Unemployed? Thinking about an MBA? Get a Job First

by Vault Education Editors | July 14, 2011

by EssaySnark

Getting laid off is no fun. On top of being broke, a layoff can involve a hit to the self-esteem and a lot of self-doubt. It can also prompt some soul-searching. Sometimes, getting laid off motivates people to go back to school.

If you're out of work and think you might want to go for your MBA—or if you're considering quitting a job you hate to do so—carefully consider your strategy.

It's much easier to get into b-school if you have a job. This is especially true right now, when the first-round application deadlines are still months away. If you apply in Round 1, you won't be starting school for a full year. That's an awful long time to put your life on hold. What will you do in between?

The best approach with a b-school application is to show that you have clear goals and a plan for your future. Everything you do from now through b-school should be done to ready yourself for a post-MBA career. It can be difficult to explain a long stretch of time where you're not actively working. What new skills are you building? How is that preparing you for your goals?

Even more important: What if you don't get in? You don’t want to bank on the hopes that you'll be accepted. That puts an awful lot of trust in forces beyond your control. You might end up waiting through months of applications, only to come out empty-handed at the end. It would be even tougher to land a job later, with nearly a year of unexplained unemployment on your resume. And even worse: By not seeking work now, you could be signaling to the adcom that you expect them to admit you. That is a little presumptuous and could be interpreted in a negative way.

The best course of action is to go get a job, and then focus on your MBA applications. This will allow you to write your essays from a position of strength. Plus, you'll have some money in your pocket, so you won't be quite as stressed out during an already-stressful process.

There's an obvious issue with this scenario, and that is an ethical one: How can you go get a job right now if you plan to be leaving for school next year? There are a variety of ways to handle this:

You could disclose it once you get to the “serious interest” stage of the interviewing process. You could tell the hiring manager, “Look, I just want you to know that I'm interested in getting my MBA for these reasons. I don't know if I'll get in, but I will be applying to some schools to start in Fall 2012. This job is exciting to me, and I would not want to leave for any other reason.” This obviously has some risk, though many people would respond well to the fact that you were being upfront with them. Some employers could feel that it's worth it to have a great employee like you on for a year, even if you might be leaving after that.

Or, you could look for temporary or contract work.

Maybe a friend or family member can offer you a job for a time.

You could even start a small venture to bring in some income. Entrepreneurial activities are often received favorably by the adcom.

Volunteering is also a good idea, but it's probably better to seek out a paying position too. Then, you can present your new job as a stepping-stone in your quest for the career goals you're presenting in your MBA applications.

Great MBA programs, like Columbia Business School, for instance, will evaluate your entire application from the perspective of your career goals, your background, and your character. Bouncing back from a layoff or other setback can show the admissions committee that you're resilient, and being resourceful about seeking out the next opportunity can help them see that you're actively working towards your future today.

To get more practical tips on how to approach your MBA applications, check out the SnarkStrategies Guides, currently available for Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford. And, be sure to return for additional advice from EssaySnark each week here on Vault and at our blog.


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