This post could also be called, “Should I not get a recommendation from the CEO?”
Most of the time when a Brave Supplicant asks about tapping their CEO to recommend them to bschool, it’s not a good idea. For most early-career types, the most interaction you’ve ever had with the CEO was passing him (or her – though it’s rarely a “her”) in the lobby as you scurried in from your mad mid-afternoon dash to Starbucks. If you’re working in a decent-sized company, then it’s likely you have had very little contact with the CEO at all – if that person even works in the same building as you.
If that’s your situation, then even though your CEO has accepted your LinkedIn connection request, that does not mean you have a deep enough relationship with him to tap him for a recommendation to bschool.
The schools all ask that you get your current direct supervisor to write a rec, and then it’s up to you who you pick for the second one.
If you literally are reporting directly to the CEO on a day-to-day basis, and he / she is directly involved in evaluating your workproduct, and he / she has enough time and interest, and loves you enough as a go-getter whippersnapper who’s impressed her, then sure. Absolutely. Get a rec from the CEO.
In that case though, you’re getting a rec from the best person to recommend you. It just happens to be the case that she’s also the CEO.
For most people who are considering whether they should ask the CEO, we’re uncomfortable with the idea, without even hearing much about it.
Here’s a test: When you were scurrying past that CEO in the lobby with your caramel frappaccino, trying not to drip whipped cream on the slick marble floor, and your CEO looked straight at you…
Did she think, “Hmmm, that kid looks familiar…”
Or did she smile and say “Hey Jack, that frap looks good, don’t spill it” as she breezed past you?
Or did she think you were a Taskrabbit delivering a frappaccino to some poor office-bound schmuck who was stuck in a meeting and fiending for his fix?
If you answered Option B then absolutely, your CEO might be a good choice.
But please don’t be confused about it.
The title Does. Not. Matter. in the context of your recommendations.
Getting a rec from the CEO – or, heck from the President of the United States – won’t actually do jack for you, Jack, unless that person knows you well enough to write something substantive.
You also want to pick someone who is a raving fan, who will go out of their way to give the recommendation some time and attention because they believe in you and know that you’re on a big upward trajectory and they can’t wait to see how you’re going to conquer the world someday, and they’d be honored to do this for you since you totally deserve to get into a great MBA program!
If your CEO — or whomever you’re thinking of asking — is simply too busy, or if they’re not really that into you, well, look around and see if you can come up with someone who is.
If you have lots of possible options, then that’s great! It’s not mandatory to have your current manager write for you, though it’s always preferred if you can.
If you’re stuck on the different choices, then first read up on the posts here on the blahg, and if you still have questions and you want our input into your strategy, you may want to go for the Letters of Recommendation App Accelerator which allows us to give you personalized and detailed feedback on all of your options.
We’ll also mention something that we suggested to a BSer recently: Just because your previous manager left your company does not disqualify you from asking them to write a rec. Often, a (recent past) former manager is ideal, based on the depth of your working relationship, and also because there’s no downside risk to you in alerting your current boss that you may be on the way out. The adcoms all know that it’s not always wise to inform your current manager that, well, actually, instead of a promotion that they were considering you for, maybe that plum assignment should go to some other guy, because we hear that Jack is thinking about going for his MBA.
Remember, too, sometimes there’s a good case to be made for using different recommenders for different schools. This can play well, depending on which schools you have in your mix (and how many) and which recommenders you have in mind, particularly if there are any alumni relationships involved. It’s never ever more important to choose someone who’s more of an acquaintance, but who’s an alum of your target school, over a better choice who you have a stronger relationship with. However, all else being equal, there can be value in tapping an alum for certain schools, mostly because they value the school and can go to bat on your behalf in making a case for you.
Obviously there are lots of permutations here, and many things to be considering.
To circle back to the today’s question though: Should you not ask the CEO, because she’s the CEO, and then the adcom will assume you’re playing games instead of taking this seriously? Won’t the adcom think you’re being totally superficial and not appreciating the process, or not following directions, if you get the CEO to write for you?
No. Not necessarily.
Sometimes it DOES make sense to ask your CEO to recommend you, if she is already the best person for the task. Don’t be nervous about getting a CEO recommendation if the CEO is your best choice of recommender. In that case, it wouldn’t be title-chasing; it would be sound strategy.
MBA adcoms literally don’t care about titles. If it’s the CEO, or the President, or the Chairman of the Board, then that’s who you should pick. Or if it’s the janitor, then go with him.
Step back and look at who will write the best recs for you with the most detail on YOU and go with them.