Applying to MBA Programs While Unemployed

If you’re one of the many who have been impacted by recent tech sector layoffs, you are likely pondering the next steps in your career. Change and uncertainty are scary, but they can also result in important reflection on what you want that next step to be. If business school has been in the back of your mind, perhaps now is the call to action you need to submit your applications. If so, this article is for you! We’re sharing our top three tips for applying to MBA programs while unemployed.

First a note on timing. Round 2 deadlines are approaching quickly, with many occurring in early January. However, with appropriate focus, it is still possible to put your applications together in time. We generally steer clients away from applying in Round 3 if they can avoid it.  

Applying in Round 2 is even more feasible if you already have a valid GMAT score, as prepping to take the exam AND producing solid application materials will be tough with only six weeks to go. A test score waiver may also be an option. In fact, Kellogg just announced that they are offering test score waivers to former tech employees who apply by the Round 2 deadline.

So, besides the tight timeline, what do you need to know about applying to MBA programs while unemployed or with a gap on your resume from a past period of unemployment? Our overarching advice is to be proactive. Here are three ways to do that:

1) Address the elephant in the room.

The last thing the admissions committees want to do is search around to understand an employment gap they see on your resume. As a rule of thumb, explain any gap that is three months or longer in the optional essay (the data form may have a place for this as well). If you are applying to MBA programs while unemployed, even if it hasn’t been three months, you should also provide an explanation.

If you are currently unemployed, explain the reason for your separation from your prior employer but be careful to avoid placing blame (on the company or yourself!). It can also help to highlight accelerated career progression and/or above average performance ratings you earned prior to leaving; this proactively addresses the adcom’s potential concern that you do not excel relative to peers.

2) Take action.

Even if you are accepted to business school beginning next fall, you still have roughly ten months until you matriculate. You also have at least three months until you hear final decisions from schools. Whether you launch into full job search mode or not, admissions committees want to see that you are making the most of your time away from work.

It may seem daunting to be networking and interviewing for new jobs while working on applications, but we would urge you to consider it.  While admissions committees read the news and don’t view a layoff as a dealbreaker, by remaining on the career sidelines you are decreasing your competitiveness as an MBA applicant. You’re also putting all your eggs in the MBA basket, so to speak.

While you are in job search, which may take a while and that’s ok, think about ways you can continue to add value – to your community, an organization in need (check out Taproot for ideas), or even just to yourself. Knowing that the admissions committee will be considering your actions when they assess your application, now is not the time to tread water (which is boring anyway!).

3) Reflect and discuss your insights.

As with any major life change, leaving your job likely triggered a period of self-reflection. Perhaps you gave more thought to the type of organization you want to be a part of or even whether your current career path is right for you after all. Use this to your advantage!

View the circumstances as an opportunity to pivot towards the type of work you see yourself doing post-MBA and beyond. If a holistic shift isn’t possible (after all, you are planning to get an MBA for a reason), perhaps your next role can help build some of the skills you will ultimately need to make your desired transition. The adcom will take note if you explain this rationale in your application essays!

As an example, a past client of mine knew she had a passion for nonprofit work, but her early career had led her down a different path. In advance of her MBA applications, she found herself at a crossroads and actively sought a position in the nonprofit space. While the role she accepted was functionally different from what she hopes to do post-MBA, demonstrating knowledge of the nonprofit sector made for a compelling application and she was accepted (with full scholarship!) to her top choice program.

We are still accepting clients for Round 2. If you’re considering throwing your hat in the ring and want some help strategizing, click here to schedule a free consultation.

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