Mission Admission is a series of MBA admission tips; a new one is posted each Tuesday.
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?
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 intimate 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. By contrast, lower-level managers who directly supervise your work can often offer powerful examples of the impact you have on your company, and their letters can be far more effective at getting you accepted into an MBA program.
Nonetheless, not all people who know you and your capabilities well will make good recommenders. For starters, of course, you should have some confidence 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 Mission Admission: Research Your Recommenders.)
If your prospective MBA program asks for two letters of recommendation, then generally, you should 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.
If you are unable to ask your current supervisor (and there are a number of reasons that might be the case), do not panic! Read how to handle it in our blog post Mission Admission: What to Do If You Have No Supervisor.