|Who are you asking to write your b-school recommendations?|
Choosing writers of recommendations wasn’t originally planned as part of my “How to” posts on getting into business school; however, after several recent conversations I see it’s a topic that cannot be ignored. Asking people to write your recommendations can be tricky because on one hand you want someone with the most influence to help you reach your goal to vouch for you, but on the other hand, you want to make sure the person writing your recommendation can truly speak to why you deserve this highly coveted spot if there are any follow-up questions.
One can navigate this dilemma by following a few best practices for selecting recommendation writers.
Choose People That Know You Well
Business schools aren’t necessarily looking to have every candidate – they are looking for people with leadership potential and a character that is going to help build upon that particular institution’s culture and core values. For example, when I applied to Kellogg, I had asked three people to write recommendations for me: supervisor (required), former supervisor, and a teammate that I helped to train when she joined the firm. A big part of Kellogg’s culture is being collaborative, and I knew these particular individuals could genuinely speak to what I’d bring to the table in this area better than anyone else. Yes, I could have asked my boss’ boss’ boss to write one of my recommendations, and I’m sure he would’ve written a strong recommendation, but I didn’t want to risk it coming across as generic.
One way to prevent this generic recommendation problem is for you to draft the content for the writer, or at least a set of bullet points you’d like them to cover in their letter. The problem with this approach is that some people might view this as pushy and/or arrogant. So, if you don’t know the person you’re asking that well you can ask if they are comfortable with you preparing the messaging you’d like to see, but this adds another unnecessary layer of complexity, and potentially awkward conversation, to the process. I’m not suggesting that you should be afraid to have tough conversations when necessary; I’m just saying I wouldn’t go creating them for fun.
Get Recommendations From a Variety of Sources
Having recommendations from a variety of people/organizations gives you more credibility than if you just have your friends from your current job pleading your case for b-school admission. This is how you can show a track record of building long-lasting relationships and the fact that the people you in. Think about how many people leave positions on less than stellar terms
The earlier you ask for recommendations, the more likely it is people will agree to do it for you and the more time they have to craft a detailed, well thought-out message of why you’re going to be the next big thing. If you wait too long to ask for recommendations there are several ways for your business school hopes to end badly:
1. Person says no because you didn’t give enough notice
2. Person says yes but writes you a mediocre recommendation due to time pressure because you didn’t give enough notice
3. Person says yes but actually doesn’t have the time and misses the deadline because you didn’t give enough notice
Get the idea?
Show Your Appreciation
There are few things worse in this world than someone you to go out of your way to help them and then acting like he or she was entitled to your time. If you make this a habit, your circle of people that will go to bat for you undoubtedly being to disappear. Luckily, we human beings are a simple bunch and this probably is easily avoided. You can handwrite a thank you note, stop by individually to thank each of your writers, or give a small giftcard to their favorite local coffee shop or lunch spot. It doesn’t have to be anything over the top but shows that you valued their time. Make this a habit and the likelihood of these people supporting you again in the future is much improved.