MBA Letter of Recommendation Tips

The very best MBA recommendations support and reinforce the rest of your business school application by providing specific details about your work experience and personal qualities. They can even push borderline candidates into the admit pile! But, it’s not just about the letter itself; it’s also about who is writing it!

While much of the MBA recommendation letter process is outside of your control, the choice of who will write your reference letters is something you do control. In fact, selecting your references will be among the most important decisions you will make in your MBA application.

When it comes to choosing your references, it is important to keep in mind that there is no “one-size- fits-all” solution. Although it is rare, you may actually decide to choose different references for each of the schools you apply to. It is very important to ensure that your references match each B-school’s specific reference letter requirements. Start with a careful reading of the criteria supplied by each program. Many schools require two references, while a handful requires three.

For example, Stanford requires two superiors and a peer reference whereas Harvard requires three letters from people who have supervised you. Read the application instructions carefully because choosing a reference who does not meet the admissions committee’s specified requirements could undermine your entire application.

Other than any specific instruction as such, the general order of your recommenders should be:

1. Current direct supervisor

2. Past direct supervisor

3. Current indirect supervisor

4. Past indirect supervisor

5. Current coworker

6. Past coworker

Asking your boss for a recommendation letter

Most schools specifically ask for a letter from your direct boss. If you don’t submit a letter from the boss, most schools expect you to explain why. A manager or supervisor is known as your “anchor reference”, i.e. someone who has been closely observing your work. Their input counts the most as they can best provide specific testimony about your most recent performance and qualities.

Of course, there are certainly legitimate reasons for not asking your boss to write a letter for you – such as not wanting to risk losing your job. Whatever the reason, proactively address this issue in an optional essay; otherwise, the admissions board might assume you’re trying to hide performance issues.

If you are faced with this dilemma, watch this video to know how you can navigate this situation:

MBA recommendation letter for an entrepreneur

If you’re an entrepreneur or you work for the family business, you’ll need letters of recommendation from another source. Using a family member isn’t credible, and if you run your own business, you likely won’t have a formal supervisor. One idea is to utilize a client that you work with very closely. If you founded a business, you can also ask your co-founder to write a recommendation as well.

Unless they know you really well, don’t just select the person at your company with the highest title or an alumnus of your target B-school. A person who works with you everyday will have much more compelling things to say about you than someone with a title but doesn’t know you. Sure, having an endorsement from a board member is powerful, but admissions committees are much more interested in hearing from someone who really knows you and can speak to your work ethic than from the most impressive random person you could find.

MBA recommendation letter examples

MBA recommendations broadly fall into two categories. Some will ask specific questions and the other will be a personalized one. Here are examples of both.

Personalized MBA recommendation letter

I have worked closely with XYZ for the past two years, during which time he served as a career advisor in the Career Services Office at ABC College. I found Mr. XYZ to be an exceptionally motivated and talented young man who comported himself well in all the endeavors she undertook. I firmly believe that he will be successful in whatever he pursues.

Mr. XYZ has a very sharp and inquisitive mind. He is also very perceptive and able to read people and situations with a great deal of accuracy. He is strongly committed to the organizations for which he works, and I am confident that as he continues to mature he will be an asset to society. XYZ assertively addresses problems and exhibits a maturity beyond her years in her approach to situations.

I am very comfortable with allowing him to represent the office to external constituents. This confidence was evidenced by my recent decision to have XYZ accompany a group of seniors to a recruiting conference. He effectively interfaced with corporate representatives and gathered a great number of employment leads for students back on campus.

In conclusion, I am certain that Mr. XYZ will shine as a graduate student and go on to become a very accomplished business person. He possesses the right combination of drive, intelligence, and interpersonal skills required to excel in school, and in life. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

MBA recommendation letter with specific questions

1. How long have you known the applicant and in what connection? If applicable, briefly describe the applicant’s role in your organization. XYZ was selected to join ABC 1 year ago. As Managing Partner, I am up-to-date on his position of excellence. I conferred with his direct supervisors to complete this recommendation Letter.

