Maybe it’s because of the economy. Maybe it’s because you wanted to stop working 90-hour weeks to focus on your GMAT studies. Maybe it’s because you were stuck in a dead-end job and couldn’t handle waking up, getting dressed and spending one more minute in that god-forsaken office.
Regardless of the reason, you’ve got a work gap. And now you’ve got to deal with it in your MBA applications.
We all know the challenge here. Works gaps can be difficult to explain and overcome. And rightfully so, from the perspective of an MBA admissions committee. “If you can’t get a job now, why should we believe that you’ll be able to get one after business school?” It’s no secret that B-Schools like applicants who can, and WILL, get jobs. And GREAT jobs at that. So if you appear to have trouble getting (or keeping) a steady job, it’s a big red flag.
But as always, we’ve got some advice to help you stay the course. There’s no need to panic. We’ve seen plenty of unemployed clients get accepted into amazing MBA programs. The trick is all in the packaging, my friends. That’s really all there is to it. And of course, that’s true for the rest of your application as well, but that’s neither here nor there…
At the end of the day, it all comes down to spinning your gap the right way.
BAD: “I got burnt out at my banking job and have actually spent the last five months perfecting my Halo skills and watching reality TV…”
GOOD: “There is indeed a gap in my employment history, but isn’t indicative of who I am and what my potential is. In fact, had YOU, the adcom, been faced with the same set of circumstances, you too would have experienced the same reasonable work gap that I have.”
So, how do you go about packing this little blemish in the the fashion of the “GOOD” example above?
There are two-ish strategies you can take:
The Gutsy Approach – Look the problem in the face. “Yes. I have been unemployed.”
Articulate the reasons that justify or explain WHY you’ve been unemployed and discuss how those reasons have impacted you, your perception, your goals, your future, etc. This is not a bad approach to take especially if you were laid off for market reasons. After all, stuff happens… like, ya know, recessions and such. Check out the real life example below.
“I worked for Lehman in 2008. And while I was doing a great job, well, we all know how well that turned out for all 4,000 employees who worked for the (now deceased) Lehman Brothers.”
The Safe, But Intelligent Approach – This one’s a bit trickier, as it has some prerequisites. You had to have been doing at least something during your unemployment time (unfortunately looking for a job doesn’t count). Could be going to night school, taking a GMAT course, starting a start-up, volunteering full-time, a combination of any and all of the above, or anything that shows that your drive and forward momentum. You need the adcom to know that external circumstances aren’t the boss of you, that even when the market goes through a calamitous downturn, you cruise into some kind of Plan B.
You can also choose a strategy that lies somewhere on the line between these two.
“So here’s what happened. Lehman failed big-time, but I managed to do some cool stuff anyway. First of all, I was the LAST person to be laid off from Lehman, surviving six rounds of layoffs. But of course I saw the writing on the wall. As soon as things started to turn sour, I began reaching out to my network.
Within a matter of days, I had begun helping a friend with his startup, drumming up both new clients and investors for [insert whimsical startup name inevitably missing all vowels here]. I also began to have some extra time to devote to [name of some organization], where I stepped up my involvement from two hours per week to six.
One month later, despite the layoff, I was promoted to Head of Sample Group at [insert whimsical startup name inevitably missing all vowels here]. So sure, there is a work gap, but from my perspective, this has been one of the most productive, successful periods in my career to date…”
Sounds pretty snazzy, right? And there you have it. Don’t lose your focus, and don’t’ be intimidated by a work gap.