The recommendation letter requirement is one of the more daunting parts of the application process, as it is one of the few components over which students do not have direct control. For the Type A, right-brained, checklist-making applicants among us (you know who you are), this might lead to some cold sweats.
Case in point: At an admissions event I spoke at recently, a highly-qualified woman raised her hand and asked how to request recommendation letters when you own your own business. While I don’t own my own business, when I initially applied to McCombs I worked for a start-up, and I was concerned my professional network was too close-knit to leverage. However, when I really put my mind to it, I had an abundance of people I could lean on. Here’s how I looked at my network when asking for a recommendation letter:
1) The boss.
This is arguably the person in your network that knows your strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else. Regardless of your supervisor or boss’s title, if you know you deliver great results to your superior, they are a natural fit. However, there is a caveat. Your recommendation letter request should not be the first time your boss is hearing about your MBA aspirations. If possible, start by letting your boss know you are considering applying, explain the time commitment an MBA would require, and then help him or her understand your motivations. When you later ask for a recommendation, there’s no backstory necessary.
2) The colleague.
The Texas MBA Program is a team sport, and I’ve heard it said from the Full-Time MBAs to the Executives that McCombs is known for its collaborative environment. Coworkers can vouch for your ability to work as a team, celebrate team successes, and meet deadlines. However, choose your coworker wisely — don’t simply default to your BFF from work. Your colleague should be able to speak to your professional strengths, not simply your extracurricular ones.
3) The mentor.
Mentors outside of your workplace are great to have in your corner when it comes time for a recommendation. 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 they will provide a recommendation with depth. If your mentor has only served in a capacity of an advisor with whom you meet regularly, consider scheduling some time to discuss your contributions and strengths so they will have some context prior to writing a recommendation.
4) The professor.
Depending on how long ago you attended undergrad, professors can provide esteem and proof of concept in their recommendations. However, they are probably one of the most constantly tapped individuals for letters of recommendations (think of all the former students, and all the graduate school possibilities, and all the job applications). If you’re going the professor route, be sure he or she is someone who sets you apart from the other students. You don’t want to be that someone in his or her inbox whose name sounds vaguely familiar but they don’t quite remember. Finally, good grades don’t always equal good recommendations. It’s the quality of your interactions, the sum of your class contributions, and the significance of your impression on that particular professor long after your final grade was submitted.
5) The outsider.
This person is an X-factor but someone who should not be overlooked. We all have them: suppliers, consultants, customers, coaches, and others. If you’ve worked closely with someone on a successful project, they are a great person to request information from.
Have another source you’ve tapped for a recommendation letter? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!