Monday, August 27, 2012

Tackling Recommendation Letters

The thought of recommendation letters brings fear to many MBA hopefuls.  You mean, there is a part of the application you can’t completely control!?  Well, yes.  But drifting to the opposite end of the spectrum and being completely hands-off could be a fatal error.  Here are three tips to help make your recommendation letters a harmonious asset to your application.  

1)  Share Your Goals

Share with your recommender your short and long term goals, as well as reasons that business school is the next best step for you.  To get more specific, detail how your work with them fits into or reflects your goals. This helps your recommender to see your “full story” and to better express their experiences with you in light of that story.  Additionally, give them specifics about the school they are writing to and how that school’s qualities fit with your goals.  The more you clue them into this information (which you should have already researched anyway) the more their recommendations will flow with your essays and application as a whole.

2) Set Them Up For Success

Try to meet each recommender for lunch, coffee or at least a short meeting.  I supplied each with a small packet of information and later sent them digital copies of everything in that folder. Packets might include:

- Written outline of why you are targeting the school for which they are recommending you.  (See point #1)

- Bullet points of your "Top 10 Work Highlights" for inspiration of examples to flesh out the recommendation.

- General examples of recommendation letters (There are great examples in Richard Montauk’s book How To Get Into The Top MBA Programs).

- Reminders of deadlines and any website details needed.

 3) Give Thanks

You’ll find plenty of differing opinions about recommender thank you notes.  In my book, it’s always better to be thoughtful and appreciative.  After all, your recommenders took time out of their busy schedules to focus on your MBA goals.  Whether it is a handwritten note of gratitude or a small gift, I say yes to thank yous.  Wait until after your recommendation letters are completed, though.  I dropped a bottle of wine and a thank you note off at each of my recommenders’ desks about a week after they turned in my recommendation.  And be sure to keep in touch with them on your application status and decisions. 

Best of luck!
Tricia Felice, Forté Fellow
MBA 2014, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

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