If your supervisor is writing your business school recommendation and you are having trouble ensuring that they are putting the proper thought and effort into it, you are not alone. Because of this asymmetry of power, junior employees can only do so much to compel their supervisor to commit the necessary time and write thoughtfully. So, before you designate your supervisor as a recommender, you must first determine how committed this person really is to helping you with your business school candidacy. In particular, your recommender needs to understand that using a single template to create identical letters for multiple business schools is not okay. Each letter must be personalized, and each MBA program’s questions must be answered using specific examples.
If your recommender intends to simply write a single letter and force it to “fit” a school’s questions or to attach a standard letter to the end of the school’s recommendation form (for example, including it in the question “Is there anything else you think the committee should know about the candidate?”), then they could be doing you a disservice. By neglecting to put the proper time and effort into your letter, your recommender is sending a very clear message to the admissions committee: “I don’t really care about this candidate.”
If you cannot convince your recommender to write a personalized letter or to respond to your target school’s individual questions using specific examples, look elsewhere. A well-written personalized letter from an interested party is always far better than a poorly written letter from your supervisor.
In addition, although details are important in recommendation letters, remember that sometimes small points in MBA applications are really just that—small points. We are often asked, “Should this be a comma or a semicolon?” and want to respond, “Please trust us that the admissions committee will not say, ‘Oh, I would have accepted this applicant if she had used a comma here, but she chose a semicolon, so DING!’” That said, we are certainly not telling you to ignore the small things. Details matter—the overall impression your application makes will depend in part on your attention to typos, font consistency, and grammar, for example—but we encourage you to make smart and reasonable decisions and move on. You can be confident that your judgment on such topics will likely be sufficient.