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Application Tip from ASU’s W. P. Carey School: How to Choose the Right Recommenders

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The b-school application process has several components. And while you can complete the majority of the application on your own, the letters of recommendation require a bit more time and consideration. These letters are a key opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates, so make sure to get the ball rolling as early as possible in the application process.

Opt for Quality

Selecting the right people for the job is a crucial step. While it may look impressive to see your CEO’s name on a recommendation letter, unless you worked directly with the CEO, the gaps in his or her recommendation will be apparent. You’re more likely to garner an impressive recommendation from a direct supervisor who is familiar with your work and able to illustrate specific examples of your strengths, performance and value in a team environment. Effective communication is also important, so be sure to call upon someone with excellent writing and presentation skills.

Beyond direct supervisors, potential recommendation sources could include a long-term client, vendor, investor, colleague or other professional with whom you’ve had a direct working relationship. You may choose to call upon someone in a leadership position within a community group or nonprofit at which you’ve volunteered, or even a professor who can expand upon your academic skills, student leadership and work ethic. No matter who it is, make sure your recommenders can speak to your work in detail. It doesn’t matter who you’ve impressed, but rather how and why they’re impressed by you.

Be Thorough

Once you’ve chosen your recommenders, they may have questions for you regarding the recommendation process, your decision to apply for grad school, your long-term career aspirations or why you chose them to write a recommendation. It may be useful to set up a time to meet with each recommender, so you can outline everything about the process and answer any questions they have.

No one understands or knows your abilities and accomplishments better than you do, so give your recommenders as much information as they could possibly need to make a compelling case on your behalf. With that said, the recommendations you provide should be complementary, but not repetitive. Outlining details to discuss before meeting with each recommender will ensure you’ve covered your bases and minimize repetition.

Stay on Schedule

Develop a schedule to guide the recommendation process, and follow it as closely as you can—all of your application materials need to be submitted by the final application deadline, so plan on giving recommenders no less than two weeks before that deadline to complete and mail their letters, or err on the side of caution and go with four weeks prior to the deadline.

Finally, letters of recommendation help the admissions team develop a big picture view of your accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses, and potential fit within the W. P. Carey community. Ensure your letters distinguish your application from the crowd by giving yourself enough time to choose and meet with recommenders and allowing your recommenders sufficient time and supporting information to craft their best responses on your behalf.

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