Personal MBA Coach’s Guide to Selecting and Preparing your Recommenders

Posted by Erin Wand, Personal MBA Coach on 19 November 2018 / 0 Comments

With the holiday season fast approaching, if you are targeting a January 2019 application submission and have not yet finalized your LOR strategy, NOW is the time! Personal MBA Coach is here to help you both select the ideal recommenders and prepare them properly!

Part 1: Selecting Your Recommenders

It can be tempting to select the person with the most prestigious resume or the person easiest to discuss your business school plans with. I encourage you not to take this approach and instead follow these guiding principles:

  • Do not just look for impressive titles

 This is not to say that impressive titles are a bad thing, but this should not be your primary criteria. Admissions committee members will see right through a strategy to have the CEO of your company, with whom you have had one meeting, write a letter for you. Not only will they not be able to cover off on the most important aspects of your candidacy, your letter will not appear credible if it is clear you do not have a strong relationship.

  • Look for someone who will take the time to write a great letter

This addresses two very important criteria. It is best to select someone who is not only a good writer, but who will take the necessary time to write a great letter. Not everyone is great at writing and similarly, not everyone realistically has time to draft a carefully thought out letter. The quality of the writing is key in demonstrating your candidacy.

  • Select someone who knows you well

This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can provide. It is crucial that your recommender be familiar with your work, your character, your strengths, your weaknesses and your career aspirations. The best letters show intimate familiarity with the candidate. The recommender should also be familiar with your peers and be able to talk about how you compare. The use of specific examples is important and the better the recommender knows you, the easier and more genuine these will be. 

  • Ask non-professional references if you have strong extra-curriculars and/or weak recommendation options at work

 While the general advice is to select professional supervisors to write your letters of recommendation, there are some exceptions to this rule. If you have taken a sizeable role in an activity outside of work, such as a leadership role in a sizeable charitable organization, you might consider asking a colleague/supervisor in this organization to write on your behalf. If you devote a considerable amount of time to this activity, particularly if it requires strong leadership, this person should know you well and be positioned to write a strong letter. Further, they will be able to provide a different perspective on your candidacy.

 Similarly, if you do not have a suitable professional reference option, you may be best suited selecting a non-professional reference.


Part 2: Preparing Your Recommenders

Once you have selected your recommenders, it is equally as important to prepare them properly. We often hear of candidates who think their work is done by merely asking someone to write the letter and ensuring it gets submitted. This can be a big mistake! See our tips on arming your recommenders to write the best letters possible.

  1. Share your career aspirations

The more your recommenders know about your short-term and long-term goals, the more they can highlight examples and skill sets that would best demonstrate your ability to succeed in these endeavors.

  1. Tell your recommenders what you have discussed/plan to discuss in your essays

Offer them a copy of your essays or at least share the highlights from what you wrote. Beyond your goals, let them know the traits you are highlighting and the success stories you are telling. The idea is for the letter to complement the rest of your application. If they have a sense of your stories, they will be better equipped to share examples of accomplishments that demonstrate a complementary skill set or touch on an area you were not able to cover in your essays.

  1. Remind your recommenders of your key accomplishments

Do not be shy about reminding them of your successes. Take the time to think of the top stories you would like them to recount and remind them of your role in certain projects or assignments. This will not only make their lives easier, but it will also ensure they share the best stories.

  1. Model the behavior now that you want them to write about later 

If you have a skill set your future recommender has not seen yet (especially one that fits with your story), now is the time to let it shine! Take on an extra project, sign up to volunteer within the organization or mentor a junior colleague. Whatever you can do to show your strengths will help ensure they have enough examples to write a glowing letter of recommendation. Keep this in mind when you are at the office or client site at 8 PM and debating whether to leave or burn the midnight oil.


Need one-on-one support with your MBA applications? Personal MBA Coach is willing to be your guide. Personal MBA Coach has been guiding candidates through all aspects of the MBA application process for 11 years with a 96% success rate. We also conduct mock interviews with our team of former M7 MBA interviewers. Call us today at +1 617-645-2424 or email: for a free consultation on your profile along with how we can help make your MBA dreams a reality!  

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