Aug 23, 2016

An Applicant’s Role in the Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation (LOR) provide us with additional insight into your career success/potential, as well as your personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. The LOR is the only part of the application not completed by the applicant themselves. Because they're not writing it, it’s common for applicants to assume that they don’t have much influence over the letter. Not true! By picking the best recommenders to make your case and giving them some guidance, you can have a big impact.

Who should I ask? Someone who can speak to your work experience—preferably a direct supervisor.

Typically, we like to see LORs from an immediate supervisor. Someone who has worked with you closely and can really speak to your work experience. The recommender doesn’t need to be the CEO or head of the company, especially if he/she has had little direct contact or interaction with you. It is more important to have someone who has worked directly with you than someone with an impressive title.

There are times that applicants don’t want their supervisors to know they are applying to business school. In these situations, a client, previous manager, senior colleague or contact from an extracurricular organization can be a good option. However, if you are not providing a letter from your supervisor, we suggest you include an explanation in an optional essay so we do not assume that it is because you don’t have a good working relationship with him/her. These people are also great choices for your second recommender.

Who shouldn’t I ask? Family, friends, or professors.

We do not recommend asking family or friends for a LOR. If you work for a family business, and your supervisor is a parent (or an aunt, or an uncle, etc.), we suggest asking a client, customer, or non-family member in the organization to write a letter for you instead. Likewise, we do not recommend asking a professor to write the recommendation. We will know how you performed in the class from your grades, and professors are not usually in a position to provide insight into the areas we are most interested in learning about.

Asking your Recommender

Asking your potential recommender these two questions, will set you on the right path: 1) are you willing to write a positive recommendation for me? and 2) do you have the time to write a detailed recommendation? If his/her answer to either of these questions is “no,” you should find someone else to write on your behalf.

Prepare your Recommender (Highly encouraged!)

Preparing your recommender in advance is important. It should go without saying, but be sure to give your recommender plenty of time to complete the letter by the school’s deadline. Then, we recommend taking them out for coffee, or finding some time to talk about your goals and rationale for getting an MBA. Spend some time reminding them of your recent performance reviews, and talk about your significant accomplishments. This will help them write a more compelling evaluation because they will have specific examples to use in support of their comments. Those detailed examples are important. Letters that are brief and state strong feelings either positive or negative without providing examples to support the comments aren’t very helpful. Just saying “Susan is a great team player” doesn’t provide as much insight as a letter that then supports the comment with a specific example. This does not mean telling your recommender exactly what to say…

Do NOT—we repeat, do NOT!—write your own letter of recommendation.

We want an honest assessment of your skills. Occasionally, we will hear that a recommender asks the applicant to write the letter for them and they will sign their name to it. If this request is made of you, find someone else to write your recommendation. Do however, make sure that your recommender knows how important for them to submit the Tuck LOR form rather than a generic letter. We ask these questions for a reason and want to be sure we’re getting the information we need.

Also, it’s just plain wrong. Tuck is proud to operate under an honor code and writing your own LOR would be a direct violation.


Finally, be sure to thank your recommender (profusely!). Writing these letters takes a lot of work, particularly if you are applying to several schools. Show your appreciation, because you may want to use them as a reference again in the future.

Thanks for your Tuck 360 readership! We look forward to learning about you all through your letters of recommendation and the rest of the application