Ever been to summer camp and done a trust fall? It’s where you cross your arms, surrounded by friends, stiffen your body, close your eyes and fall backwards from a table or chair, trusting your mates will catch you. Relying on your MBA recommenders is much the same.
One of the scariest parts of your MBA application is your reliance on your recommenders. Largely because it’s best to waive your right to read your recommendations (schools will put more stock in them if you do this and will be more suspicious of your application in general if you don’t), you must trust that your recommender truly has your best interests at heart.
Choosing your recommenders wisely is one of the best things you can do in the MBA application process.
This gets a bit tricky, since there are many people in your life who are shameless promoters of your every achievement (think favorite uncle, mom, dad or work mate), but these folks make horrible recommenders, because there is a clear and present bias in anything they might offer up about you. This is difficult particularly for people who work for a family business, since business schools want to hear from your direct supervisors. If your direct supervisor is a family relative, then it’s a true catch 22. If you are someone in this situation, look to trusted vendors or clients of your family business and make sure you communicate the circumstances in your application (often in the optional essay).
Most applicants to MBA programs are in a regular job, with a boss or supervisor in the more traditional sense.
But do you trust your boss? Perhaps your boss loves you as a subordinate and therefore doesn’t want you see you leave for two years to get your MBA. Or perhaps your boss never got her MBA and feels intimidated or threatened by your audacity to break out and better yourself. The real rub is, there’s often no way to ascertain the answers to these questions. Think about it—how well do you really know your boss?
The best case is of course, that you have a boss you not only trust, but who also truly wants you to succeed and pursue your MBA plans.
If this is the case, you should still consult directly with your boss or supervisor about what those specific plans are and why you think you are now equipped to pursue them. Remind your boss of situations at work where you have excelled and demonstrated teamwork, leadership and thoughtful analytical skills. You are trusting someone too much if you simply ask them to recommend you and then forward the link to the questions.
Outside of your immediate supervisor, you still must find more recommenders in most cases.
Unless you are fresh out of school, using favorite professors is usually not a good idea, so where do you turn? Past supervisors or bosses are often a good idea, especially if you left your last job on a good note with impressive achievements to pursue a higher level opportunity, for example. Don’t worry about going deep into your past. If you have a trusted former boss, no matter how long ago it was, it’s better than using a former colleague or friend. We can discuss with you in more detail how to best line up your recommenders, so give us a shout.