Monday, September 01, 2014 at 11am

MIT Sloan’s MBA Recommendation Letter Essay

MIT Sloan admissions essay

MIT Sloan is the ‘just the facts’ business school. They stopped asking about your post-MBA goals years ago, because they only respect evidence of applicants' demonstrated excellence, for instance a performance evaluation. Its MBA recommendation letter essay fits smoothly within that tradition. Unlike Kellogg's late, lamented ‘provide a brief evaluative assessment of your file’ essay, MIT Sloan isn't inviting you to engage in narcissistic self-marketing here. You’re being asked to view yourself as your supervisor would in a performance evaluation. You want this recommendation letter-essay to ring true, though not necessarily because Sloan will be able to compare your letter to the actual letter your current supervisor writes or their performance evaluation. Indeed, you may want to get strategic and allow this recommendation letter-essay to stand in for an actual letter from your supervisor.

Sloan requires two letters that answer the same six questions listed in the essay 2 prompt, but all they ask for is letters from “individuals who are able to speak with certainty about your professional achievements and potential”. MIT Sloan prefers that both letters be from the workplace but does not require it. So your first MBA recommendation letter could be from your previous direct supervisor at work and the second be your current supervisor (or peer) in your ongoing extracurricular if you have achieved a lot there OR another previous supervisor, so long as you don't go back more than, say, four or five years. In other words, because you are focusing essay 2 on your current supervisor, it's pointless and redundant to waste one of your precious recommendation letters on him or her. Worried that Sloan will assume you omitted a letter from your current supervisor because it would be negative? Make your essay 2 reco-essay as objective and concrete as you possibly can, ideally by referring to or even quoting from your supervisor's actual performance evaluations of you, as long as they're positive, of course…

How should you respond to the six MBA recommendation letter-essay question themselves? Like this:

"How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?"

As in an actual MBA recommendation letter, keep this brief and factual, being as specific as possible about start and end dates, the reporting relationship, the frequency of interaction, etc. This is no place for fulsome praise. Just the facts, ma'am.

"How does the applicant stand out from others in a similar capacity?"

This and the 'weakness' question below are the two most important sections of this essay (as of an actual MBA recommendation letter). Above all, recommendation letters should be about comparisons – not just "he or she’s great" but "he or she's great in the context of his peers." As mentioned, if you want to wow Sloan, refer directly to the categories in your formal performance reviews where your supervisor has rated you highly. You may have space for three such stand-out strengths here. Provide a brief example illustrating each one. Again, the most ruthlessly objective and factual you can be here, the better. Think in terms of citing hard evidence – early promotions, performance awards, etc. – that you are strong relative to your peers and relative to the typical career pace.

"Please give an example of the applicant’s impact on a person, group, or organization."

Note that MIT Sloan wants only one example here. If you describe your biggest recent impact accomplishment here, as you probably should, make sure you don't also use that example in essay 1 (the one about principled, innovative leadership).

"Please give a representative example of how the applicant interacts with other people."  

Again, one example (not two or more or none) that shows your teamwork, interpersonal, social skills driving positive outcomes. 

"Which of the applicant’s personal or professional characteristics would you change?"

This is the second place in this reco-essay where you want to go out of your way to show that you are being real, even at the risk of being harsher on yourself than your supervisor actually would be. So avoid rubbish answers about being too hard on yourself or others or working too hard yada, yada. Instead, include a specific development area mentioned in your supervisor's performance review or of functional skills that an MBA could help you repair.

"Please tell us anything else you think we should know about this applicant."

This is a freebie so don't waste it on your breathtaking PowerPoint skills. Think in terms of examples that show how you contribute to the organization's culture or community or the community – or perhaps talk about personal challenges you've overcome (if your supervisor knows about them and you've come a long way). If your supervisor has an MBA from MIT Sloan or has discussed your post-MBA goals with you, this would be a great place to mention either or both of these subjects. 

Image: Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock.com

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