6. MBA Recommendations
The recommendations represent an opportunity to sharpen your skills as a forger.
Everyone forges their own recommendations. OK, not everyone, but most people write their own or provide a heck of a lot of "guidance" during the process. I know this because I'm on the "sell side" of the admissions transaction. (Wow, I sound like an investment banker.) My students constantly ask what they should write in their recommendations.
It isn't that applicants are trying to cheat the game; the problem is that most recommenders don't want to take the time to write a long letter or respond to the online questions and fill in the "grid boxes" that are part of most MBA recommendations. So they ask the applicant to do the dirty work and agree to sign the finished product.
Letting Your Boss Write Your Recommendation
You'd almost be crazy to let your boss write your recs. Frankly, he has no idea what he's doing and he can inadvertently screw up your chances of being admitted. I see it all the time. To avoid that problem, I recommend that my students give their recommenders a list of the questions they'll be asked to respond to and to provide them with some sample (meaning "appropriate") responses.
Don't leave your fate in your boss's hands. He's a clown who doesn't know what he's doing. Give him some guidelines, and if he asks you to complete the recommendation forms yourself, don't hesitate to do so. The schools all know that many of the recommendations are from the applicants themselves. (Yes, I've confirmed it with the admissions people.)
What if I Don't Want My Employer to Know That I'm Leaving?
This is a tough situation. Schools hear this question from hundreds of applicants every year. They always answer something like, "Well, just do the best you can." It's a lame response.
I've never heard a good answer to this question. My suggestion is that you get a recommendation from one of your customers, but that isn't always possible. The top schools want two recommendations (except Harvard, which asks for three). If you can't get the full quota, then get what you can get. That causes a lot of worry, but in the end I don't think it makes much difference. Just include a note stating why you can't get more recommendations. The schools will understand.
A Few Pointers on the Letters of Recommendation
There's an entire section on writing the recommendations at this Web site, so I won't address it here. Be sure to check that section out, though, after finishing the Seven Application Elements.
A Final Comment on the Letter of Recommendation
You may hear from some admissions people that they put a great deal of emphasis on letters of recommendation. I hope, for the sake of applicants, that they are bluffing to justify putting your recommender through an arduous process. The quality of your recommendation is so closely tied to your recommender's ability to write that it wouldn't be fair to place much emphasis on it. Some recommenders are very good writers, and some have even gone to top MBA schools and know what to write about. Others are terrible writers and don't know what the admissions people are looking for.
If you don't believe that the recommendation is more reflective of the writer than of the applicant, then have your boss write a letter for you. I'll make up a recommendation for your officemate (against whom you are competing for a spot at Wharton). You can judge for yourself which candidate looks better on paper.
The 7 Criteria
You won't be admitted to a top-tier MBA school without a pretty decent GMAT number. The schools' own statistics prove this simple truth.
MBA APPLICATION ESSAYS
It's common for applicants with great essays but only acceptable GMAT scores to beat out candidates with higher numbers.
MBA APPLICATION TIMING
When you submit your application can be as important as what you say in it. At the elite schools, you'd better be in one of the first two rounds.
MBA UNDERGRAD GPA
Undergrad GPA is not as important as most applicants believe. But there's a caveat: if your math grades suck it will pay to do some work.
MBA WORK EXPERIENCE
This isn't the type of experience you have at work, it's the amount. As applications rise, schools want students with more experience
Recommendations are often a better reflection of the recommender than of the applicant. I think they should be dumped.
Interviews can be very important, but their impact varies widely from school to school—and some schools don't use them at all.