Mission Admission: Choosing “Safe” Recommenders

Mission Admission is a series of MBA admission tips; a new one is posted each Tuesday.

Given that you still have significant time before next year’s first-round application deadlines, you have the opportunity to take some steps now to ensure you submit your strongest applications possible. One such step is doing some background work on your recommenders to make sure your choices are indeed “safe.”  After all, if you are playing by the strictest interpretation of the rules of recommendations, you will not get to see what your recommenders ultimately write about you. So, by doing a little intelligence work in advance, you can better understand whether you are choosing the right person, before you commit to a certain individual.

By doing some “intelligence,” we mean—where possible—contacting past colleagues in a discreet and diplomatic way to find out what their experiences were like with your potential recommender. For example, was your potential recommender a generous advocate or was he/she a disinterested third party who had a tendency to be harsh? Clearly, learning more about your target  recommender’s approach in advance can help you understand whether or not you should offer him/her this important responsibility. Past colleagues can also guide you in how best to manage your recommenders, which can be just as important as choosing them. Knowing up front that your recommender is a procrastinator or performed better after being given a list of accomplishments from which to work can help ensure the best letter possible and can prevent you from inadvertently antagonizing your recommender or delaying the process.

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