Everything You Need to Know About MBA Letters of Recommendation
“What is an MBA loar?” a student asked us last week.
“Loar?” We were flabbergasted. “We have no clue!”
“Everybody seems to be talking about MBA essays and loars!”
“Loar?” We wracked our brains. Then, realization dawned. “Oh! You mean LORs?”
LOR is the acronym for Letter of Recommendation, an essential component of your MBA or Master’s application. This post will take you through everything you need to know about MBA recommendation letters themselves as well as about choosing recommenders.
Letters of Recommendation May Not Always Be Letters
Many Master’s or Ph.D. programs will ask you for 2-3 actual letters of recommendation – starting with “To Whomsoever It May Concern…”
The requirement for B-schools is slightly different.
For MBA recommendation letters, you will need to submit the names and contact details of your recommenders and the school will send them a web form. This web form will have some rating questions (for e.g. Rate the communication skills of the applicant in comparison to those of his peers: top 10%, top 25%, top 50%, bottom 25%) and some short answer questions (for e.g. What piece of constructive criticism have you offered the applicant? How did the applicant respond?)
The word limit of these short answer questions could be from 50 to 200 words.
Recommenders Need Official IDs
The recommenders you choose must have official email IDs because that serves as a verification of their identity. For eg., [email protected] shows that this person is a credible source who works at Infosys.
No personal IDs such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc. will be accepted by B-schools. For all they know, the person behind this ID could be you or your friend or relative!
If your recommender doesn’t have an official ID for whatever reason, you may have a problem.
One solution that schools suggest in these cases is to submit a hard copy of your MBA recommendation letter, sealed and signed by the recommender. To avoid delays in mailing such a hard copy, make sure you plan for these well in advance.
Family Members & Professors as Recommenders: NOPE.
The short version is – don’t do this.
Recommendations from family members and professors will never have the weight that recommendations from managers, bosses, vendors, clients, or colleagues can have.
Schools discourage recommendations from family members because they may give a biased view of you. If you work for a family business or have co-founded a company with family members, you cannot use them as your recommenders.
You will need to approach a mentor, client or vendor for this.
If you have more than 2 years of work experience (which is the minimum eligibility for most MBA programs), your recommenders must be people you have worked with. They can be from your workplace or from the company with which you volunteer or a company to which you offer freelance services.
But no going back to your professors from college!
However, if you have very little work experience (less than 2 years) and you have worked with a professor outside of class – for e.g. as a research or teaching assistant – you can approach him/her for a recommendation.
Here’s what CrackVerbal’s founder and CEO, Arun Jagannathan, has to say about choosing the right recommenders:
Do Not Write Your Own Recommendations
This may seem like a no-brainer, but we are still surprised by the number of students who tell us that their recommenders have asked them to write their own recommendations.
“I will submit whatever you send me!” your manager might say.
Should you take up this offer?
Of course not!
Apart from the (obvious) reason that writing your own recommendation is unethical, this is also a foolish decision.
For one, the admissions committee will be able to spot underlying patterns in your writing style in a jiffy – they will know that the same person has written the essays and the recommendations.
B-schools often engage external agencies to do audits or verifications of information that applicants submit. What if they call up your recommender and he/she has no clue what is written in the recommendation?
Both these possibilities can damage your chances of getting admission. So, DO NOT write your own MBA recommendation letter.
Instead, make your recommenders’ lives simpler by sharing relevant information such as your profile highlights and essays with them well in advance.
That is a succinct account of all the things you should know and the do’s of MBA recommendation letters.
Choosing Recommenders: What Not To Do!
Now, let’s talk about what not to do when it comes to choosing recommenders: how not to choose recommenders or how not to approach them.
One big problem that a lot of applicants have is, they end up choosing an inconvenient recommender.
For example, a boss.
You know you have to approach the boss, but you just develop cold feet; you feel awkward to reach out to the boss early on.
What happens then is, you keep waiting till a point where the application deadline is almost a week away and then approach the boss. Especially when the boss is busy!
Your boss is doing something, and you go accost him and thrust the application at him and say, “I’m going to send you a link, can you take out the time and look at the recommendation?”
Now what happens in this case is:
- Your boss is not comfortable recommending you.
- He hasn’t had any time to think about it so he probably doesn’t have enough data to write a meaningful MBA letter of recommendation.
- Your boss could feel a little offended that he didn’t know you were planning to do this, or he could feel he’s going to lose someone, so he may not write the best recommendation possible.
That moment when you have walked into his office in the middle of a work day is NOT a time when you have much of an option to avoid this situation. You’ll have to walk away with a measly recommendation or worse – no recommendation at all.
So here’s what you actually can do to avoid such a miserable outcome.
Identify Your Recommenders Early On
In fact, the earlier the better. You don’t even have to tell them which schools you’re applying to. The best way is not to discuss this in the office environment, maybe you can take your boss to the cafeteria or a coffee shop.
If your boss drinks, maybe you can even take them out for a drink. Tell them what you really want to do.
Talk to your boss about why you want to do an MBA, what are the things that you hope you will achieve in life from an MBA, etc. Genuinely ask for your boss’s opinion, let them give their two cents.
Get your boss committed to your plan.
Nobody is going to come and say you shouldn’t do an MBA. They will say, “This is my opinion and this is what I feel.” Take their opinion into cognizance and keep them updated.
After a couple of months, gently bring up this topic and say, “Would you like to be my recommender? You know how much it matters to me.”
By that point, hardly anyone will say no.
Most people will agree to write you a recommendation letter for MBA. And because you’ve made them a part of your journey in advance, you’ll probably get glowing recommendations, too.
When the time comes, give them at least a month’s notice. Send them the link.
One way you can prep them is to give them your application form, resume, and other things that they could possibly use in order to write the recommendation. At no point should you encourage them to ask you to write it.
We think it’s unethical to write your own recommendation letter. Plus, trust us when we say that the college will definitely figure out who wrote the recommendation.
It’s important to get MBA Letters of Recommendation planned and sorted out well in time.
If there’s one thing that cannot be rushed, it is a well-written recommendation!
You need to remember why you want to do an MBA and align your lifestyle accordingly. Everything else will fall in place if you develop the right mindset.