While MBA applicants generally worry that MBA programs will view resume gaps as the applicant not taking their career seriously, my experience is that MBA admissions officers are sophisticated people who understand that life is full of opportunities and challenges, both personally and professionally. Here are some guidelines for addressing different types of MBA resume gaps.
This is, in my experience, the most common reason that applicants have a gap in their MBA resume. The most successful approach that I’ve had with applicants is to be forthright about why the venture was ultimately not successful but focus on the actions that you took once the dust settled. What did you learn from the situation? What were the major mistakes, whether they were company missteps or larger market/technological forces outside of company control, that signaled the beginning of the end? Show the admissions officers that you can reflect meaningfully on the experience but are beyond the situation and moving your career forward.
Needing to take personal or family leave
This can be for positive reasons, such as starting or expanding your family, or challenging ones such as a personal health crisis or needing to care for a sick child, spouse or parent. Typically, MBA applicants are apprehensive that the MBA selection committee will view these life choices negatively. This is not my experience. An MBA program is not an undergraduate program. The admissions officers understand that you are balancing your personal and professional life. What is important is demonstrating that your personal life is now in a stable place where you can fully dedicate yourself to an MBA program.
Relocating with a spouse
Like taking leave for personal or family reasons, MBA applicants tend to be a little overly-apologetic when discussing relocating with a spouse. This is especially true for applicants who left a ‘good’ job so that a spouse could pursue a career-defining opportunity. Be forthright about your primary reason for relocating but focus on your plan for your career. Maybe you took online courses or did an intense self-study to consolidate your knowledge base. Perhaps you were able to do some type of internship. Whatever it is, show that your career was still a priority for you and you took concrete steps to improve your skills and experiences.
Whether it was a relatively radical change, such as from education to marketing, or a more lateral shift, like from technology to finance, you decided to take a chance and pursue what you knew was the right path for you. Although everything fits together when viewed in the larger vision of your career, you probably experienced a time of transition that caused a gap in your resume. Therefore, you need to demonstrate that, during the time of transition, you were pursuing your goals through education, research, internship opportunities or networking. Let the admissions officers see that this was a necessary step that you used to your advantage to move your career in your chosen direction.
Being dismissed from a company
Dismissal from a company tends to be the most difficult scenario to address. We tend to think of dismissals only occurring in extreme situations, such as negligence or outright crime. However, I’ve worked with applicants who were dismissed for a broad variety of reasons. If this is your case, describe your situation matter-of-factly. Show how you would have made different choices if faced with the same situation. Most of all, demonstrate that you have recovered fully, both personally and professionally, and are now a wiser and more focused individual who is ready to take the next step in your career progress.
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