A Bit About Recommendations

By Gil Levi

Most business schools require two or three letters of recommendation as part of the admissions process. In most cases, the schools request that the recommender send the recommendation online, through the school's application system. 

The recommendations are among the most significant components of your application. Below are some frequently asked questions about this process.

When should I start thinking about recommendations?

You should start thinking about recommendations once you decide to apply to business school, even if you make this decision several years beforehand.

There is no need to acquire recommendations written years in advance. However, you will need to do the following:

a. Identify potential recommenders.
b. Develop solid and meaningful relationships with three or four potential recommenders.

How do I choose the right recommenders?
Recommendations are usually assessed according to three guidelines. These guidelines will help you select the right recommender:

a. The content.
For example, the level of enthusiasm and support conveyed by the recommender and the reasons for it. These reasons will preferably include specific real-life examples.

b. The nature and length of your acquaintance.
The longer and more intensive the acquaintance is, the better. The most effective recommenders are usually those that have supervised your work (unless the specific school guidelines instruct you otherwise). It is therefore not usually recommended to present a recommendation from professors (unless you worked for them, or unless such a recommendation is required.)

c. The recommender’s background.
Assume two potential recommenders for which criteria ‘a’ and ‘b’ are equally strong. Under this scenario, a recommendation from a CEO or a government minister, for example, would be considered more powerful than a recommendation from a junior manager. Similarly, a recommendation from a graduate of the school you are applying to would be more effective than a recommendation from someone who did not attend the school.

When selecting your recommenders, find the right balance of these three criteria, while placing the greatest emphasis on the recommendation’s content. A standard and lukewarm recommendation will not get the job done, regardless of who gave it.

What is the desired length of the recommendation?

Most letters of recommendation are 2-4 pages long. One page recommendations are usually too short to demonstrate and highlight the significant nature of the relationship (see clause ‘b’ above).

How detailed should a recommendation be?

Most powerful recommendations use specific and concrete examples, which serve to explain and illustrate the recommender’s assertions. For example, it is often not enough to state that “Joe is a wonderful manager”. A powerful recommendation should detail specific cases where Joe displayed his impressive leadership potential.

Should each recommendation respond to the specific questions asked by each university, or can an identical recommendation be used for all universities?

Your candidacy will be stronger if the recommender prepares a specific recommendation for each university and responds to the specific recommendation questions each university presents. For common recommendation questions, click here.

Overall, strong relationships and close acquaintance with your recommenders are the key to acquiring effective recommendations. Such recommendations are essential for a successful application.

Good luck!
The Vocaz team

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