Picking the right recommender for your b-school application is probably the most important decision you make.
Of course there are plenty of decisions to make during the MBA application process not even to mention the initial decision to go back to school. But there’s only one decision that puts someone else in the driver’s seat. Everything about your b-school application is pretty much in your control except for one—writing your recommendation.
Your recommenders are powerful because they are the only outside view the adcom has into who you are, what makes you tick.
This is why schools require multiple recommendations, because the deep insights that can be gleaned from someone who knows you well and has worked with you can shed a tremendous amount of light on your candidacy. Clearly one could argue that your recommenders are biased, but they not as biased as the person writing the essays.
It's the anonymous nature of recommendations which make their information so valuable to adcoms.
This is why you should always waive your right to see the recommendation. Schools will automatically discount any reco which has been seen by the applicant. Why? Because they know that in the spirit of saving face, a recommendation that has been seen by the applicant is likely to be padded, or at the very least, not completely honest.
Trusting your recommender is paramount.
Since you’re going to pass on seeing the recommendation, you’ve got to believe the person writing it is in your corner. This will take some soul searching and some thoughtful analysis. Are you picking someone because you think their title or reputation will make a good impression or are you choosing someone because they have valuable insight into the impact you have made in the workplace? Always choose the latter. Schools are not impressed by a c-level recommender who paints a superficial picture. They are far more interested in hearing from someone who knows you well.
How can you ensure someone is in your corner?
Spend some time meeting with and talking with your potential recommenders. Don’t ask them right away to take it on before you unpack your career vision and your business school plans. Make sure they know why you want the MBA and how you plan to leverage it. Then remind them of achievements or performance that was impressive. Don’t expect them to remember it on their own. Once you have someone who checks all the boxes, you have a good candidate.