MBA Recommendations For Family Business And Entrepreneurs

Who should I ask to write my MBA recommendation letter? Your recommenders are a vital part of any successful MBA application. But for people without traditional employers, bosses or mentors, this is a difficult question to answer. If that’s you, don’t worry! Angela is here with decades of experience in wrangling out great MBA recommendations from unusual places.

We talk a lot about recommendation letters on MBA Monday because they’re SO IMPORTANT! 

Don’t Choose the Wrong Recommenders:

And pass these on to your recommenders to help them craft the perfect letter: How To Write MBA Recommendation (Strengths)-

How To Write MBA Recommendations 2 (Constructive Feedback) –

Check out the Ultimate Guide How to Get Into Business School: 

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Who's this nerd? This is Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol. It's MBA Monday, and today I'm talking about tricky recommender situations. We talk a lot about recommendations on MBA Monday because they're an incredibly important part of your application, but they're also the part that's hardest to manage and control because your destiny is in the hands of other people. So if you haven't already watched last season's videos, I recommend you go back and watch “How to Choose the Best Recommenders”, “How Your Recommenders Can Address the Strengths Question”, and “How Recommenders Can Address the Question About Feedback”.

Like I said, we talk a lot about this subject, so there's a lot of great content on MBA Monday about recommenders. But today I'm going to talk about those marginal, strange situations where you don't have great options to recommend you because of the setup of your career. So, the most common situations I see with my clients are if you work in a family business, it's a little bit hard to find recommenders because most of the people who would recommend you, typically you're related to and there's a clear conflict of interest there. Another situation in which it's hard to find great recommenders is when you work in a company where it's not really safe to disclose your MBA applications because either they'll fire you on the spot – that's really, really rare, but it has happened in the past -, or they will compromise your career trajectory if you stay at the firm, if they know that you're planning to apply to business school. And the third situation in which you might have difficulty finding great recommenders is if you're still very early in your career, or you spent a lot of extra time in academia, so the people who know you as a professional best are not professionals, they're academics. So here's some strategies.

Look Further Afield for MBA Recommenders

  1. The first thing you want to do is go back to previous employers. So, if you're in a family business but you worked in another company before, or if you can't ask your current supervisor, but you could go back to the company that you did work at before this one, that's the best place to start.
  2. The second place to look is in client supplier and external relationships. So, for example, we had an entrepreneur who also worked in the family business, use their auditor as a recommender, for example. You can use clients, you can use legal counsel, anyone that you've worked with in a serious professional capacity who is well-equipped to gauge your professional abilities and skills. 
  3. The third option is to go to people you've worked with in the past who may not have been in a supervisory capacity, but who you trust to write a great recommendation for you. So maybe if you tell your boss you're applying to business school, it's going to cause a problem, but you have a peer who's slightly senior to you in a different division of the company, who knows you really well. You consider a friend and that person is actually willing to write the recommendation without having an impact on your career. That would be a good option. Similarly, in a family business, you probably won't want to ask a family member, but there might be managers either in your division or in other divisions that can really speak very eloquently about your candidacy. There's still a little bit of a conflict of interest there, if your parents own the company and the manager says something bad about you, that might jeopardize their career. But still, people who work in family businesses have to submit recommendations of this kind and the admissions committee understands the dynamic. So just make sure that the person writing on your behalf has a lot of really great things, specific and vivid things to say about you personally, so that their word carries weight, even if there might be a slightly stronger incentive for them to speak positively on your behalf.

Why Academic Recommenders Might Not Be Your Best Choice

The last resort for great recommendations is going to be academic recommendations. It's rare that having an academic advisor write on your behalf is going to be the best choice, only because the academic world and the business world are in two parallel dimensions. So your PhD advisor or your masters instructor, or a professor from college, even if they can say really wonderful things about you, if they've never observed you outside of an academic context, they're likely not going to have the right information to show your professional capabilities to the admissions committee.

Avoid MBA Recommendations From Peers

The question I often get from clients is can they use a peer as a recommendation? And there was a period of time many years ago when peer recommendations were actually popular and certain schools, requested or even permitted them. But these days, schools really prefer to hear from people senior to you who've been in a position to manage a lot of people at your level and can therefore comment on how strong you are vis a vis other people like you, because they've been in a senior position and have been able to observe a lot of other people. A peer will likely not have been able to do that. So if you do need to resort to having someone who is effectively a peer recommend you, you want to emphasize the ways in which that person is actually senior to you in their career and able to credibly comment on your excellence in context.

Don’t Worry About Not Following the Traditional Recommender Route

Last thing I want to say about tricky recommendations is that schools are not going to punish you for your career context. You've made the choices that you've made because those were the best choices for you at the time. If you're working in a family business, if you're an entrepreneur, or if you work in a really competitive company, that is not OK with you pursuing an MBA, none of that is going to count against you. So don't worry that you're not able to submit recommendations that conform to the standard format of who's recommending you that most applicants are submitting. Instead, just do your best to source meaningful commentary from relatively objective people who've observed you in a professional context and are ideally senior to you. Feel free to get creative. Schools will really appreciate that you have people around you who love you, support you, and know what an awesome professional you are. That's it for this MBA Monday. I'll see you next week.

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Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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