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  • Malvika Patil

GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation: Questions and Analysis



As part of your application to an MBA program, you will be required to submit 1-2 letters of recommendation. These are the only documents in your application that will be written and submitted by somebody else. Typically, they’re written by your employer, professors, or other mentors who can speak to your strengths, work ethic, and potential to succeed as an MBA graduate. 


Letters of Recommendation serve a key role in your MBA application journey by providing an unbiased outsider perspective of the applicant. A good letter of recommendation can give your application the extra push it needs to turn into an admit, while a poorly written (or even mediocre) recommendation may harm the narrative you’ve built in your core application. 


For applicants, it may feel like this is a part of your application that isn’t within your control, but that’s not strictly true. Check out our Comprehensive Letter of Recommendation Guide if you’re struggling with deciding who your recommender should be, what they should write about you and how to manage them.


If you are a recommender reading this, it’s helpful for you to understand how you can best support your colleague or mentee’s MBA application journey. They’ve trusted you with this responsibility, so please take it seriously!


Many business schools follow the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation format. This means that recommenders can answer the same questions, no matter how many MBA programs you’re applying to, which makes it easier for them. In this blog, we will explore and provide guidance for the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation - the 3 sections, the leadership assessment grid, and the common LOR questions asked. Scroll to the end for a list of business schools that accept the GMAC Common LOR in their MBA applications.


Section 1: Recommender Information


The first section of the GMAC Common LOR is the Recommender Information. This is quite straightforward: the recommender will fill in their personal details such as their full name, address and employment details. They will then answer questions about the context (employment, academic, or other), nature (the specific position they held relative to the applicant), and duration of their relationship with the applicant. 


If they are a non-native English speaker, they will be asked to specify whether they have used a translator. Many recommenders are non-native speakers, so it’s not necessary that the recommender has perfect grammar in your LOR. You are not being assessed on your recommender’s English writing ability! As long as they have answered the recommendation prompt in full sentences, you’re safe. The recommender will also state whether they agree to be contacted further by the University in case of any further questions regarding the applicant’s candidacy. We recommend that they select “Yes” here, since this shows transparency.


Section 2: GMAC Common LOR Leadership Assessment Grid


In Section 2, the recommenders will begin their evaluation by rating the applicant on a five-point scale for 12 multiple choice questions. These questions are divided into 5 categories based on leadership skills and traits. 


Category 1: Achievement

  • Initiative 

  • Results Orientation  


Category 2: Influence 

  • Communication, Professional Impression & Poise

  • Influence and Collaboration


Category 3: People 

  • Respect for Others

  • Team Leadership 

  • Developing Others 


Category 4: Personal Qualities 

  • Trustworthiness/Integrity 

  • Adaptability/Resilience 

  • Self-awareness


Category 5: Cognitive Abilities

  • Problem-Solving 

  • Strategic Orientation


The five-point scale for each question ranges from ‘no basis for judgment’ to specific patterns of engagement that show the applicant’s skills and abilities. Find the detailed scale in this official GMAC Letters of Recommendation file.


It’s often tempting for candidates to advise their recommenders to give them perfect ratings across the board. However, we recommend against this. Perfect ratings may indicate that your recommendation is inauthentic and contrived. If you had flawless leadership and interpersonal traits, you wouldn’t need to go to business school! Request your recommender to engage deeper with the questions and answer the prompts based on your strengths and weaknesses. 


At the same time, it’s wise to not show too many poor or mediocre ratings, which would make you stand out as a weak candidate. So, strike a balance here. We recommend that they select the top rating in 70-80% of the questions, and second-top in the remaining 20-30%. Avoid any lower ratings, if at all possible.


Note: Make sure the weaknesses or areas of growth/improvement you write about in your essays are aligned with your recommendations. This is why we recommend having a high-level conversation with your recommenders about your narrative before they answer these questions.



Section 3: GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation Questions


This is the most critical and time-consuming section of the GMAC Common LOR. In this section, there are 3 mandatory questions your recommender must answer, as well as 1 optional question for any additional information.


1. Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, the applicant’s role in your organization. (Recommended word count: 50 words)


In this answer, the recommender should provide a brief description of their role, how long they have worked in it, and the number of people they have managed or mentored. Once they’ve established their position in the industry, they should discuss their relationship and interaction with you and your role in the organization. Remember that they only have 50 words for this answer: the more concise, the better.


2. How does the performance of the applicant compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (e.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (Recommended word count: 500 words) 


In this answer, the Admissions Committee wants to understand how your employer, academic advisor, or mentor sees you compared to others in similar positions that they have managed or mentored. In other words, your recommender should differentiate you from your peers by providing examples of your key strengths, personality traits, and attitude towards your work. 


This answer helps the Admissions Committee to benchmark you against other similar applicants. Since business standards are different across industries and geographies, this helps them avoid comparing apples to oranges. For example, if your recommender says that you are among the top 2% of candidates they’ve worked with in the past, this gives the Admissions Committee a credible datapoint to understand your past performance (and therefore, future potential). 


