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  • Malvika Patil

Stanford Graduate School of Business MBA Recommendation Questions 2024 - 2025

Updated: Jun 21

Located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, Stanford University has played a key role in shaping it over several generations. That means that innovation, entrepreneurship, and transformation are at the core of the university’s values - which also applies to its Graduate School of Business.

Stanford says that its secret sauce is its students' drive to challenge conventions, collaborate to create greater impact on the world, and bring together diverse ideas and perspectives. 

This out-of-the-box thinking and impactful leadership is what you will need to demonstrate in your Stanford GSB application - and also your letters of recommendation. 

How Many Letters of Recommendation Does Stanford GSB Require?

Stanford GSB requires 2 letters of recommendation, at least one of which is from a current manager/supervisor. If you are unable to get one from your current manager because you are self-employed, haven’t disclosed your application plan to your company, a student, or work in the family business, Stanford also accepts the next best alternative like an indirect manager or someone else who has supervised you. Your second letter of recommendation should be from another supervisor - either from your workplace (preferred), an extracurricular engagement, or a community group.  

Like most schools, Stanford GSB uses the GMAC Common Letter of Recommendation format to frame its recommendation questions.

Stanford GSB MBA Recommendation Questions

Recommender Information

How long have you known the applicant?

During which period of time have you had the most frequent contact with the applicant?

You have been registered by the applicant as providing this type of Letter of Reference (Current Direct Supervisor; Other). Please do not change this without consulting with the applicant.

Are/were you the applicant’s direct supervisor?

Please comment briefly on the context of your interaction with the applicant. If applicable, describe the applicant’s role in your organization.(Limit 320 characters.) 

If you are a Stanford GSB Alumna/Alumnus, please enter your degree class year.

How many candidates are you recommending to Stanford GSB this year?

Leadership Assessment

Listed below you will find a number of competencies that contribute to successful leadership. Within each category, please mark the one button corresponding to the behavior that the candidate most typically exhibits. We acknowledge that all candidates have both areas of strength and areas of development. If you select the highest rating, please provide specific examples in your letter.


  • No basis for judgment

  • Reluctant to take on new tasks; waits to be told what to do; defers to others

  • Willing to step in and take charge when required to do so

  • Takes charge spontaneously when problem needs attention

  • Volunteers for new work challenges; proactively puts in extra effort to accomplish critical or difficult tasks

  • Proactively seeks high-impact projects; steps up to challenges even when things are not going well

Results Orientation

  • No basis for judgment

  • Focuses on fulfilling activities at hand; unsure how work relates to goals

  • Takes actions to overcome obstacles to achieve goals

  • Independently acts to exceed goals and plans for contingencies

  • Documents activities and outcomes to learn from past; introduces incremental improvements to raise the effectiveness of team

  • Invents new approaches with measurably better results; works to deliver best-in-class performance improvements

Communication, Professional Impression & Poise

  • No basis for judgment

  • Struggles to get point across; neglects to understand audience’s input or perspective; lacks confidence and gets flustered under pressure

  • Works to get point across; acknowledges feedback; reframes statements when necessary to make them clearer; speaks politely; remains composed in known circumstances

  • Presents views clearly and logically structures content for a broad audience; listens and responds to feedback; prepares in advance to appear confident; leaves a positive and professional impression; responds confidently in unfamiliar situations

  • Uses tailored language that appeals to specific groups; restates what others have said to check for understanding; comes across as confident; responds rapidly and strongly to crisis; looked to for advice and guidance

  • Maintains composure when challenged; solicits opinions and concerns, discusses them openly and adjusts communication; when in strong conflict or crisis, remains cool under pressure; channels strong emotion into positive action

Influence and Collaboration

  • No basis for judgment

  • Does not seek input and perspective of others

  • Accepts input from others and engages them in problem solving

  • Seeks first to understand perspectives of others; takes actions to gain their support for ideas and initiatives

  • Uses tailored approaches to connect with others, influence, and achieve results

  • Uses tailored influence approaches to create and leverage a network of strategically chosen individuals to improve collective outcomes

Respect for Others

  • No basis for judgment

  • Unwilling to acknowledge others’ points of view

  • Open to considering others’ views when confronted or offered

  • Invites input from others because of expressed respect for them and their views

  • Praises people publicly for their good actions; ensures that others’ opinions are heard before their own

  • Uses empathy and personal experience to resolve conflicts and foster mutual respect; reinforces respect with public praise when individuals solicit and use input from others

Team Leadership

  • No basis for judgment

  • Struggles to delegate effectively (e.g. micromanages); does not organize activities or provide appropriate information to complete tasks

  • Assigns tasks and tells people what to do; checks when they are done

  • Solicits ideas and perspectives from the team; structures activities; holds members accountable

  • Actively engages the team to develop plans and resolve issues through collaboration; shows the impact of individual/team contributions

  • Recruits others into duties or roles based on insight into individual abilities; rewards those who exceed expectations; provides strong organizational support

Developing Others

  • No basis for judgment

  • Focuses only on own growth; critical of others’ efforts to develop

  • Encourages people to develop; points out mistakes to help people develop and praises them for improvements

  • Gives specific positive and negative behavioral feedback to support the development of others

  • Provides overarching practical guiding principles and recommendations that are applicable in multiple situations to direct or focus efforts on specific areas of development

  • Identifies potential in others; inspires others to develop by providing feedback, mentoring/coaching, and identifying new growth opportunities as well as supporting their effort to change

Trustworthiness/ Integrity

  • No basis for judgment

  • Follows the crowd; takes path of least resistance; gives in under pressure

  • Acts consistently with stated intentions, values, or beliefs when it is easy to do so

