schools for MBA admissions. It was introduced to simplify the recommendation process for MBA applicants and to provide a common format for recommenders to use when writing letters of recommendation.

What are the components of the common LoR?

The Common LOR form has three sections:

Section 1: Personal information about the letter writer. This is where the recommender identifies themselves and their relationship to you.

Section 2: Leadership assessment grid of candidate. This section is divided into five categories, each identified for the way they help assess the candidate against 16 traits and competencies—like influence, achievement, and cognitive abilities.

Section 3: Letter of recommendation questions. This essay-style section provides three prompts that must be answered in 500 words or less.

Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (Recommended word count: 50 words).

How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (e.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (Recommended word count: 500 words).

Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Recommended word count: 500 words).

Here is the GMAC LoR Template

Final Thoughts

In the competitive landscape of MBA admissions, the power of a well-crafted letter of recommendation cannot be overstated. These letters provide admissions committees with valuable insights into your character, capabilities, and potential as a future business leader. By carefully choosing the right recommenders, assisting them effectively, and avoiding common pitfalls, you can secure compelling letters that elevate your application above the rest. Remember, these recommendations are more than mere endorsements; they are windows into your promise as a strong MBA candidate.

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