“MBA Admissions: Selecting Your Recommenders” is the latest post in our series, Navigate the MBA Maze.
The best letters of recommendation come from people who have seen you perform. The weakest letters are of the “character reference” variety (from the clergy member who knows you only as a person who dozes during weekly services) or the VIP genre (from influential people like your mother’s college roommate’s sister, who is on an admissions committee). In both cases, the recommender barely knows you. A letter need not be lengthy to be effective, and the writer need not have known you since grade school. A letter from an immediate supervisor who describes your work and rates your performance as much stronger than that of other employees in similar positions, tells an admissions committee something significant about you.
It’s important to avoid repetition and duplication in your letters. “Only one recommendation per single source” is a good rule of thumb. Each letter should highlight a different facet of you and your accomplishments and, ideally, present you from a different vantage point. If you have a job in which you report to more than one person, don’t ask each person for a letter. Ask one of them and then ask another supervisor from a different project or a previous position.
Last but not least, request your letters in person whenever possible, and give each recommender a copy of your resume and your personal statement. Ask the person if s/he is able to write you a strong letter, and offer to provide any additional material the person requests.