Rock Star Recommendation Letters

Be the star of the show with your rockstar MBA recommendations

Excerpted from How to Apply for an MBA
By Tyler Cormney and Christopher Aitken of MBA Prep School - Updated June 2017

“It's all part of my rock 'n' roll fantasy. It's all part of my rock 'n' roll dream”
                                                                                                -Rock and Roll Fantasy by Bad Company
You arrive at the office in a white stretch limousine. Your peers swoon every time you take the stage to facilitate a meeting. The industry press hangs on your every word. Clients frequently ask for your autograph. You are a rock star!
At least until your cell phone alarm rings at 6 am, and you awaken in your cubicle with a keyboard imprint on your forehead…again.
In the real world, we rarely receive standing ovations or fan mail, but when it comes to applying to business school you do need to find two or three raving fans; most business schools will require reference letters, or, as we will call them, “rock star recommendation letters.”
What is a rock star recommendation letter?
In this article, we will peer into the mind of an admissions officer to describe the characteristics of a rock star caliber MBA recommendation letter. With a better understanding of the things the admissions committee at a top MBA school will be looking for, you will be more prepared to choose the right people to write your reference letters and to help your references understand that top schools only admit the rock stars.
When reading your MBA recommendation letters, admissions officers ask themselves the following questions:
How long has this reference been a fan?
Admissions officers aren’t looking for the “one-hit wonders,” they want to admit candidates who turn in top performances again and again. The first question an admissions officer will ask when reading this letter is “How well does the reference know the candidate and how long have they worked together?” Too many applicants choose their references because their references are stars, and completely forget that a form letter sent by the executive assistant of a business celebrity is not going to impress anyone in the admissions office. You must choose references that you have worked with closely and, ideally, for more than a year.
Does the reference provide evidence to back up their positive opinions of the applicant?
Real fans can easily recount scores of favorite stories about the rock stars they love. Equally, a rock star recommendation letter is more than just a litany of superlatives; your reference will back up their high opinion of you with concrete evidence. If you don’t remember anything else from this article, remember that a reference letter that claims you are rock star but does not back that praise up with a few vivid examples is not going to win you a new fan base in the admissions office.
Do the references letters make the rest of the application sound like a rock and roll fantasy?
The next question in the admissions committee’s mind when they read your letters is whether or not the letter reinforces or contradicts information you have provided in other elements of your application. If your reference letters make your resume and essays seem like the dream sequence that opened of this article then the ding letters you receive back from the top business schools will serve as a rude awakening.
Is this candidate the leader of the band?
One of the admissions committee’s favorite questions is “Whether or not your MBA recommendation letters portray you as a leader?” Have you simply done your job or have you truly rocked it? Are you just an anonymous roadie on the tour or are you making a difference? Your business school recommendation letters need to paint the picture of you as an up and coming leader, not just one of the crew.
Final Thoughts
A rock star recommendation letter builds the case that you are in the top 10-20% of your peer group. When MBA Prep School students ask us whether or not they should seek an MBA recommendation letter from a particular person, our test question is: “Will that person be comfortable stating without reservation in their letter that you are a rock star?” We realize this is a high bar to set, but the reality is that the best business schools only accept the top performers. If you don’t have those kinds of fans to write your business school recommendation letters, then get back to the studio and generate some more gold records. Rock on!
To learn more about what you can do to strengthen your candidacy and increase your chances of earning an acceptance letter from a top business school, please visit MBA Prep School. MBA Prep School has a suite of powerful on-demand videos and web-based tools that will help you build an outstanding application and realize your dream of attending one of the top business schools.
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