Finding Suitable Recommendation Writers and Ensuring Their Punctuality

Letters of recommendation are an important part of your overall application package—they provide the only outside information the admissions committee receives about you. One of the most stressful parts of the application process can be picking your recommender. The first question you should ask is who can write a valuable letter on my behalf?

Like many candidates, you may believe that your recommenders must have remarkable credentials and titles to impress the admissions committee. However, what is far more important is selecting individuals who can write a personal and knowledgeable letter that discusses your talents, accomplishments, personality, and potential. If senior managers at your company can only describe your work in vague and general terms, they will not help your cause. Lower-level managers who directly supervise your work, on the other hand, can often offer powerful examples of the impact you have had on your company. As a result, their letters can be far more effective.

Nonetheless, not everyone who knows you and your capabilities well will make a good recommender. For starters, you should of course feel confident that your potential recommender likes you and will write a positive letter on your behalf. As you contemplate your choices, try to gather some intelligence on your potential recommenders. Have they written letters for anyone else? Are they generous with their time with regard to employee feedback and review sessions? Will they devote the effort and time necessary to write a letter that will really shine? (See also our blog post on choosing “safe” recommenders.)

If your prospective MBA program asks for two letters of recommendation, you should generally approach two of your recent supervisors, with one ideally being your current supervisor. Your letters will have added credibility if they are written by individuals who are senior to you, because your recommenders are in evaluative positions and will not have anything to lose by critically appraising your candidacy.

As application deadlines approach, many candidates find themselves immersed in stress—busy juggling multiple essays and revising their resume. Often in the midst of all this, an alarming question suddenly springs to mind: What if my recommenders do not get their letters done by the deadline?

In our opinion, the easiest way to ensure that your recommenders complete their letters on time is to present them with your own deadline—one that is a bit earlier than the school’s—when you first ask them to provide a recommendation for you. If the application to your school of choice is due on January 15, for example, tell your recommenders that you are submitting on January 8. Incidentally, submitting your application early can be good for your sanity as well. By setting this advanced deadline, you can put some additional pressure on your recommender on the 8th if he/she has not yet finished the letter, so you should still be able to submit by the school’s official deadline.

Most people work to deadlines. Alleviate unnecessary stress by setting your recommenders’ deadlines one week early, and “enjoy” the application process a little bit more.

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