  • Acts spontaneously and consistently with stated intentions, values, or beliefs despite opposition

  • Initiates actions based on values or beliefs even though the actions may come with reputational risk; demonstrates the values of the team or organization publicly

  • Demonstrates high personal integrity even at personal cost; holds people accountable to the team or organizational values


  • No basis for judgment

  • Prefers existing ways of doing things; fears failure; becomes anxious under challenging situations

  • Adapts to new methods and procedures when required to do so; remains calm in unfamiliar situations until confronted with obstacle

  • Champions adoption of new initiatives and processes; exhibits calm in unfamiliar situations until confronted with obstacle

  • Seeks out disruptions as an opportunity for improvement; remains optimistic and forward-looking in difficult situations that may result in failure

  • Energized by projects with high uncertainty but potential for high reward; seeks to be the first into unknown or unfamiliar situations; welcomes learning opportunities created by failure; learns from mistakes and rebounds quickly from setbacks

Self Awareness

  • No basis for judgment

  • Lacks awareness of how he/she is perceived; denies or offers excuses when confronted

  • Acknowledges fault or performance problem when confronted with concrete example or data

  • Describes own key strengths and weaknesses accurately; welcomes feedback from others and discusses opportunities to change with select individuals

  • Actively seeks out feedback to explicitly address desired improvement areas or build on strengths; explores reasons for problems openly, including own faults

  • Seeks out challenging and potentially risky experiences to improve; identifies and engages with resources – people, processes, or content – to maximize strengths or mitigate weaknesses

Problem Solving

  • No basis for judgment

  • Avoids problems; when faced with problems, sticks to what worked before, or chooses an obvious path

  • Offers solutions when the risk is low; focuses on immediate, short-term implications instead of the big picture

  • Looks beyond the obvious; identifies and focuses on the critical information needed to understand a problem, identifies root cause(s), and comes up with reasonable solutions

  • Gathers and analyzes key information using complex methods or several layers deep; integrates perspectives from a variety of sources to arrive at unexpected but practical and effective solutions

  • Applies logic to break complex problems down into manageable parts or sub-problems; solves tough and interconnected problems and can explain how the pieces are connected

Strategic Orientation

  • No basis for judgment

  • Focuses on completing work without understanding implications

  • Understands immediate issues or implications of work or analysis

  • Develops insights or recommendations within area of responsibility that have improved near-term business performance

  • Develops insights or recommendations within area of responsibility that have shaped team/organization strategy and will have impact on long-term business performance

  • Develops insights or recommendations beyond area of responsibility with impact on long-term business strategy and performance

Please feel free to comment if you need to clarify the ratings you have assigned. (Limit 500 characters).

Based on your professional experience, how would you rate this candidate compared to their peer group?

  • Below average

  • Average

  • Very good (well above average)

  • Excellent (top 10%)

  • Outstanding (top 5%)

  • The best encountered in my career

Overall, I…

  • Do not recommend this candidate to Stanford

  • Recommend this candidate to Stanford, with reservations

  • Recommend this candidate to Stanford

Stanford MBA Recommendation Questions

  • How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (E.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) – Up to 500 words

  • Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. – Up to 500 words

  • (Optional) Is there anything else we should know?


Leadership Assessment

Stanford’s leadership assessment comprises 12 distinct characteristics, each of which has its unique rating scale. This rating scale is based on the candidate’s typical behavior and workplace attitude. Your recommender ratings will look like this:

We do not recommend choosing the top (number 5) option for all characteristics. This shows the AdCom that the recommender has not read the rating scale for each characteristic thoroughly and is simply selecting the top (number 5) option for all. Guide your recommender to carefully read the rating scale for each characteristic and select the top (number 5) option for 9-10 of the characteristics listed, and the second best (number 4) option in the remaining 2-3. Reserve the middle (number 3) option for a maximum of 1 characteristic, only if it requires major improvement. 

Your recommender is also asked to clarify the ratings they have assigned in a separate, 500 character answer. This is where they should briefly explain why they have chosen the second-best or middle options. Overall, your recommender should select “Recommend this candidate to Stanford”.

Recommender Questions

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

  1. How does the applicant’s performance compare to that of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (E.g., what are the applicant’s principal strengths?) (Word limit: 500 words)

In this answer, your recommender will benchmark your work performance and qualities in comparison to your peers in similar positions. 

Your recommender should 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 Stanford’s values. Stanford looks for the following in their MBA candidates:

  • Principled leadership

  • Innovative thinking

  • Positive impact

  • Transformational learning

Ask your recommender to structure these anecdotes using the SCAR method (Situation, Challenge, Action, Results) and work in your fit with the school. Quantify results by including figures, dollar amounts, and percentages to showcase impact. 

  1. Describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response. (Word limit: 500 words)

Guide your recommender to comment on a personal or professional weakness. This is done through an anecdote, again in the SCAR format, where they explain how your weakness affected your work or team, the feedback they provided, and how you used it to improve. 

Avoid fake weaknesses like “I’m more time efficient than any of my colleagues”. Your weakness should clearly demonstrate self-awareness, adaptability, and a willingness to learn and grow. 

Stanford looks for innovative, principled, and unconventional thinkers who can change the world. That means that they look for leaders who can break barriers and think out of the box to create something impactful. Guide your recommender to show your fit with these values. 

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

Don’t ask your recommender to fill this field out just because they can. Most recommenders leave this blank, so don't worry if yours does. Your recommender should only fill this out if there is any extra information that clarifies the answers above, or a special circumstance.

Our complete Recommender Guide course on 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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