XYZ is an outstanding professional, one of the most promising associates we have taken on. His input is creative, insightful and I trust him to manage our more complex tasks. XYZ is highly motivated and driven by an amazing passion to succeed. He embodies a perfect mix of the attributes we look for in a consultant: personal impact, great analytics and excellent problem solving skills. He couples this with his insatiable interest in serving clients with the best possible solution.

I insisted on writing this recommendation myself, as I see XYZ as one of the promises of this firm and one of the great future business leaders his country. It was important for me to convey my overwhelming support of his candidacy. Upon completing my own BSc from Stanford and my PhD from Cambridge, I understand the value studying in an international setting can provide and I am very interested that this opportunity be given to XYZ, a man who will know how best to use it.

2. In what ways has the candidate distinguished himself or herself among peers?

XYZ is one of the best business analysts we hired in recent years. We trust XYZ with especially complex assignments and he delivers far above expectations. He set ambitious goals, managed the work and directed professionals carrying out negotiations. The financial results were nothing short of outstanding.

XYZ excels in leadership and teamwork. In his most recent project XYZ led a client team of 3 middle-tier managers in the lean transformation of a retail chain, and managed their work effectively. He coached them, gave feedback and allowed them to grow within their organization by letting them present the team’s finding in progress reviews.

XYZ’s initiative and creativity in problem solving is exceptional; recently, he researched an area in which the firm had little expertise. He discovered resources which provided enormous value to our client.

3. Comment on the candidate’s professional weaknesses and opportunities for growth. XYZ’s most apparent weakness is in what we call in “written communications”. Written communications refers to client exhibits. In these exhibits XYZ displayed a lack of attention to the small details in his first projects. XYZ has been given constructive feedback on the subject following his last two engagements and has shown considerable improvement, delivering clear and well structured documents.

I have always been impressed with the way that XYZ has been proactive in communicating his development needs to the team leadership and requesting coaching and feedback. This has enabled us to pay more attention to areas in which he needed help and guide him accordingly. I imagine his initiative and take-charge attitude is also a source of his exceptional performance.

XYZ’s goals after his MBA are clear – he wants to be a partner at the firm, and he doesn’t hide his plans. We support him in this path unequivocally and look forward to his swift return.

4. In what context have you been able to assess the candidate’s written and spoken English? A great portion of XYZ’s work is conducted in English. He is required to submit his reports and documents in English. Similarly, as we are an international organization, all our training and communication with other teams are conducted in English.

XYZ was selected to work on a project in Sydney. He was stationed in Australia for over a month and interacted solely in English for that time. Colleagues reported that his English communication was flawless. All communication with the team, the client and the many experts he was required to interview for the project was in English.

5. Please comment on the applicant’s behavior (e.g., respect for others, honesty, integrity, accountability for personal behavior) within your organization and in the community. XYZ has the crucial ability to admit his shortcomings. He has the integrity to admit that he didn’t know the correct answer and would check his data again, returning with clearer and more verified answers.

XYZ is a “people person” – and this is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable things about him. He creates a team atmosphere that at once allows for outstanding output, while maintaining the most excellent relations with the people working with him and for him. XYZ is a great team player and peers have expressed interest in working with him in future. XYZ ensures everybody is happy; he brings coffee in the morning, buys goodies for the team and organizes team events. On a recent project, XYZ finished his work for the night but noticed that his peers were still working. He asked them to hand over some work, so that the entire team could go home earlier. Many colleagues will call him to for advice on how to solve tough problems.

Final thoughts

The definitive question to ask when making your final decisions on who will write your MBA recommendation letter is: will they write a letter that states that you are in the top 10-20% of employees they have managed over the course of their career?

Remember that top-tier business schools only admit the top 10-15% of applicants! Therefore, it is critical to request reference letters from your two or three most devoted senior colleagues who truly value your contributions to the organization and the relationship you have built with them over the years. Hopefully this helped you understand who you should approach for your MBA recommendation letter.

Related Resources:

MBA Recommendation Letters | Getting a Great Recommendation Letter From Your Boss | Jatin Bhandari

The Biggest Mistake In Letter of Recommendation causing Rejection | Lethal MBA Application Error

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