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  • Malvika Patil

Harvard Business School MBA Recommendation Questions 2023 - 2024

Updated: Mar 19




Harvard Business School (HBS) focuses on three broad skills when looking for prospective candidates: a habit of leadership, analytical aptitude and appetite, and engaged community citizenship. The school emphasizes, however, that there is no one type of leader that fits the mold; diversity of background, identity, and experience is crucial in the HBS MBA program. 


So when you write your HBS essays and prepare for the interview, you will need to demonstrate evidence of leadership - in your unique way. This is also reflected in HBS’s letters of recommendation. 


How Many Letters of Recommendation Does Harvard Business School Require?


HBS requires 2 letters of recommendation, at least one of which is from a current manager/supervisor. However, if you are unable to provide one from your current manager (applicable to professionals who may not have disclosed their MBA plans with their company), you may select a recommender who can adequately speak to your professional/personal strengths, potential to succeed, and fit with the HBS MBA program. 


HBS uses the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation format to frame its recommendation questions, but has shorter word limits.


Harvard Business School MBA Recommendation Questions


Part 1: Your Information


This section includes your name, contact information, current employment, and HBS background.


Part 2: Relationship Context


  • Are you a graduate of the Harvard Business School MBA program? (Yes/No)

  • If yes, year of graduation:

  • Relationship Type (drop-down menu):

  • Current employer

  • Previous employer

  • University/Academic

  • Extracurricular/Community

  • Other

  • Relationship Context (drop-down menu):

  • Direct Supervisor

  • Other Supervisor

  • Advisor

  • Colleague/Peer

  • Direct Report

  • Indirect Report

  • Other

  • Number of applicants you are recommending to the HBS MBA Program this year:

  • Please provide a brief description of your interaction with the applicant and, if applicable, their role in your organization (300 characters)


Part 3: Candidate Evaluation


The MBA Admissions Board would like to learn more about the candidate's strengths and areas of development. For each attribute, please indicate how you have experienced the candidate. All candidates are growing professionally and therefore some of their attributes are likely to be more developed than others.  It is helpful to the Admissions Committee to understand your assessment of the candidate's relative strengths compared to areas they are actively working to develop. To that end, we ask that you distribute the ratings across the whole grid accordingly.


Leadership Attributes:


  • Adaptability and resilience

  • Awareness of and respect for others

  • Curiosity

  • Emotional Intelligence

  • Initiative

  • Integrity

  • Interpersonal skills with subordinates and colleagues

  • Interpersonal skills with superiors

  • Professional maturity

  • Self-awareness

  • Self-confidence

  • Teamwork: engagement and collaboration

  • Teamwork: leadership and development of others


Please comment on the ratings you have assigned, elaborating on relative strengths and opportunities for further development. (Required, 500 character limit).


The MBA Admissions Board is also interested in your evaluation of the candidate's skills based on the interactions you have had with the candidate.


Skill Assessment


  • Analytical thinking

  • Creative problem solving

  • Listening skills

  • Quantitative skills

  • Verbal communication

  • Written communication


Please use this space to comment on the skills ratings you have assigned, elaborating on relative strengths and opportunities for further development. (Required, 500 character limit).


Part 4: Open Response Questions


Please respond to the questions below in a single document.


  • How do the applicant’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (Recommended: 300 words)

  • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Recommended: 250 words)

  • (Optional) Is there anything else we should know? Please be concise.



Analysis


Grid


Your recommender grid will look like this:



The recommender is asked to rate the applicant in 2 areas: Leadership Attributes and Skill Assessment. Each area has a number of characteristics, mentioned above. For each characteristic, they will be asked to mark the applicant on the following scale:

No Basis For Judgment

Potential Area Of Concern

Developing 

Strong 

Distinctive

We do not recommend choosing the “Distinctive” option for all characteristics; the AdCom may perceive that the recommender has not honestly evaluated the applicant’s profile. Discuss your strengths and weaknesses with your recommender and guide them to select the Distinctive choice in 7-8 of the characteristics listed, and the Strong option in the remaining 2-3. Reserve the middle rating (Developing) for a maximum of 1 characteristic, only if it requires major improvement. 


Your recommender is also asked to comment on their ratings for both the Leadership Attributes and Skill Assessment in separate, 500 character answers. Ideally, they’d give you the “Distinctive” rating for most questions, but not all.


Recommender Questions


The recommender will have to answer 2 mandatory open response questions. They may also answer the optional question if required. 


  1. How do the applicant's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (Recommended: 300 words)


In this answer, your recommender will evaluate your work performance, strengths, and personal qualities in comparison to their experience with your peers in similar positions. There is no strict word limit, but try to stick to the recommended 300 words.


Typically, recommenders provide up to 2-3 anecdotes that each demonstrate a unique strength or quality. When writing about your strengths, ensure that they are aligned with Harvard’s values. Harvard looks for the following in their MBA candidates:


  • Impactful leadership

  • Hard work and humility

  • Strong communication and debate skills

  • Analytical ability

  • Collaboration and teamwork skills


Suggest that they use the SCAR method (Situation, Challenge, Action, Results) to structure these anecdotes and connect them to your fit with the school. Try to quantify your results by including figures, dollar amounts, and percentages to showcase impact. 


  1. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Recommended: 250 words)


For this answer, guide your recommender to select a personal or professional weakness that they have observed and advised you on. Your recommender should provide an anecdote in the SCAR format where you presented this weakness, how it impacted your work or team, what feedback they provided, and how you acted upon it to improve in this area. Again, there is no strict word limit, but try to stick to the recommended 250 words. Given this short word limit, focus on one major weakness that you have identified and worked upon.


Remember to make sure that your weakness is authentic. Avoid fake weaknesses like “being a perfectionist”. Your weakness should clearly demonstrate that you are self-aware, adaptive, and open to learning even when uncomfortable. 


Harvard looks for diverse candidates who can show leadership in a diverse range of fields and situations, and who can work with all kinds of people to create change. Guide your recommender to show your fit with these values.


  1. (Optional) Is there anything else we should know? Please be concise.


HBS puts our main point of advice right in the prompt: please be concise. Don’t ask your recommender to fill this field out just because they can. The Optional Answer should include only any important information that clarifies one of the above answers, or a special circumstance. Most recommenders leave this blank. 


Our complete Recommender Guide course on MBAConsultant.com has all the advice (and sample letters based on real applicants) you need to create a compelling letter of recommendation.



 

Want personalized support for your letters of recommendation? Book a chat with us today!

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