Getting My Boss’ Recommendation

**Tiger Woods Fist Pump**

So it happened today–THE conversation with the boss. While I will admit that I did not have nearly as much to be fearful of as some bloggers that I’ve read about (for reasons that I will get to in a moment), ANY conversation with your boss about how and/or when you plan to EXIT the company is a big enough deal to run your blood pressure up a few notches-even if said exit is about a year away.

How it Happened

After my employees left work to start their weekends this afternoon, I stole over to the break room for a few games of ping pong in preparation for my company’s annual tourney that begins next week. Its a pretty big deal and I am just one of about 100 people who will be in the week long competition. Ping pong tournaments (and regular play year round) are just one of MANY reasons why I love working for nerdy companies, but I digress.

At any rate, I tend to REALLY get into my ping pong matches and get pretty physical…like today I jumped onto the table—all 215lbs of me—and shoved it 3 feet to the right while trying to catch a trick ball that was hit just hard enough to barely make it over the net. Such antics, of course, make me sweat profusely. By the time I got back to my desk after virtually taking a shower in the men’s bathroom, my boss was getting back from a walk he typically takes in the afternoon after most everyone is gone. I figured that there was no time like the present and just launched into my short speech.

Misplaced Fear

One of the reasons why I felt I had a better chance at success than failure on this mission is because my boss comes from the whole bschool-ly world. Since he’s a graduate of Penn/Wharton undergrad and a McKinsey alum (I uncovered the latter fact while chugging back beers with him, our CTO and director of product while we were in San Francisco a few months ago for a conference), I doubted that I would need to do much explaining on why I wanted to make this step. In fact, my predecessor (who is several years younger than I) took a similar path and leveraged the position I have now as a springboard into the London School of Economics.

After I popped the question, my boss’ face immediately lit up as he agreed to write my recommendations. I think more than anything else I feared the possibility of an awkward moment if he really didn’t feel strongly about doing them. Again, I had NO real reason to think this would be the case, but you just never really know what someone is thinking until you ask them to make an actual commitment to something, you know?

The Right Place at the Right Time

At my old job in big corporate, I would have had much more to worry about in the same scenario. Its the kind of place where upper management becomes insulted if they catch wind that you aren’t planning to be carried out in a pine box after you’ve worked there until you’re old and gray. Insanity. At an internet company, no one expects anyone to stay in the same spot for more than a year or two without some sort of move, whether internal or external, unless they are already at or near the top–basically at least a director if not an executive like my boss (because why would you stay put otherwise?). See, THAT logic makes total sense to me; again confirming that I am where I am supposed to be.

Another thing about my old company is that you get treated like crap (and sometimes let go early) once they know you’re planning to leave–which is why I resigned while on my couch at home via email from my laptop with all of my friends (about 80 of whom were mentioned and thanked by name in my resignation letter) bcc’d–because I knew that I would not have been allowed to say goodbye with dignity had I done it any other way. And as I had anticipated, I was asked to leave on the spot, even though leaving was my choice and it was not done on bad terms. That’s just the way big corporate works. SMH.

Also, I would have had to do much more coaching on how to get my recommendation right if I had had to ask for it there because no one knows the game. All of the H/S/W/Tuck types are at corporate, thousands of miles away. Otherwise, everyone just does a part time program, largely since a part of the culture is that you only develop yourself to benefit that company–not to actually broaden your horizons–oh, NO; your retirement from “the big company” is considered to BE “your horizon”.

Additionally, most folks who are looking into MBAs at my old company are about my age and are generally tied down by families and mortgages at this point (neither of which is a bad thing; both are pretty awesome, actually). In that ecosystem, the MBA is a box to check for their next promotion, basically; but no one would ever think of actually leaving to never return; and the company would frown at anyone who let it be known that was their intention.

That reminds me of the other added benefit to my current work environment that hasn’t existed previously. Pedigree. Not so much the company itself because its not a household name like my last gig (although my current company is owned by a well-known PE firm and holds several #1 and #2 brands in its verticals); however, the top brass (who I get to work with personally–another benefit of a smaller company) are a veritable poo-poo platter of Stanford/Anderson/Wharton/Marshall etc. alums–and it shows. The whole environment and level and quality of ideas and conversation are worlds away from anything that I have experienced in YEARS (since college). The move was definitely worth the pay cut.

While I had not 100% decided that I even wanted an MBA when I joined the company nearly a year ago there could not have been a more perfect ecosystem for me to land in to round out and unify my pre-mba background under a banner that makes really good sense considering my ST and LT goals. I love being in environments where above average is actually average.

Being around so many incredibly bright people helped finalize my b-school plans. I decided that I wanted/needed to be around people like that all the time and would never again settle for any environment that offered less (says the person who lives in Los Angeles, but we won’t talk about that). Now, that’s not to say that my last job did not have smart people, because it had plenty. The problem is they aren’t the ones running the show; and thus, are not fully utilized (as I was not) because “it takes one to know one”–but again, I digress.

My Boss, the Back Seat Driver

I was pleasantly surprised (or was I surprised at all?) at how upbeat, knowledgeable and helpful my boss was once I let the proverbial cat out of the bag. He immediately asked where I planned to apply, and upon hearing my choices he quickly chimed in “well, you should have no problem advancing your career coming from any of those”.

