If you graduated a few (or more) years ago and you’re now considering earning your MBA, you may be wondering how to get a letter of recommendation when you’ve been out of school for a while.
It can feel intimidating to reach out to people that you haven’t communicated with in years, but business is all about reaching out, making connections and maintaining a network. Think of this as a step in your journey to boosting your network. You’ll still want to follow most of the usual advice for requesting letters of recommendation, but who and how you ask will be a little different.
Follow these tips to choose your recommenders and help them write strong letters about your skills and character.
Using Professional Contacts
Most schools state that they’d like at least one academic letter of recommendation. Someone you’ve worked with closely in your academic career, ideally in a classroom, is an ideal candidate. Generally, most people don’t keep in close contact with their college professors after their undergraduate years. So, how to get letters of recommendation when you’ve been out of school for years?
Try for a professional letter of recommendation. Think of someone in a managerial role that you work closely with, like a boss, project manager, mentor or career coach. These professionals should be able to confidently speak about your:
- Intellectual abilities
- Communication skills
- Ability to work with others
- Time and project management skills
- Positive personal traits like compassion, judgment, ability to take initiative, etc
Remember, you’re not alone in this situation. Most MBA programs understand that applicants who have been out of school for several years may not be able to obtain strong recommendations for academic personnel. As long as they address the same talking points and characteristics that an academic recommender would, a professional contact’s letter will hold value in your application packet.
Reaching Out to College Alumni
If you don’t feel that a professional reference can write a strong letter for you, it may be helpful to consider asking a graduate of the business school to write one on your behalf. LinkedIn can be a helpful tool for finding close connections who went to the college you’re applying to. If you know the individual pretty well, you can just reach out and ask them. Provide them with the usual details about the program you’re applying to, your academic or professional achievements, goals you hope to achieve once you complete the program, etc. This will help make the letter a bit more personal.
If you don’t personally know anyone who went to the college of your choice, you could try reaching out to second-degree contacts who did. These people can be friends of a friend or acquaintances of a friend. This is a slightly risky move because you run the risk of this individual not being comfortable writing a letter for you. Try asking to meet them for coffee so that you can hear about their experience in the MBA program and the college. You can also use this time to tell them why you’re interested in this particular program, share your goals and learn about their career experience after they graduated.
After networking with them, you can ask them if they’d be willing to write a letter on your behalf. If it turns out they’re not comfortable with this, you’ve still got a valuable contact for your network and someone you can reach out to for advice.
Contacting Former Professors
You may be scared that they won’t remember you, but don’t worry, most of the time they do. Odds are they’ll be more than willing to help you further your academic career. You can increase your chances of success if you choose a professor with whom you had two or more lectures.
Professors are used to hearing from former students years after they’ve graduated, so even if it feels like it’s a long shot, it probably isn’t. Plus, professors usually keep records of grades, which will help them determine if they can write a letter that will actually be helpful to you.
Whether or not they immediately remember your sparkling personality or how prepared you were for class, there are a few things you can do to help jog their memory and help them write your letter. Be sure to tell them:
- Which class/classes you took with them
- What your grade was (if you can remember)
- Specific things you loved about their class/classes
- How you use those teachings in your current career.
You should also include your resume, copies of papers you wrote for them, and enough background information to enable them to write a strong recommendation letter.
It may be best to find them and reach out on a platform like LinkedIn. This will help you avoid tracking down email addresses if the professor has left your alma mater, it will also allow your professor to easily see your career progress, which will assist them in writing your letter.
Alternative Academic Options
Another less conventional option is to enroll in a continuing education or graduate course at your goal college before you apply to the MBA program. If you do well in that course, you can always ask that professor to be a recommender when you apply to the full graduate program.
This approach may take more time and effort but it gives you a real opportunity to make connections with the faculty and show your ability to thrive in the MBA program.
Ready to Request Recommendations?
No matter who you choose, be sure you make it as easy as possible for them to write you a strong and concrete letter. The stronger the letter, the better your odds are. This means you should ask them early, give them details about the program you’re applying to and be sure to thank them, both when they agree to help you and once they’ve submitted the letter.
Now that you have an idea of how to get letters of recommendation when you've been out of school for a few years, you can begin your application to our online MBA or Master in Management program. Take a few minutes to check out some tips on writing your personal essay and updating your resume so that your application can stand out.
Earn your MBA online at Marquette
Marquette University’s online MBA program offers top-tier business education, amazing networking opportunities and new pathways to expand your career and bankability. Learn more about the career resources offered by the Graduate School of Management at Marquette, and discover how supportive and personal the learning experience in an online program can be.