Who Should Write Your Recommendation?

by on October 13th, 2009

Effective letters of recommendation will highlight and amplify your leadership[1], teamwork, organizational and communication skills, and discuss the positive impact you’ve had on an organization. For this reason, managers, supervisors and mentors are ideally suited to write your LORs. Having supervised you over a period of time and seen you in a variety of situations, they will be able to speak knowledgeably about most, if not all, of the questions that schools will ask. LOR forms ask recommenders to answer a range of questions, such as how you stand out from others in a similar capacity and in what ways you have had an impact on your organization. They’ll also ask recommenders to assess your leadership experiences and potential, and to discuss or quantify on a scale such attributes as intelligence, creativity, focus, integrity and communication skills. They may even be asked to rate your sense of humor. But recommenders will also be asked to assess your weaknesses, as well as what you have done to address them. Therefore, you need someone who can speak knowledgeably not only about your proven abilities and talents, but even about areas where you can improve and do so without drawing attention to or magnifying any weaknesses that you do have. Consequently your mother is probably not a good choice, even if she’s your boss!

Assuming you need two recommenders, ask your current manager or supervisor, along with a recent supervisor or other department head, to write your LORs. If you cannot reveal to your current manager or supervisor that you are applying to school, get the next-best recommender, perhaps a former supervisor, but not from a position that you held more than three years ago. You should also get someone who can speak about your skills and abilities now, such as a team lead, or manager of another department where you currently work. Remember that recruiting a recommender who knows you well and cares about you and your plans will result in a far more effective LOR than getting someone with a high title in the company to sign off on a letter about you if she barely knows you.

If you run your own company, you’ll need to think a little more creatively about whom to ask for a letter of recommendation. Good options might be a partner, consultant, major client, vendor, supplier, attorney, accountant, or board member (if applicable). Here, too, these people should have a longstanding relationship with you (at least two years) during which you’ve had opportunities to display your integrity, professionalism, and other strengths. The same holds true if you work in a family business – but here, under no circumstances should you ask a relative to write your LOR, especially if that relative shares your same last name.

What if you work in a non-traditional, non-business environment? In that case, make sure that at least one of your recommenders can speak to your business acumen and management potential.

This article is excerpted from MBA Letters of Recommendation that Rock, by application experts Linda Abraham and Judy Gruen. For more tips on who should write your letters of recommendation, when, and how, check out Accepted.com’s new, instantly downloadable ebook, MBA Letters of Recommendation that Rock. If you purchase MBA Letters of Recommendation that Rock by October 20, you can save 20% by using coupon code BTG during checkout.

[1] http://blog.accepted.com/acceptedcom_blog/2008/7/22/the-many-faces-of-leadership.html


  • Nowadays, most companies have frequent re-orgs and it is rare that you have the same manager for 2 years. This article says "atleast two years" for an effective recommendation. So if my current supervisor under whom I have worked closely for a year give me a recommendation. Would that be an effective one ???? My earlier boss also worked with me for nearly an year..That's how certain industries work!

  • Good point. In industries with high turnovers, that two-year guideline doesn't apply. The two recommenders you refer to above both sound like they should have enough experience supervising you to write solid recommendations based on their personal knowledge of your work, and that's the key.

    • What if I left my previous employer 6 years ago but do not want to inform my current supervisor about my mba aspirations ? In this case, is it better to take recommendation from one of my colleagues in the current company, or from the supervisor of my former company ?

  • Six years ago is too long ago. Ask someone at your current employer or someone who used to supervise you, but has since left your current employer.


  • Linda,
    How do we handle the Recommendation process where different B-Schools ask for different forms to be filled in. Is it possible that a generic comprehensive LOR can be submitted to all the schools?

    I am trying to apply to Wharton, NYU columbia

  • That's actually a suggestion I have made to schools, but so far they haven't taken it. :-)

    Unfortunately your recommenders need to fill out different forms for different schools. There is no generic, comprehensive, or even non-comprehensive form that the schools share.

    Sorry. No shortcuts here.


  • Hi,

    My Team Lead, under whom i have worked for 3 years has left company and working from other organisation, can i get LOR from him?

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