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Gaps in Employment: What if I have one?

How will the AdCom view an employment gap on my resume? What can I do to minimize its impact?

One question that MBA candidates often ask me is how admissions committees will view employment gaps on their resume. Given that the power of an MBA program lies in the opportunity to learn from your peers, admissions committees value candidates with strong and unique work experiences. Thus, committees will first focus on the quality and scope of your experience. Yet, a gap in employment of greater than two to three months will generally be considered negative – unless you get ahead of it, explain it and connect at a human level.

That’s right. Face your weaknesses head on. Don’t leave the admissions committee guessing as to why you have a gap. They will try to fill in the blanks, which may not always reflect kindly on your candidacy.

On many applications, and certainly in the interview, you are asked point blank to explain those vexing gaps. Use these opportunities to your advantage. First, describe what you did with your time, and then take it one step further: what did you learn from the experience?

Tactically, you can explain the gap in a variety of ways in an application. You can use the optional essay to very directly answer why there was a gap and what you learned. However, you can also weave your rationale into the main essay, and focus on how the experience shaped your perspective or informed your next move. Also, if you used the gap to devote yourself to an extracurricular activity, you may be able to solicit a strong letter of recommendation from an executive outside of your workplace that shows your commitment and leadership in the community.

At Stratus Prep last season, I collaborated with a candidate who was let go from a job while applying to business school. Instead of sitting on his couch, the candidate sought to deepen his commitment to a non-profit organization. Not only did he strengthen his leadership and program management skills, it also resulted in a full-time offer of employment. We then worked to seamlessly weave it into his narrative.

Consider another candidate who was forced to take time off to care for a family member undergoing surgery. Although the experience may not have had an obvious connection to getting an MBA, it provided the candidate with unique insights into patient care, healthcare privacy laws, hospital management, and insurance policy and integration. In addition to getting to spend time with family during a difficult transition period, the candidate decided build upon the lessons learned by pursuing an MBA with a healthcare focus.

By giving admissions committees the full, authentic picture, you take control of your narrative. So, deeply reflect upon the experience and explain it. Make it specific and meaningful, and it will be memorable.

Applying to an MBA program with an employment gap? Get in touch and we will help you increase your chances of admission.

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