Consultants and investment bankers applying to business school make up a significant portion of the applicant pool. This means that the competition for candidates with this background is particularly fierce. Individuals writing your recommendation will most likely be writing recommendations for others as well. To a large extent, the skill set that will be highlighted includes your intellectual horsepower and ability to quickly grasp complicated materials, analytical and quantitative skills, decision-making and problem-solving skills, judgment, verbal and written communication skills, and confidence.
Beyond confirming your intelligence and analytical skills, recommenders for consultants and investment bankers need to address your emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, flexibility in dealing with ambiguity, team dynamics, confidence and maturity in dealing with clients and superiors, creativity, and so much more. It isn’t enough to talk about how smart a candidate is because it is already a foregone conclu-
sion, given a solid academic track record, GMAT score, and
blue chip firm. The focus should be on your personal charac-
teristics and the impact you have had that is beyond your job
description. Given that most recommenders will have good
things to say about their candidates, it becomes even more
important to describe not only the “what” of your background
but the “how” of what you have done.
As far as recommenders for investment bankers, I recom-
mend using vice presidents (VPs) and higher. It is not that asso-
ciates can’t speak to the quality of your work and
accomplishments, but they are too close in position to you. All
things being equal, with two analysts with strong recommen-
dations, one from an associate and the other from a VP, the
MBA Board would likely tip the scale for the VP recommen-
dation over the associate. The caveat to this is that the VP needs
to know your work very well and should be a brand champion.
At the end of the day, a lackluster VP recommendation is worse
than a stellar associate recommendation.
If you are a consultant, you should consider a supervisor anda senior-titled client who have worked with you extensively. A recommendation from a partner who knows you well because of leadership initiatives you have taken on a project or across the firm would be of value in setting you apart from your competition. The operative phrase is one “who knows you well.” It isn’t useful to have recommendations from highly ranked individuals if they don’t know you well.