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MBA Recommendation Letter - Who Should Write?

Most schools reiterate the adage that if it is between the CEO who has barely worked with you or knows you, and a senior manager, who has seen your progress from a newbie to a seasoned professional, choose the latter.

The truth is not in black and white form.


Flat Organization

Most Businesses pride themselves in maintaining a flat organization. Recently, I worked with a client from a multi-billion-dollar company, where his current position was just three steps away from the Chairman of the company. That means the probability that the legendary Founder knows the client’s name and worked with him on at least a couple of initiatives is high. On probing further, it turned out to be true.


The Chairman/Founder was obsessed with a Pet project to change how we consume digital content. The client was entrusted with developing a feasibility plan for the project. The results were not pleasing. The market hadn’t caught onto the futuristic way of consumption yet. The technology and privacy constraints made it even tougher to bring such sweeping changes to our world. Conveying this message was tough, but he did with a uniquely ‘creative’ narrative with Cartoon strips, probabilistic graphical models and a conclusion without mincing words.

The client was worried that such forthrightness would cost him his job. The contrary happened. The chairman framed the cartoon strip in his office and wrote a glowing appreciation letter for the MBA applicant.

Now, let us be realistic. You are unlikely to micromanage the Chairman/Founder of a multi-billion-dollar company on the phrasing of the project or coordinate with the minute details. Luckily in most organization, there is a dedicated PR person, who writes in the voice of the executive. The chairman takes a few minutes to review the final letter and voila, you have a genuine recommendation letter from a recognizable name with metrics to support the contribution at a level that not many MBA applicants could get.

So don’t blindly follow any advice.

If you are working in a flat organization or a start-up, receiving a recommendation letter from the Founder/Chairman/CEO is far better than a senior colleague or a Manager.


Senior Manager


Having reiterated the importance of recommendation letter from a top-level executive, I must warn that without the recommendation letter from a Senior Manager or a Manager who has worked with you closely, the admission team would be truly in the dark on the many contexts that you have captured in the essay.

Well-wisher vs Professional Relationship vs Mentor

There would be several overlaps on the three roles.

Few MBA Applicants are lucky to have a Manager, who is a mentor, well-wisher and maintains an excellent professional relationship with them. In our experience, this rarely happens. A Manager might have worked in just one project with you that defined your professional accomplishment, but he might not have a great dynamic with you. Or the Manager might show great enthusiasm in watching you grow, but when an MBA plan is revealed, colors change, and the Manager shows a coldness that would leave you puzzled.

On many occasions, the mentor might be a Business School Alumnus, but she might not have worked directly with you but guided your career planning. Since many M7 schools discourage from sending a third recommendation letter, applicants are in a constant dilemma on the right step to take.

At Least Two Projects

If you are caught in between choosing a Manager who oversaw your brilliant performance in one project or above average performances in two projects, choose the latter. The more time a Manager spends with another person, the more she is qualified to evaluate the varying temperament, response to failure and the secret sauce that makes the applicant tick.

Fearing that the uniqueness of her candidacy would be missed, the client hesitatingly approached the Manager, who has worked with her in three projects. The performance in those projects was ‘above average,’ partly from the steep learning curve and partly from the complexity of the projects. When the recommendation letter arrived, we were able to capture an aspect of her personality that even she couldn’t reflect.

More than 2 recommenders

Don’t hesitate to ask more than two recommenders.

Don’t send the official link yet but since most top schools have adopted the common recommendation letter template, send them the questions from the template.

Based on the comprehensiveness of the narrative and the openness to editing the letter based on feedback from consultants like us, choose the recommender. Many might not be open to the idea of editing the letter. Some are particular of keeping certain phrases even if they are lame. They turn into one-day writers, who can’t let go of the words and forget that the exercise is to help the applicant stand-out. You can’t change their outlook with pep talks. Choose another recommender, who is open to receiving suggestions.


The Backstabber


I avoid negative people like the plague. So, writing about this topic is stressful but since we operate in the real world of office politics, you should be aware that plans could go terribly wrong. I recently had a client whose recommender enthusiastically supported her MBA plan. Just a day before the upload, I insisted that I do a final review so that we don’t miss important milestones in her career. Interestingly, the tone of the ‘constructive feedback’ and the ‘response’ question was devastatingly negative as if the recommender was holding some grudge. I had to smooth out the aggression. It took several calls to persuade the Manager to use this version.

Since many of your job evaluation and career progression depends on Managers like that, you have a great punching bag in us, consultants and reviewers.

Start the conversation diplomatically like “My consultant recommended that…”

Personal Meeting


Even if it is a recommender, who is not keen on writing the letter or the father-like figure, who wants to see you succeed, meet them in person. Email and Telephone calls are alright if you have relocated or the Manager is traveling. Managing the recommendation letter process early would give you plenty of time to schedule a meeting.


You can’t convey the seriousness of your plan and how much an MBA matters to you with a one-line post-MBA goal.

Create a narrative. Share how important the recommendation letter is for your future.

When someone puts you in charge of their future, you will rise to the occasion.

Do the Extra Work

Nothing builds the right environment to share your MBA plan than putting in extra hours. Your goal in at least a couple of months before asking the recommendation letter is to make the life of your Managers easy. That means sacrificing a few weekends and taking on projects that are on the highest priority for the Manager. When you ask for the recommendation letter, the extra commitment would seem obvious. However, as humans, we are instinctively good at reciprocating a good deed even if it is a small gesture of kindness, love or appreciation.



