Let’s start at the beginning. The instructions given on the Texas MBA application are as follows:
We require one professional letter of recommendation from a person who has supervised your work and/or has assessed your performance during your career. Professional recommendations are strongly recommended (i.e. direct supervisor, indirect supervisor, or a client). If you are unable to request a letter of recommendation from your direct supervisor or feel that another recommender would be more appropriate, please explain why in your optional statement.
When you think about it, you (the applicant) have direct control over most components of your application – you write your essays, you take your exam, you earn your GPA, you draft your resume. The recommendation letter is one of the only things you rely on someone else to provide, which is why it can seem daunting. Circumstances differ for every applicant, so deciding who you should ask will vary depending upon your personal professional situation. Below are some scenarios to help guide you in choosing your recommenders.
Your current direct supervisor is traditionally the best choice. Why? Because this is arguably the person in your network that knows your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.
That being said, for some, this may not be a viable option. Perhaps you aren’t able to communicate to your employer that you’re applying to b-school. Possibly, you work remotely and do not work with your boss that closely. It could be that you attained a new role recently and your current supervisor has not had a chance to work with you very much. Or, maybe you’re an entrepreneur & don’t have a supervisor. All are valid reasons to look for other recommendation sources, but remember that if you do not ask your current supervisor to write your recommendation letter, we do ask that you explain your choice in the optional statement.
The Former Boss
If you cannot ask your current direct supervisor to write your recommendation, maybe you can ask a previous supervisor? Depending on how recently you worked with them, the “old boss” may be a fine choice, especially if you had a strong professional relationship with that person.
The Indirect Supervisor
Asking an indirect supervisor can be yet another option, especially if you’ve worked with this person closely on past assignments. For example, perhaps you reported to an individual on a particular project, and they can speak in detail about your impeccable analytical skills and ability to work on teams. This is a nice alternative to the boss, especially if you do not work with your direct supervisor closely.
The Client or Vendor
This type of recommendation source is especially useful for those entrepreneurs out there, and for applicants who work for a family business. Pro Tip #1: If you do work for a family business, it is preferred that you ask an individual outside of your family to write your letter of recommendation.
Mentors inside or outside of your workplace are great to have in your corner when it comes time to apply to business school. However, be sure that your mentor has an understanding of your actual value, not just your potential. Select a mentor with whom you have worked on high-stakes tasks to ensure that they will provide a recommendation with depth. Often, mentor recommendations are submitted as a secondary recommendation. Keep in mind that first and foremost, the admissions committee is looking for someone who has worked with you professionally.
There are many individuals who may fall in the category of “other recommenders.” For example, the professor, the colleague, or the coach. Pro Tip #2: Use your best judgement! An undergraduate professor, for example, may not be the best person to address some of the questions posed on the recommendation form. And keep in mind that we’re looking mainly at your post-undergraduate work experience. Direct reports should never be submitting a letter of recommendation on behalf of their boss, so steer clear of those. And don’t focus only on title – Getting the CEO of a large company to write your recommendation may sound very impressive, but unless they work with you closely, the recommendation letter will likely fall short of delivering on the information that the admissions committee is looking for.
Pro Tip #3: The Texas MBA Program will accept up to two letters of recommendation, but due to the volume of applications, there is no guarantee that additional letters of recommendation will be reviewed. There is also no process of ranking your letters of recommendation, meaning you won’t have control over which letter the admissions committee reads. So, as you might assume, in most cases, one submission is best.
You’ve chosen a recommender. What’s next?
First, before asking your recommender to take this on, keep in mind that they are likely a pretty busy individual – be sure to give them plenty of notice prior to an approaching application deadline. You definitely do not want your application status to be in jeopardy because of a missing letter of recommendation.
Secondly, take them out for coffee! You don’t want to blindly email someone and ask them to write something for you without having a conversation. Sometimes it’s good to revisit certain projects you worked on with them. Most importantly, explain to your recommender why you’re pursuing an MBA. Giving them some context behind your ask will go a long way and will likely result in a stronger letter.
Finally, make sure you give them all the info before you ask. The Texas MBA Program is one of a group of b-schools using the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation. Your recommender will be asked to assess specific competencies and traits, as well as answer three explicit questions. While there will be other MBA programs using the Common Letter of Recommendation, there are some programs that have their own forms and ask a different series of questions. So if you’re applying to more than one MBA program, you may be asking your recommender to fill out and separately submit several different forms. Blanket recommendation letters will not be enough for most MBA applications.
If you have any questions about the letter of recommendation component of the Texas MBA application, feel free to reach out to us at TexasMBA@mccombs.utexas.edu. Happy applying!