Then before I knew it, we had launched into a mini discussion about the GMAT, median scores, whether I should retake, etc. Before it was all over he was giving me positioning strategy tips on why I felt I needed the MBA to go the next level. He also corroborated why and how my story and trajectory made sense, which put a very nice period on the discussion before I grabbed my empty lunch bag and walked to the elevator, trying to pretend like I wasn’t (emotionally) pumping my fist like Tiger.

Next Steps

So, I’ll invest some time this weekend putting together a really nice packet for my boss to make his job a lot easier. What’s also nice is that my secondary recommender–who just left his job at my company for a new gig a week ago (and no one wonders why he did it because it was expected behavior)–agreed to write rec’s for me a week ago before taking a week’s vacay back in his homeland of India.

So now I’ll only need to recruit my 3rd interviewers for my Stanford and HBS apps. Everyone else is committed; BIG ‘OLE hurdle jumped. Now, if I can just get everyone to turn in their stuff ON TIME.

I really hate being pressed up to the last minute; ugh, we’ll see…


Would you like my help getting into your dream b-school? Well, there are two starting points for that:

1. Get a Free Profile Analysis (after receiving your information, I’ll let you know whether or not I think I can help you)

2. Get Help Now (If you already know that you want help and what you want help on, then just skip to here)

, , , , ,

About mbaover30

Wharton MBA and admissions expert

View all posts by mbaover30

Subscribe to the MBA Over 30 Blog

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

9 Comments on “Getting My Boss’ Recommendation”

  1. entrepreneur4life Says:

    Thank you so so much for this blog!! I stumbled onto it when it seemed the ‘whole world’ was nay-saying to my dreams. You see, I seem to have (what I believe to be) a peculiar situation. I am over 30, a medical doctor trained in Nigeria, a female and not even glancing at schools below the top 10 for my MBA. I have been raising eyebrows from people who are privy to my aspirations.
    Theirs is for me to do a health-based MBA (that is for those who think that I haven’t totally lost it), asking the ‘canned questions’ as you called them. It sounds funny when you are reading it, less so if you are at the receiving end.
    But my dream is to own companies, have a finger or two in the stock market, have a non-profit organization, and yes have some medical things on the side. I want to understand how the financiers, managers, accountants think, what drives the great men and women of business to act in a certain way. And I don’t think I can get that with a narrow health-based MBA. I need to speak ‘business-ese’. I know I don’t sound like the typical MD but there it is. I see myself as a medical entrepreneur.
    I got an offer for MBA but I decided that if I am going out on a leg, I might as well go all out. Go for the big guns. As Donald Trump would say, ‘GO BIG OR GO HOME’.
    So I have to thank you again for raising my spirit.
    I haven’t started on my essays yet but I shall do so tonight.
    PS: I apologise for the length of my comment! I have to stop here. I just wanted to ask you to keep up the good work.


    • mbaover30 Says:

      Thanks for adding to this conversation and don’t forget to subscribe. Without knowing much about you, your GMAT, grades, etracurrics, etc., I’ll say that being an international female with an advanced degree is an advantage vs. the rest of the applicant pool. Wharton in particular prides themselves these days on enrolling large numbers of women. I wish you the best of luck.


      • entrepreneur4life Says:

        I took the GRE 18mths ago, not the GMAT. I had score of 1070 and I have been planning to re-take because that wasn’t my target score but can’t seem to get round to it( had to resign from a job then just to have some time to prepare). Extra-curricular activities: volunteering, meeting people and learning about them, reading especially inspiring books, biographies. I know it isn’t much that is why a good essay is imperative.

  2. HopelessInBK Says:

    Congrats on your success in this period of MBA applications. Your story is very inspirational, and I wish you the best of luck. Listening to your story, and that of my friends who have attended grad schools and got their grad degrees (which seems like everyone), two things seem apparent: 1. They have to have superiors that have grad degrees and support their employees in doing the same (which requires being comfortable in their own skin and/or having comfort with your skin) and 2. being in an industry (discipline within business in my case) where an MBA CLEARLY can help your company and doesn’t indicate to your superiors that you want to leave. My job is in an industry (investor relations) where experience is trumpeted more than degrees, yet the opportunity for growth just isn’t there. Also, I think it would be a great accomplishment to get my MBA (and fulfill the promise I made to myself and my parents). Don’t know where to go from here. Any advice? Take care brother.



  1. A Change in Plans | MBA Over 30 - August 5, 2012

    […] a mini-sized Haagen Dazs dulce de leche after 3 sweaty hours playing ping pong in preparation for my job’s annual table tennis tournament that I mentioned in my last post–AFTER a shoulder workout at the gym and 35 minutes of cardio earlier in the day, mind you. So […]

  2. A Change in Plans - August 9, 2012

    […] Haagen Dazs dulce de leche after 3 sweaty hours playing ping pong in preparation for my job’s annual table tennis tournament that I mentioned in my last post – AFTER a shoulder workout at the gym and 35 minutes of cardio earlier in the day, mind you. So […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: