Mission Admission: Gathering Intelligence on Recommenders

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

Given that you have significant time still before next year’s first-round deadlines, you have the opportunity now to take some “extra” steps 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 know what a recommender will be writing about you. So, by doing a little intelligence work, you can better understand whether you are making the right choice, before you commit to a certain individual.

By doing some “intelligence,” we mean that, where possible, you should contact 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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