Successfully Navigating a Job Change While Applying to Business School

Woman contemplating a job change and how it will impact her plans of applying to business school

Key Takeaways

  • A recent job change doesn’t mean you have to abandon or postpone your plans for applying to business school.
  • Instead, successful applicants implement several key strategies to get accepted in the wake of a job change.
  • Proactive efforts such as organizing events or leading initiatives at work or in your community can highlight growth and leadership skills in the absence of a promotion within your company.
  • Since MBA programs prefer letters of recommendation from your current supervisor, planning ahead by cultivating relationships with potential recommenders is crucial.
  • Communicating career transitions positively is essential, focusing on personal and professional growth rather than dwelling on setbacks.

Are starting a new job and applying to business school mutually exclusive? Whether your recent career transition was driven by a disappointing bonus, continued layoffs in the finance or tech sectors, or an unexpected job offer, it’s completely normal to wonder how the move will impact your MBA applications. This question can be especially unsettling and stressful if you were planning on applying in the next 6 months. You may worry that the adcom will discount your candidacy, either because you haven’t been settled in a new role for over a year, or because you have a recent gap of several months on your resume.

Well, we have good news for you! We have observed that taking several key steps early can help you get into a top MBA program while navigating a recent job change.

Proactively Address Career Progression

You may believe the myth that the only way to demonstrate career progression while applying to business school is through multiple promotions with the same firm. But we haven’t found that to be true. A new role at a new company can be an excellent opportunity to demonstrate progression via new skills learned, growth in leadership, or responsibility for larger and more global teams. Your resume is ground zero for highlighting your growth.

And if those opportunities for advancement aren’t immediately obvious, look out for ways that you can carve out those experiences for yourself. For example, if you have recently joined a new company, perhaps there is an opportunity to share your expertise with others. You could simultaneously learn new skills by volunteering to organize and lead a “lunch & learn” series. You can then highlight this new leadership role on your resume. Further, you can point to your collaborative spirit and demonstrate how this undertaking helped you climb the learning curve quickly.

Position Yourself for Strong Recommendations

Recommender selection may also be giving you pause if you’ve recently switched jobs. After all, the top programs express preference that one of your letters of recommendation comes from a current supervisor. The good news is that if you plan ahead, you can ensure that six months from now there is at least one obvious person to speak to your strengths and accomplishments in your new capacity.

So, take inventory of your work relationships. Is there a manager, client, department head, or business partner that you can identify and build a closer partnership with in advance of applying to business school? The goal would be to work with them closely for at least 3 to 4 months by the time you ask them for a recommendation. But don’t limit yourself to in-office interactions. For example, you can consider treating a potential mentor and recommender to lunch or an outing (golfing, sporting events, etc.) to help build the relationship. Finding uninterrupted time with a colleague away from the office can often expedite and solidify a mentorship in short order.  

Even if you are a new entrepreneur, you can strategically position yourself favorably with a customer, vendor, or co-founder who can be supportive of your MBA pursuits. It just takes some advance planning and brainstorming. It can be helpful to have a sounding board for decisions like this, whether that is an admissions consultant, mentor, or trusted friend.

And a final point on recommenders. For programs that require two letters of recommendation, you can absolutely rely on a second recommender from your prior position. As long as you worked with this individual in the recent past, they know you well, and they will speak glowingly about your strengths, they will be a solid choice.

Practice Communicating Your Job Change in a Favorable Light

Lastly, learn to talk about your recent job change in an upbeat and positive manner!  Now we know that is no easy task, particularly when the shift is driven by factors outside of your control. But you control the narrative.

Keep in mind that admissions officers are fully aware that career trajectories often have redirections and bumps in the road. However, when you speak about making a leap, filling a gap, or correcting course, it’s critical to do so with a positive attitude. Our most successful clients aren’t perfect but instead conveyed their transitions openly and honestly, with an eye toward how they have made them a better person, colleague, and leader.

Remember that there is no reason to bring up failures while applying to business school unless you are explicitly asked about one.

If you’re ready to invest in a world class MBA admissions consultant who can help you navigate the challenges associated with conveying career changes in your essays, resume, short answer questions, and interviews, we invite you to request an initial consultation with our team.

We believe firmly that there is no one correct “blueprint” for the professional trajectory of any given applicant. But if you feel that your current track is taking a unique or untraditional path, stay positive, think strategically (easier said than done!), and get help when you need it. Once again, we welcome the chance to have an initial consultation with you to discuss how we can help you reduce your stress and plan ahead thoughtfully and proactively!


How can I effectively demonstrate career progression on my resume after a recent job change?

If your new role comes with a higher title than your previous job, you’ll want to make sure your resume is formatted to bring that to the forefront. But title aside, managing a larger budget, leading larger deals / transactions, and growing your impact are all great ways to show career progression. Alternatively, if your career move got you closer to your dream role or industry, you’ll want to make sure you highlight that in your essays and application short-answers.

What steps can I take to ensure I have strong recommendations for my MBA applications, especially if I’ve recently switched jobs?

You can identify one or two individuals, ideally your new manager, who would be in a position to write you a strong letter of recommendation. Then, proactively build a relationship with them. That will likely mean going the extra mile to take something off their plate, to anticipate what they need, or to fix a process that was unnecessarily manual. In addition to impressing them on the job, be sure to build a personal connection. Ask them about their kids or how their recent vacation was. Or learn about one of their hobbies and show a genuine interest in it.

Are there specific strategies for entrepreneurs to secure strong recommendations for their MBA applications?

Yes, there are! Absent a boss or supervisor, we’ve had entrepreneur clients get great letters of recommendation from a co-founder, an investor, a vendor, or a customer. The key to a strong letter of recommendation is how well the person knows you (the applicant) and how closely you have worked together. As long as your recommender can speak knowledgably about your professional strengths and accomplishments, then you’re in good hands. And once you’ve identified the best person, you’ll want to nurture and build the relationship. Just be sure to minimize any impact on your business.

How can I communicate recent career transitions positively during MBA interviews or application essays? 

The first step is to think about the recent career transition positively. Focus on what opportunities you can now pursue more freely or what you’ve learned from navigating uncertainty. Once you feel more positive about it, it will be easier to authentically talk about it more positively. It’s OK to admit that it was a challenging time, if that’s the case, but then quickly pivot to addressing the outcome that was for the better and how you’ve grown from it. Resilience is an important leadership quality and business schools are looking for future leaders who can navigate the uncertain world we live in.

Should I address any gaps or setbacks in my career trajectory in my MBA applications, and if so, how should I approach it?

Yes, but only if it’s evident from your resume timeline and work history. You never want to leave anything to question in your profile and hope that the adcom will assume the best. Instead, you want to assume they will notice everything and proactively address any gaps or setbacks (like taking a pay cut from one job to the next) to alleviate their concerns. This also shows self-awareness. That said, some setbacks are more subtle and if you were able to overcome them without any impact on your external record then there’s no need to bring attention to it.   

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