Who to Ask for an MBA Recommendation

Professional recommendations often play an important role in an MBA admission decision, giving the business school a third-party view of how you have impacted organizations and managed relationships.

At the Neeley School, you are asked to provide contact information for three individuals who could provide professional recommendations if the Admissions Committee chooses to contact them during the review process.

So how do you ask for an MBA recommendation and, more importantly, who should you ask? Here are a few tips to help you secure the professional recommendations you need.

Who to ask. The recommenders you list on your business school application should be individuals who know you well enough to offer both a personal and a professional evaluation. The most valuable recommendations come from individuals who have firsthand knowledge of your professional evolution and can knowledgeably assess your management potential. Whenever possible, you should include a past or current direct supervisor in the list. 

Who not to ask. Steer clear of personal friends, family members and colleagues. Though these individuals know you well, they cannot provide the type of professional recommendation the Admissions Committee is looking for. Asking former professors or faculty members should also be avoided. While these individuals know you on an academic level, they likely do not know you in a professional setting. Finally, if you are unsure whether a particular individual will provide a favorable recommendation, it’s best to choose someone else.

The high-ranking recommender. Often, applicants mistakenly think providing the name of a high-ranking or well-known individual will sway the Admission Committee. While it may seem impressive to list a state senator or the CEO of your company as a reference, such individuals usually don’t know you well enough to offer the kind of substantive information the Admission Committee will want to know. Rather than selecting the CEO of your current company, ask your direct supervisor to serve as a reference for you.

What your recommender should say. Some recommenders won’t want or need input from you, while others may request that you provide them some specific information for their recommendation. Key areas to focus on include professional achievements such as awards and accolades for your work, as well as specific personality traits that influence your performance. It may also be helpful to provide the individuals you select with a copy of your resume, highlighting your professional responsibilities and leadership experience. Volunteerism, dependability and teamwork skills are also important aspects for recommenders to hit.

Having a third-party perspective can help the Admissions Committee determine whether you are a suitable candidate for the program. Be selective in who you ask, ensuring the individuals listed on your application know your professional capabilities and will be able to offer a personal endorsement.
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