The recommendation letter is a chance for the school to see what other people think of you. To maximize the positive impact of your letters, you’ll have to pick the right people and communicate with those people about your game plan.
Here are 3 important things to keep in mind when choosing and preparing recommenders.
Tip #1: Don’t pick a reference just because of their job title
Every applicant wants a household name banker or CEO to personally and enthusiastically recommend them for business school. However, the chances of that happening are slim.
You might be able to get a partner at a firm you’ve worked at to write a letter for you. But unless you have a lot of shared experience working with that partner, you should choose somebody else.
Business school applications are often read by 2nd year students. I have talked with some of my friends about their experience reading applications. From what I’ve heard, it’s painfully obvious to them when a person recommending you doesn’t know you well. A distant, impersonal recommendation letter like that will only hurt your chances.
The title of your recommender doesn’t matter nearly as much as their ability to talk in-depth about who you are and what your potential is as a leader. One of my recommenders went as far as to write a 7 page letter for Stanford. What it boils down to is enthusiasm, your recommender has to be enthusiastic about your candidacy.
Tip #2: Your essay and recommendation letters should work as a team
A lot of people have trouble with being specific in their essays. Harvard has an essay prompt asking you to talk about 3 accomplishments with an average of 150 words for each accomplishment.
One way of getting around the difficulty of properly explaining your accomplishments is to write about them directly, concisely, and boldly.
I talked about my fundraising work at Spotrunner and how we fundraised 50 million dollars. I didn’t get to talk about this much, and my 50 million dollar claim was definitely an eyebrow-raising claim.
To make the brief statements in my essays really effective, I collaborated with my recommendation letter writers to talk about the things I mentioned in my essay.
Your letter writers don’t have word limits, so they’ll be able to back up your bold claims in detail. Pairing your essays up with your reference letters creates a coherent story and gives your examples credibility.
Tip #3: Get your references to let you read their letters
Depending on your letter writer, you might not be comfortable with asking to see your recommendation. If your reference is someone from a bank or consulting firm, you might not feel comfortable asking this. It’s up to you to judge the situation.
If they do allow you to read through their letter, there’s multiple benefits to that.
First of all, it ensures consistency between your essays and recommendations. It would definitely be bad if something in their letter directly contradicted something in your essays.
Secondly, it allows you to give them feedback on your letter. The goal of the letter is to get you into business school. If you have any suggestions for improving their recommendation, they should be happy to hear them.
Third, allowing you to read your recommendation letter shows that they have nothing to hide, that they’re completely behind your candidacy. If one of your references disapproves of you or is hesitant in their recommendation, you’ll want to find someone else to write your letter.