Take it from me...letters of recommendation

I was in high school the first time I requested letters of recommendation. I asked my two favorite teachers to write a glowing report on how brilliant and accomplished I was and how I would grace any university I attended.  They were happy to oblige, and when I read the letters (I requested extras and later opened them), my ego expanded markedly.

That anecdote is pointless except as an introduction to my topic of the week – letters of recommendation. I regularly get questions from candidates about who they should ask:

Should I ask the CEO of my company? Should I try to find a St. Thomas alumnus? Can I ask a professor from my undergraduate degree? What if my dad is my boss?

It is important to remember that the UST MBA programs accept competent professionals who make great teammates and enhance the classroom experience for their peers. For those reasons, we ask that our applicants provide two professional letters of recommendation. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Choose someone who knows how you perform on a daily basis at work. It is more important that they know your specific and unique competencies than that they have a prestigious title.
  • Choose someone who is important to you, not who you think is important to us (no need to seek out an alumnus). You want a letter from someone who is in your fan club and will not only write you a good letter but will support you in your MBA pursuits.
  • Avoid personal contacts. Family members, professors, and mentors are all very willing, but not as in tune to your professional capabilities.

Who do I recommend? First, ask your direct manager. Next, ask your director, if you have a relationship with him or her. If you work closely with cross-functional managers, consider them. If necessary, ask a peer at work or a manager of your volunteer work. If you’re still drawing a blank, I recommend you evaluate your abilities to build professional relationships. You might need some improvement.

Take it from me, a professional letter of recommendation from a person who knows you well can be a great asset to your application.