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One Change MBA Applicants Can Make to Transform an Average Recommendation Letter to a Wow!

Recommendation letters are an important part of the MBA application. They give the admissions committee an outside perspective of your candidacy, and represent a “vote of confidence” from someone with first-hand knowledge about your ability to handle the rigors of business school.

However, for early-career MBA applicants who are newer to the workforce – with correspondingly fewer accomplishments to discuss – it can be challenging for recommenders to write the type of specific, detailed responses that are most effective in impressing admissions committees.


I get asked a lot about how MBA applicants can improve their recommendation requests and how they can ensure that they get strong, effective, phenomenal recommendation letters. The tip that I’m going to share today will work for anyone, but it is most effective for early-career candidates, who know that they want to go to business school but are not yet actively engaged in the application process.

Want better recommendation letters? Here’s what you need to do: Take initiative.

I’ve written before about the importance of leadership in MBA applications. But a lot of MBA applicants think that they haven’t been put in charge of a project or a team yet, so they don’t have much to go on to show leadership.

Leadership isn’t about “being in charge”, though. It’s about vision: understanding your role, project, and department, and how they affect the organization as a whole; determining areas where improvements can be made; and doing the research and work to implement those improvements (or to lobby for their implementation).

How Taking Responsibility Leads to Great Recommendation Letters 

I recently worked with a client who was a good employee, had a solid resume, etc., but had very little relevant leadership experience to set her apart from the competition. I asked her to look for opportunities to take on greater responsibility at work, beyond the normal scope of her job duties.

She decided to analyze her firm’s existing projects and put together a case to her superiors that the company had untapped opportunity to do some business in an emerging market country. This was a very thorough proposal – she did extensive research, and pulled together a lot of information to really make a strong case.

Her firm was interested but still skeptical, so she said that she would step up, lead the project, and take on the responsibility to tap the new market. They agreed and she is pursuing the effort to get business in this market. This was something that was initially way out of her scope of responsibilities, but she had the vision to see that it had the potential to be really valuable to her company.

Now she has a great story to write about when she applies to business school, as well as more experience and potentially more credibility with her employers and direct bosses. She’s also building great social capital, she’ll be managing a team, and her recommendation letter will have a great specific example to reference in terms of leadership.

That’s obviously a dramatic example. But getting good leadership experience, and the recommendation letter support to go along with it, doesn’t have to be a huge project like that. It does have to mean that you get out of your comfort zone, though, to go over and above – not just working with in the proscribed circle of your current responsibilities.

Leadership as much about vision as it is about action, but you have to have both. Step outside the bounds of your regular responsibility. Show that you’re investing your time and getting results. Recommenders will be more enthusiastic about you – and so will admissions committees. 

If you’re thinking about applying to business school and want help getting phenomenal MBA recommendation letters, EXPARTUS can help. We work with candidates who want to set themselves apart from the competition and gain admission to elite business schools. Learn more by getting in touch with us at 844.259.4506, or by email at