A Guide to MBA Reference Letters


As part of your application to the Alberta MBA (and most of other MBA programs) you will be asked to provide letters of reference in support of your application. Occasionally overlooked by applicants, reference letters can be one of the most important parts of your application.
Why do we ask for them?
Reference letters provide us with a 3rd party assessment of your background. They help to verify your work experience and responsibilities while also giving insight into your on the job performance. References help to identify your strengths and areas for improvement, while also offering an assessment of your ability to do well within an MBA program. Some of the specific areas we ask your references about are your communication skills, ability to work with others and your managerial and leadership potential. Not be overlooked as part of your application, we have turned away some otherwise well qualified applicants based on some less than stellar reference letters.

Who to ask?
We ask for three letters of reference as part of your application. In your application, you would include contact information for your references and they would receive notification direct from our office with a link to our reference letter. You should make sure to check with your referees that they are comfortable providing a reference before submitting their contact details. At least one must be from a professional setting, ideally from a direct supervisor. The other letter can be professional, academic, or from a non-profit or professional organization that you are a part. In looking for individuals to submit a reference letter for you, there are few key things you should look for.

References should come from individuals who know you well and are able to comment on your overall performance. Asking the most senior person in your organization to write a reference letter may not be the best approach, especially if that individual hasn’t supervised your work and is not in a position to speak to your accomplishments at work. The same caution would apply to academic references, if you are asking a previous professor to provide a reference make sure it is someone who knows you and highlight some of your accomplishments (rather than just your overall class standing or other information that is apparent on your transcripts).

For those working in a family business or entrepreneurs, you may not have an obvious place to look for professional letters of reference. We’d suggest approaching long-term clients, suppliers, or other individuals you have numerous interactions with to provide an impartial letter of reference.

What a good reference letter should include?
As you’ve already checked with your referees to make sure they are comfortable submitting a reference for you, you should expect your reference to be generally positive. That being said, asking your referees to include specific examples wherever possible would increase the impact of the reference letter. For anyone working in a very technical field, it would also be worthwhile to mention to your referee that the individual reading the reference letter may not have the same level of technical expertise.

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