For this answer, you should guide your recommender to highlight the strengths you’ve discussed in your essays and the skills and abilities you will need for your target role. Ideally, they should do this through detailed anecdotes of the accomplishments, contributions, or projects you have worked on. We suggest using the SCAR format (Situation, Challenge, Action and Result) to structure these anecdotes. Each anecdote should demonstrate a different ‘standout’ strength. Typically, recommenders discuss 3 strengths in this answer. Anecdotes that are quantified (with budget amounts, percentages, number of people impacted) are the strongest. 


Tip: Align these strengths with your target role. Avoid generic answers like “punctuality” and focus on strengths like “communication skills” and “strategic thinking”. These are strengths that showcase your leadership abilities and future potential.


3. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Recommended word count: 500 words)


Writing about your strengths is always easier than being candid about your weaknesses. It’s no surprise that most applicants (and recommenders!) struggle with this section. 


There’s a delicate balance that needs to be struck here. Don’t brush your real weaknesses aside with a lukewarm explanation of how you ‘work too hard’ or ‘give to others too much’ or ‘are a perfectionist’ (yuck!). Discuss real areas of improvement with your recommender, ensuring that these are things you are actively working on and will continue to improve on during your MBA. It’s important to demonstrate how responsive you have been to the recommender’s feedback, and how you have used it to grow personally or professionally.


At the same time, don’t share weaknesses that are inconsistent with the narrative you’ve built in your essays and larger application. This may harm your chances with the Admissions Committee. For example, if you’ve written your essays about how you’ve always had a clear communication style, it might be confusing if the recommender mentions this as a piece of constructive feedback. 


Again, use anecdotes to communicate your weaknesses as clearly as possible. For example, you may want to discuss a time when you overlooked certain details in an important project which impacted your colleagues. Your manager brought this up with you in a performance review, and you realized that you’re a high-level thinker and not detail-oriented. Explain what you did to remedy the situation, adjust your working style, and prevent similar challenges in future projects. 


A good structure to use for this answer is the SCAR (Situation, Challenge, Action and Result) format. Focus on your learning and takeaways from the experience. 


Some great areas of constructive feedback include: 

  1. Tendency to overlook details

  2. Overly self-critical

  3. Struggle with multitasking

  4. Losing interest during execution

  5. Reluctance to speak up


If you want to take a look at some of the examples for these weaknesses or how you should identify a good weakness, check out our blog From Flaw to Strength: 5 Weaknesses For Your MBA Application. You can also dig into your performance reviews from the last two years to find the feedback you’ve received from your manager. 


If you’re still stuck, we advise you to take a personality test on 16 Personalities where you can identify the weaknesses that are typical of your personality type. 


4. Is there anything else we should know? (Optional)


Candidates often think of optional essays as free additional space to reiterate their skills and capabilities. Avoid repeating information just because you’ve got an extra box to write in! This optional space is provided so that your recommender can discuss any unconventional aspects of your profile, to comment on something they couldn’t discuss in the other essays, or to provide additional context for one of their answers. Leave this blank if you don’t have anything noteworthy to discuss.


Note: The vast majority of recommenders leave this space blank.


Schools that use the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation


Here is a complete list of the business schools that use the GMAC Common LOR:


Asia School of Business - in collaboration with MIT Sloan Management

Boston College - Carroll School of Management

Boston University - Questrom School of Business

Brandeis International Business School

Carnegie Melon - Tepper School of Business

College of William & Mary - Mason School of Business

Cornell University - SC Johnson School of Business

Dartmouth University - Tuck School of Business

Duke University - The Fuqua School of Business

Emory University - Goizueta Business School

Fudan University - School of Management

Georgetown University - McDonough School of Business

Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business

Indian School of Business

New York University - Stern School of Business

Northeastern University, D’Amore-McKim’s School of Business

Notre Dame - Mendoza School of Business

PennState University - SMEAL College of Business

RICE University Jones Graduate School of Business

Sabanci University - Sabanci School of Management

Santa Clara University - Leavey School of Business

Simon Fraser University, Beedie School of Business

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Southern Methodist University - Cox School of Business

The College of New Jersey

The University of Texas at Austin - McCombs School of Business

UC Davis Graduate School of Management

UCI Paul Merage School of Business

UCLA Anderson School of Management

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business

University of Florida - Warrington College of Business

University of Georgia - Terry College of Business

University of Kansas School of Business

University of Michigan - Ross School of Business

University of Minnesota - Carlson School of Management

University of Rochester - Simon Business School

University of San Francisco - School of Management

University of Virginia - Darden School of Business

Vanderbilt - Owen Graduate School of Management

Washington University in St. Louis - Olin Business School

Yale School of Management


Our self-guided application platform MBAConsultant.com has a complete LOR guidebook including real example answers for each of the GMAC Common LOR questions.



 

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