All the schools prefer that you get a letter of recommendation from your current direct supervisor, yet they know that that’s not always possible. If you don’t plan to have your current manager write for you, that’s fine, but you need to explain to the adcom why not. In many cases, this needs to be covered in an optional essay, or some schools now allow you to explain it within the app directly.
Up until quite recently, the admissions folks were quite cagey about what they considered a good reason not to have a rec from your boss. However, in recent admissions seasons, some MBA programs, notably schools like Kellogg, have put a concerted effort into being more transparent, and more helpful, in what they ask for and what they expect.
You may feel squirmy about this. Maybe you’re not getting your boss to write for you because you’ve got a fraught relationship with her, and you’re not sure she’ll be an advocate for you. If that’s the case, do not ask her to recommend you. It’s a very black-and-white situation if you’re not convinced that someone will go all-out in writing a stellar letter on your behalf. If the person you’re considering is not an out-and-out fan who’s advocating for your success in your career and in life, then do not ask them. Simple as that. Find someone else to do this for you.
If you don’t have anyone who’s on your side to this extent, whelp that’s unfortunately a different problem. We recommend examining your approach to your work and your relationships, and looking at how you build a reputation for quality and how you deliver results for those in your professional life. That’s a longer-term undertaking, but starting it now is worthwhile.
There are several scenarios where, even though you have a positive relationship with your direct supervisor, it just doesn’t make sense to have him or her write a letter of recommendation for you. The most obvious is if you’ve only recently started working for this person, either by taking a new job in a new company, or moving to a new manager in a different department, or maybe your manager is a new hire that was just brought in to lead your division. If this is the case, it’s a very easy situation and requires little explanation (though it does need to be explained, including some details on dates etc.). The bare-minimum duration before someone would be qualified to write a good letter for you is a six-month working relationship. If it’s less than that, well maybe you could still have them do it, but it’s less likely they can write of substance about your performance.
Also, a new manager may be less than thrilled to hear you’re planning on leaving for bschool, even though your departure is considerably far out on the time horizon. Even if you think they would say positive things about you, if you feel that they’d be miffed if you told them about your apps, then skip it. Don’t ask them. Keep it on the hush-hush for now.
So we’ve already covered two legit reasons for not getting a rec from your current direct supervisor, and we may as well list all of them out directly, paraphrased from how the Kellogg application names them:
Reasons for not getting a rec from a current supervisor
- They don’t know you’re applying (would affect job prospects, promotion, bonus calculations, whatever)
- New manager (per above, you or they recently changed jobs)
- Your boss is your mom (family business)
- I am my own boss (self-employed)
- I don’t have a boss (currently unemployed)
- Other conflict of interest (hmmm)
That last catch-all category is interesting. It implies that all of these are conflicts of interest. Maybe they are? Not sure, that would need to be pondered more carefully. It does point you towards evaluating what other reason might be acceptable, and conveys that the adcom does feel that a rec from your manager is much preferred, unless there’s some type of ethical constraint that would prevent you from asking.
One other aspect that complicates things but may not rule your boss out completely for recommending you: If you believe his English isn’t strong enough. Some schools now will do their own translation of LORs submitted in certain languages (Yale will do this) but in most cases, if your recommender needs to write in her native language, then that’s fine but the rec needs to be formally translated by a professional translator and submitted with some kind of certification. Other schools are a bit looser on their requirements, but it’s never OK for you to translate your own recommendation (and, obviously, goes without saying that it’s never OK for you to write your own letter of recommendation, even if your boss asks you to because she’s too busy).
Also, not to freak you out or anything, but touching on one of those reasons above: If you’re not working at the time of submitting your app, it does complicate things and needs to be accounted for in the way you pitch the schools. (Coulda sworn we’ve blahgged about this before but not remembering where; you might want to dig around in the ‘snarchive if you’re in this boat, or hit us up for some help on your strategies and we’ll give you plenty of one-on-one input.)
With these recommender reasons, there now is some variation in where the schools want you to submit such a reason, but there’s no school that a) does not prefer you get a rec from your boss, and b) if you cannot get a rec, does not want you to explain why. Or to state that more directly without the confusing negative-speak:
1. All schools prefer that your boss submits a recommendation for you
2. If you can’t do that, all schools want you to say why
Now, some schools like Kellogg, and also Stanford, are being more transparent by signaling what are legit reasons for not getting a LOR from your boss, through these dropdown fields in the app itself. Investigate where each school wants this conveyed. In some cases, you’ll need to do a quick optional essay to capture it.
Don’t be cagey about it. Just explain the situation and what factors are involved, and show why you’re making a different choice for recommenders instead. Easy.
You may also be interested in:
- When you want to ask that one person for a recommendation…. but….
- Title-chasing and your Letters of Recommendation
- How to ask for a letter of recommendation for your MBA application
- What if your boss asks you to write the rec yourself and she’ll sign it
Here's what others have said about this:
Could you shed some lights on the formatting requirement for recommendation letters? i.e. do they have to be in letter format or can they just lay out explicitly answers to the questions?
Hey Leon! They should always be formatted like a report rather than a letter. Have your recommender include the question on top of each answer. “Letter” is a misnomer in this case!