Each school will have a different deadline for recommendations to be submitted. Still, it is smart to ask for recommendations well in advance of these deadlines. It is important to show respect to your recommender and their schedule. A good letter of recommendation takes time to write and you will be more likely to actually get the letter if you ask a few weeks in advance at a minimum. Further, you should start working on finding your recommenders as soon as you decide to enter business school. You will need months or even years to build meaningful relationships with them.
Simply put, the best people to write your letters of recommendation are individuals who you have built a meaningful relationship with, know your capabilities, and have an impressive background in business. While there is no hard and fast rule on what makes the ideal recommender, business schools generally rely on three guidelines when reading letters of recommendation.
How solid of a case does your recommender make for you to be in business school? Are they enthusiastic and do they back up their claims with specific examples? Your recommender does not have to be the next great American author, but having solid writing skills and the ability to write both professionally and persuasively certainly does not hurt.
Length and nature of your relationship
Ideally, you will want recommenders who have both known you for a long time and have a close relationship with you. Unless the school you are applying for does not permit it, many of the best recommendations come from individuals who have supervised you and are familiar with the quality of your work. For business schools, this typically means that your former bosses and supervisors are your best bet. Professors are a popular choice for letters of recommendations, but they generally are not familiar with you professionally. Unless your school asks for a professor’s recommendation, they should be a backup choice.
Your recommender’s reputation and background
A CEO or other high ranking professional is going to carry more clout than an assistant manager. If you are fortunate enough to have close relationships with powerful business people, use this to your advantage. Additionally, if you have contacts who are graduates of the school that you are applying to seek them out as well. However, position is not everything and even if a CEO is willing to write your letter, it is very important that they can speak specifically to your skills and experience. If they cannot, look for better options. To this end, I recommend that you always provide your recommenders with a list of your accomplishments. Regardless of how well you know your recommenders, sometimes people forget details. A generic letter of recommendation will not impress an admissions committee regardless of who wrote it.
Shoot for a length between two and four pages. This is one reason why you need to have a lengthy history with your recommender. Writing two to four pages should not be hard for someone who is very familiar with your work.
Ideally, each letter should be individually targeted at a single university. You will be a stronger candidate if your letters address the specific recommendation questions each university asks.
Letters of recommendation are more important than they are given credit for and there is no reason to be shy about asking for them. Your business contacts know that you will need a few to get into business school. Don’t delay, go out and rub some elbows and build lasting connections.