Mission Admission is a series of MBA admission tips; a new one is posted each Tuesday.
If you are having trouble negotiating with your supervisor to ensure that he/she is putting the proper thought and effort into your application, you are not alone. Because of this asymmetry of power, a junior employee can only do so much to compel his/her supervisor to sit down and write thoughtfully. So, before you designate your supervisor as a recommender, you must first understand his/her level of commitment to helping you with your candidacy. In particular, your recommender needs to understand that he/she cannot create a single template and must personalize each letter and answer each MBA program’s questions using specific examples.
If your recommender intends to simply write a single letter and force it to “fit” the school’s questions, or if he/she plans 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 that you think the committee should know about the candidate?”), then your recommender is not actually helping you—in fact, he/she is hurting you! By neglecting to put the necessary time and effort into your recommendation, 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, you will need to look elsewhere. A well-written personalized letter from an interested party is always far better than a poorly written letter from your supervisor.