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How To Get a Letter Of Recommendation For Business School

Shannon Cook

Shannon Cook - BusinessBecause

Shannon Cook is a Writer for BusinessBecause and GMAC Media.

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Letters of recommendation are critical to a strong business school application but securing a good one requires some effort from MBA applicants.

Knowing what a strong recommendation letter should look like, and who to ask for your personal reference letter, will stand you in good stead for this part of the process.

Why is a letter of recommendation needed for a student's application?

A letter of recommendation simply demonstrates to an admissions officer that you are a highly professional, well-regarded, individual who would be ready for the rigorous nature of a business school program.

Courtney Elmes, interim associate dean at California State University, says: "Think of the letter of recommendation as a guarantor of your success at business school, helping your target business school see your true potential as an applicant and professional.

"The professional recommendation allows us to gain a glimpse into your character and what makes you unique – to hear stories that provide a different perspective and that round out your application. All of that makes the MBA recommendation letter very important,"

The recommendation letter comes as an addition to your own letter that you will write for the business school application, which might be a personal statement, essay, or both.

Look at recommendation letter specific examples and recommendation templates

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to the recommendation letter but there are a few ways you maximize your chances of success. One way to make the process a lot easier is by gaining access to a recommendation template or recommendation sample letter.

The Graduate Management Admission Council™ (GMAC™), the makers of the GMAT™ exam, collaborated with a group of leading business schools to help develop a new set of “common” questions, with one goal in mind: to make requesting letters of recommendation easier for both the person writing the professional letter and the student.

The Common Letter of Recommendation (LOR) free template saves valuable time, providing a single, common set of questions. This approach allows letter writers to use the same responses for multiple letter submissions, alleviating the workload if applying for multiple schools.

The Common Letter of Recommendation form has three sections, covering the key letter of recommendation questions that schools require from the student.

Section 1: Personal information about the letter writer

This is where the person writing the recommendation letter identifies themselves and their relationship to the student.

Section 2: Leadership assessment grid of candidate

This section is divided into five categories, each identified for the way they help assess the candidate against 16 traits and competencies—such as influence, achievement, and cognitive abilities.

Section 3: Letter of recommendation questions

This essay-style section provides three prompts which must be answered in 500 words or less.

  • Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (Recommended word count: 50 words).
  • How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles or with a similar job title?

    Please provide specific examples. (Recommended word count: 500 words).

  • Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Recommended word count: 500 words).

There is a final open-ended question, “Is there anything else we should know?” that is optional and has no word count limit.

All responses can include specific examples or information about the student's work ethic, position, skills, and qualities. The recommender may wish to focus the letter on one example or home in on a few areas about your hard work and positive attitude.

General instructions for submitting the Common Letter of Recommendation

Once you’ve verified that you’re applying to a participating Common LOR school, refer to the steps below to streamline the experience for your recommender:

  • Download the Common Letter of Recommendation PDF Template and email it to all recommenders once they’ve agreed to advocate for you in a letter of recommendation for business school.
  • Provide your target schools with the name and email address for each recommender.
  • Advise your recommenders to be on the lookout for the official invitation email from the school and follow the school’s instructions for submitting the recommendation.

For schools that offer the facility to complete recommendations online through a secure website, the recommender can use the completed Common LOR template to copy and paste their responses into the school’s online system.

For schools that accept the Common LOR by email or paper submission, ask your recommender to use the completed Common LOR template to copy and paste responses into the official form before emailing or mailing the completed recommendation to the school.

Ready to get started on your letters of recommendation for business school? Before you approach anyone, check out these expert tips, or watch the short video, “Mastering the Letter of Recommendation.” 

If you or your letter writer needs the recommendation template in a different language, please click the appropriate link below. Note that it should still be filled out in English.

Select the right person to write the letter of recommendation

While an academic letter of recommendation is an asset to a graduate school candidate, your business school letter of recommendation should come from a professional. As our experts suggest, your ideal letter of recommendation would be from someone directly above you in the organization who has worked with you in a professional environment for at least one year, and can easily discuss how you fulfill your job description.

These professional contacts can best attest to the characteristics and competencies that make you a successful leader.

The person writing the letter could be your employer, such as a hiring manager or someone else in a position that's senior to you.

Remember, you shouldn't write the letter of recommendation yourself. You should also avoid choosing someone just because they have an impressive title, such as CEO, if this individual doesn't know you know you well or is unable to provide key information and details about your position and performance.

Request your recommendation letter in advance

The best way to ensure that your recommender writes a strong recommendation letter is by asking well in advance. A rushed request for a letter of recommendation is likely to lead to a letter that does not sufficiently emphasize your great qualities and skills.

Give your nominated person enough time – at least one to two months – to give you a thoughtful and sincere business school letter of recommendation that's signed off in good time before the deadline.

It’s also more effective to make an in-person request for your reference letter. Grab lunch or coffee with them so you can express why you’re excited about applying to graduate business school, and candidly discuss your strengths and weaknesses.

Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball, says: “Instead of looking at the resume, essays and reference letters as standalone components, thinking of them as pieces of a bigger jigsaw puzzle can help. This would help the applicant plan the entire application in advance, instead of assuming that a sharp and coherent picture will appear magically at the end.”

Asking for your letter of recommendation in good time also allows the recommender enough time to ask further questions about the process. It can also help to provide your recommender with a clear deadline that's mindful of the individual's busy schedule.

Provide supporting materials for your personal reference letter

Give your recommender other materials that will accompany your MBA application, such as your MBA resume and application essay.

Provide as much guidance on the letter of recommendation process as possible by including a common LOR template that conveniently includes all the elements your business school letter of recommendation needs. Also, encourage them to give specific examples or anecdotes that promote your strengths and leadership qualities.

Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Admissions Consulting, says: “The best way for your recommenders to help you stand out from thousands of other highly qualified applicants is by painting a clear picture of who you are both professionally and personally. Standing out is especially important for traditional applicants from finance and consulting.”

You may also wish to provide the writer of your recommendation letter with a short note about your personal career goals, how the business school program in questions fits into your goals, and what you hope to bring the classroom or school culture.

Remember, the more information you give to your recommender, the more likely you will receive a recommendation letter that touches on all the key points. It's important to not overwhelm, however  – providing a one-page letter is sufficient.

Express your gratitude to the writer of your professional letter

Remember, these are busy people and the time they give you is valuable. Reciprocate that by taking the time to acknowledge their efforts. Send your recommenders a handwritten card or thoughtful email and keep them posted on your acceptance status.

The recommendation letter is just one part of your overall business school application. Find out more tips and advice about the MBA application process in the BusinessBecause MBA Application Guide. If you're looking to join a master's degree, you can find expert advice in the Master in Management Guide.

Shannon Cook

Shannon Cook - BusinessBecause

Shannon Cook is a Writer for BusinessBecause and GMAC Media. She is responsible for writing and managing sponsored and non-sponsored editorial content relating to the business school journey, as well as covering the latest business news trends. She also heads up the video series, building brand awareness of BusinessBecause across social media channels and the website.

Shannon earned a BA in English Literature with Legal Studies from the University of Sussex and an MA in International Journalism from the University of Leeds.