Pick well. Pick very, very well. Follow the general advice. Always pick someone who knows you well over someone with an impressive job title. Don’t write the recommendations yourself; if someone asks you to do that then go find a different recommender. Try to get a set of 2 or 3 people who can present different sides of yourself. And help them. At this point in the game, I think that helping your recommenders is where you can make the biggest difference.
I gave each of my recommenders a folder with a few documents:
1. My resume.
2. One page explaining why I was applying- my short term goals, my long term goals, etc.
3. One page explaining why I was applying to each specific school- for example, at school A I’m really excited about this specific class and that professor and this club, etc. And I would fit in well because I have demonstrated these 3 characteristics that I know the school is looking for in candidates. A separate page for the second school. Another one for the third school, etc.
4. One page of stories the recommender can use. Each “story” describes something that the recommender knows about and that demonstrates some of the things business schools are looking for. For example, one of the stories for my direct supervisor was about how I took initiative on a certain project and delivered above expectations and within the time frame- I also included a quote from a performance review related to that project. This page included about half a dozen stories. Each story had a very succinct sub-title such as “a time I showed leadership” or “a time I showed creativity” and then a 3-4 sentence description. Obviously you need a different set of stories for each recommender.
5. One page listing resources. Mostly just websites with sample recommendations, do/don’t lists, etc. I also included contact info for each admissions office in case they had questions or technical difficulty, etc.
The hardest part is picking your recommenders. The first person I asked was a college professor (she was my advisor, I had taken a number of courses with her including a small seminar, and I had worked for her for a year). Two others were supervisors from prior internships/jobs. Another was a peer (the captain of my varsity team in college). The professor wrote for all 4 schools, the bosses for 2 or 3 each, and my peer for 2 schools.
To start off the process I had to ask them. This was a little nerve wracking but I had already discussed my business school plans with all of them and that helped a lot. Then I set up a meeting with each recommender and took a while to talk each one through the folder and make sure she (all my recommenders were female) understood everything and didn’t have any questions. I did this about 2 months before recommendations were due. It was one of the first things I did in the whole application process.
Something I didn’t do, which I wish I had, was set deadlines with all of my recommenders. I ended up worrying for much of the application period about whether my application would get bounced at the last minute because one of them procrastinated. Checking up on my “peer” was easy because I could ask how it was going with a casual phone call or email. I had a similar relationship with one of my bosses so that went well too. The other boss and the professor were a bit more awkward since I had a more formal relationship with them and I didn’t want to bug them.
After a bit of hair-pulling I called each one a month before the recommendations were due to check up on things. During the phone calls I was able to get them to agree to specific dates by which the recommendations would be submitted. That way I was able to relax until a few days after those deadlines when I checked the websites to make sure everything had been submitted. Everything had been, which was wonderful. But if it hadn’t, at least then I would have felt comfortable about calling and checking in again. So if you’re just starting this process, consider asking your recommenders to submit by a deadline a few weeks earlier then the real one. At least that way you don’t have to worry for months.
My last piece of advice- thank them. A lot. I went with a nice thank you note and copious amounts of chocolate.
**There are lots of good lists/materials out there for how to help your recommenders. Take a few minutes and google some of them. The more you help, the better the recommendations are likely to be.**