If you’re applying to Harvard Business School, you’ve probably figured out that your MBA recommendation letters are going to have a BIG impact on your admissions chances. Since Harvard has trimmed the application requirements to ONE challenging essay, the rec letters have to pull a lot of weight.

Harvard Business School used to require three recommendation letters, but starting this year they are only asking for two (what a relief!). HBS admissions are very specific that these letters should come from supervisors and not peers (unlike Stanford MBA admissions). If you are working for a family business or are an entrepreneur and don’t have a boss, you can get rec letters from vendors, partners or clients.

Your recommenders will be required to answer the questions below, and also rank you on a grid based on your performance in various areas (compared with your peers). If you’re not sure that your supervisors will rank you at the top, you should think twice about whether they are the right recommenders.

Harvard MBA Recommendation Letters Questions:

How do the candidate’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)

Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (250 words)

 Tips for HBS Recommendation Letters

Analysis: The first questions is basically trying to make sure that your recommender really thinks you’re a superstar and perform above everyone else. Harvard MBA admissions want to know that you’re not just hard–working, like all the other investment bankers/consultants/marketing managers/fill in the blank – they want to know that you go above and beyond. Still, ticking a check box is cheap; providing examples (with passion and power) is more difficult.

The second question is an interesting one: the admissions team at Harvard Business School is looking to hear about your ability to take feedback and grow, and your overall coach-ability. This is also another way for the team to test the relationship between you and the recommender – if you never got feedback from her, she probably doesn’t know you that well (and therefore her entire support letter is less valuable).

The second question is likely to make the recommender uncomfortable – no one likes to talk about difficult situations, mistakes and failure; but as long as the answer to this HBS question has a happy ending (in which the candidate has learned, adjusted, and saved the world) it will work.

Need some help talking with your recommenders? I can help. Drop me a line to info@admit1mba.com  and we’ll set up some time to speak about your application to Harvard, or just fill out your contact info below and I will get back to you within 24 hours.

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