Reference letters are a key component of an MBA application. Most MBA admission committees require two to three reference letters. They rely substantially on these to decide whether or not to grant an applicant an interview because they offer a more complete picture of who that person really is. However, they are also the least controllable part of an application. You can neither control what your referee writes, nor can you know in advance what they will write about you. It is therefore a risky component of the process.
Choosing the right referee is difficult. All admission committees and consultants will say that you should choose someone who knows you best. The trouble is that he or she may not necessarily be your best referee. You may want a referee with a fancy job title, but such a person may not know you well enough. On the other hand, the people who know you best may not have any experience of writing reference letters, and therefore make all the common mistakes: they may lack specific examples of what you did, how you did it, or rely too much on your input. Regardless of how good you are, the quality of your application will be affected by the quality of your reference letters.
Some applicants will want to offer referees assistance and help them draft their reference letters. This should be avoided at all costs. The trained eyes of admission committee members can identify similarities between your recommendation letters and your personal statement. They are exceptionally good at judging how authentic and genuine your recommendation letters are. Sometimes they will contact the referees directly via e-mail or by a phone call, and have a conversation with them. Once they find out the letter was not written primarily by the referee, your application will suffer, even without your knowing it. As such, even if you imagine you have found a referee with the perfect credentials, you need to decide whether they will commit meaningful time to write the letter instead of delegating it to their secretaries and subordinates. You should also give them plenty of time and follow up with them frequently.
Another common problem is that referees may not be good writers. They may not be able to write a reference letter that is eloquent or contains an in-depth insight into you. Even though some say that a recommendation letter is not a test of your referees’ English, the overall quality of the letter matters. In most cases, admission committees cannot afford to meet everyone’s referees; that’s why I feel that people judge how reliable your referee is by how well they write.
Given the above, it is obvious a good referee is not easy to come by. I believe that a better strategy is to develop relationships at your firm early on. Once you have identified people you can trust, and who are of a high calibre, develop a trusting relationship with them years before your application.This provides a pool of potential referees and mentors. It is also much easier to ask for assistance from someone whom you know well as a friend rather than co-workers or colleagues whom you know very little outside work.
Originally posted on Education Post.