References: Why Content is King

by Chrispa Palaiologou, Recruitment Manager, MiF & MBA

After spending the past few months meeting students all across the world, it’s useful to reflect on some of the questions which seem most important to the candidates we meet. In particular, I’m often asked about references. I thought I would lay out out how I think it best to approach this from an LBS perspective. As a caveat, I would say not all business schools approach this in exactly the same way but there is usually a fair amount of commonality.

Choosing your referees is something you should think carefully about. When we ask for references we aren’t aiming to assess your network or your access to senior managers within your firm. We often recieve references from very impressive individuals, captains of industry even.  However they can add limited value due to their brevity and lack of content. Obviously if you know them very well by all means do use them! What we really want to know is if you are a team player, how you cope with difficult decisions etc. Also, pick individuals who you know will dedicate the time to write in detail about their experience of working with you directly.

More than two referees? Hmm think carefully about this. You are providing a lot of information and you don’t want to dilute your strongest points. If you want to submit addtional recommendations, great, but these should ideally be brief and compelling.

If possible do not use academic references. This is becasue the MBA Programme is highly vocational and interactive. We will be able to see your undergradaduate/masters transcripts for evidence of your academic ability. From references we are looking for evidence of your ability to work effectively as part of a team, and also to assess your leadership potential.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking your Line Manager for a reference, don’t worry! A client can provide a valuable alternate perspective, as can a previous manager (preferably relatively recent) or someone from a different business unit. If you are an entrepreneur maybve think about asking a customer or someone you provide a service to.

References are hugely important in applications. Essentially, prior to being shortlisted to interview they are the only piece of information the Admissions Committee will be asssessing that hasn’t been provided by you directly.

I wish everyone the best of luck with their applications.

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