MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: Title Trumps All

In the past, we have addressed (and debunked!) the myth that you must personally know alumni from the top MBA programs to gain acceptance into those schools. Another admissions myth that is somewhat similar—in that it pertains to who you know instead of who you are—is that your recommendation must be written by someone with a flashy title. Each year, many candidates will persuade either someone from outside their workplace (e.g., a congressperson) or an insider who does not know their work all that well (e.g., a managing director or CEO) to write a recommendation on their behalf.

Unfortunately, when you obtain a recommendation from someone because of their title and not because that person actually knows you and your work, the result is a vague endorsement. Consequently, the admissions committee will not get to know you better through this individual’s recommendation letter, and this undermines the very purpose of recommendations. Even if you can educate someone far above you in the corporate hierarchy about your achievements and that person can write a seemingly personal letter, it still will not make sense that a CEO, for example, knows what you—one of hundreds of employees—are doing on a daily basis. So, the intimacy of this person’s letter just might seem absurd. Of course, if your CEO does actually know you and can write a personal letter that makes a logical connection between your position and theirs, that could be helpful.

Rather than focusing on titles when considering possible sources for your recommendations, strive to identify an individual who knows you well and can write about your strengths—and even your weaknesses—with sincerity. If your supervisor has a less than impressive title, this will not reflect negatively on you; what will matter is what they write about you. If that person can discuss your performance while providing powerful examples of standout achievements, they will help you to the fullest.

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