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Winning MBA Essay Guide Includes
+Harvard MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)
   Sample Harvard MBA Essay – Gratitude & Giving Back (318 Words)
   Sample Harvard MBA Essay – Entrepreneurship (Influence of Childhood) (667 Words)

   Sample Harvard MBA Essay - Volunteering (Mental Health Awareness)  (776 Words)
+ Columbia MBA Essay Tips (2020 Entering Class) (NEW)

   Sample Goals Essay 1: Enterprise Technology to Consumer Marketing (496 Words)    
   Sample Goals Essay 2: Healthcare (Finance to Consulting) (499 Words)    
   Sample Goals Essay 3: FinTech (Product Manager to Strategy) (482 Words)    
   Sample Columbia Good Fit Essay 1: Value from NYC (237 Words)    
   Sample Columbia Good Fit Essay 2: Entrepreneur Mindset (Persistence/Creativity/Opportunity Seeking) (237 Words)    
   Sample Columbia Good Fit Essay 3: Teamwork and Learning (242 Words)    
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #1 (Elon Musk) (250 Words)    
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #2 (Father) (244 Words)    
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #3 (Mother) (243 Words)    
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #4 (Math Teacher) (242 Words)    
   Sample Columbia MBA Leader I admire Essay #5 (Co-Founder) (250 Words)    

+ Stanford MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)

    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Consulting)(399 words)  
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Tech Entrepreneur) (390 words)  

    Sample Why Stanford MBA: Career Switch(Finance to Green Energy Consulting)(394 Words)
    Sample Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (740 Words)
+ Chicago Booth MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Booth MBA Essay #1: Oil & Gas to Consulting (475 Words)
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     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Father’s Restaurant Business)(493 Words)   
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Teach for America)(640 Words)

+ MIT Sloan MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Personality Type (Accepted MIT Sloan Students)   
     Cover Letter Checklist   

     Sample Cover Letter – Technology Consulting (286 Words)
     Sample Cover Letter – Healthcare Entrepreneurship (296 Words)
+ Kellogg MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Essay 1: Demonstrated Leadership (Marketing) (449 Words)
     Sample Essay 2: Demonstrated Leadership (Technology) (449 Words)   
     Sample Essay 3: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Technology) (438 Words)
     Sample Essay 4: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Non-Profit to Consulting) (442 Words)
+ INSEAD MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
   Sample Essay 1: Candid Description, Strengths & Weaknesses
    Sample Essay 2: Achievements and Failures

    Sample Essay 3: Extra-Curricular and How enriched you are
+
Haas
MBA Essay Tips (2018 Entering Class)
     Sample MBA Essay: Non-Profit   
     Sample MBA Essay: Technology   
     Sample MBA Essay: Marketing   
     Sample MBA Essay: Getting Fired   
     Sample MBA Essay: Diverse and Inclusive Culture   
     Sample MBA Essay: Leadership   
     Sample MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goal & How Pre-MBA Experience will help  
 
+ Yale SOM MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    
Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Business Development (Mobile Start-Up)(486 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Investment Banking (IB)(404 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Consulting (442 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Technology (452 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Marketing (492 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Entrepreneurship (497 Words)
 
 
+ Ross MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample MBA Essay: Finance Professional who was a former member of a rock band (96 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Marketing Professional with a hidden talent to do Impression (100 Words)   
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   Sample MBA Essay: Three-Level Sanitation Campaign (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Water Conservation Kit (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Losing client (100 Words)   
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   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone(extra-curricular) (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone (Daily Science Show) (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Simplifying Operations for Manufacturing (extra-curricular) (90 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Leadership and Culture) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Technology Project and Last-minute change) (98 Words)   
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   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Timidity)(98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Laziness)(100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Pessimism) (96 Words)   
   Sample Essay – Short-term Goals and why the goal is the right choice for you (Technology to Marketing)(299 Words)   
+ London Business School MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    London as the Financial Hub   
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    How to Cite the Curriculum (Example)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Technology to Consulting for FinTech) (489 Words)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Hospitality to Consulting) (499 Words)
+ Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua Short-Answer Essay Questions   
    Sample Short-term Goals Essay – Technology to Consulting (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Consulting for Government (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Plan B (89 Words)   
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua 25 Random Things   
    Sample Duke Fuqua Essay: The Fuqua community and you (Max 2 Pages)  
+ NYU Stern MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (498 Words) (Finance)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (494 Words) (Consulting)
     Essay 3:  Personal Expression (a.k.a. "Pick Six")    
     5 Examples with Images

+ Darden MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Near Death Experience)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Networking and Job Offer at an Unlikely place)   
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Mountaineering)
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     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Evolving Leadership Style (198 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Meaningful IMPACT (200 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay: Short-term Post-MBA career goal (149 words)
+ Wharton MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    7 Professional Gains
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay 1: Gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (473 words)   
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay #2: Math Tutoring and Experimental music’s value (388 Words)

+ Sample Essays

+ The Art of Storytelling 
+ Leadership Narratives
+ Review Tips
+ Persuasion Strategies
+ The Secret to "unleashing" your unique voice
+ How to write about your Strengths
+ How to write about your Weaknesses

Download Winning MBA Essay Guide (2020 Entering Class)




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