If you are wondering how to explain gaps in an MBA resume, then you are probably already set on joining a business school, but stuck on how to explain the months – or maybe years – you have been out of work. And right now, from among many Master of Business Administration (MBA) application tips and application strategies, this will probably be the most important one for you.
As a candidate who is applying to business school while not currently being employed – or with a resume showing gaps – you are in a trickier situation. This is because business schools view themselves as career accelerators and not career jump-starters. But, joining an MBA program with gaps in your resume is not impossible and we will see how you can increase your chances of getting in.
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Why do you need to explain gaps in your resume?
An employment gap shouldn’t impede your future success at business school. Because, as long as you are ready to address your employment history – or rather the lack of it – and take ownership of it, you can increase your chances of getting into an MBA program.
Remember, you are not the first candidate with a gap on your resume. But, it is how you mitigate this gap on your resume that will make you stand out from other applicants with the same problem.
Still working on your MBA resume?
Admissions committee members are experts at both assessing the whole picture, as well as scrutinizing the minutiae of an application. They are trained professionals who instinctively check the chronology of what an applicant has done and how it matches what’s on their resume or application forms.
They want to know what the applicant had been doing during a period of unemployment as opposed to focusing on the fact that they weren’t employed. The applicant, on the other hand, should show that they made productive use of their time. Essentially, they want to see that you were still an active and eager professional, despite being out of work.
The admissions committee will take a holistic view of your profile and narrative, as well as your evolution over time. And it is that view that you will exploit to your advantage – by painting a clear picture showing exactly what happened and how you have emerged as a better person, and hence a stronger candidate, for the experience.
How to explain gaps in MBA resume
You have two main options when it comes to explaining gaps in your MBA resume:
We will have a look at each method in detail.
Where in the application and interview will you have a chance to explain?
Let us have a look at where in your application and interview processes you will be able to explain gaps in your resume.
In the application process
During the application process, you will have several writing opportunities to let the school know the detailed information about the gaps in your MBA resume.
These opportunities include MBA admissions essays (both mandatory and optional), MBA cover letter, MBA statements of purpose, and MBA letter of intent.
Most business schools offer optional essays as part of their application process. This is where you can be most effective at addressing the gap.
The strategy to adopt is:
The schools also have mandatory MBA application essays. If the reason for the gap had an impact on your career and it can be woven into the essay prompt, you may go ahead and delve into it. It might require some creativity, so make sure you think this strategy out. Highlight the effect the time off had on your decisions or actions to move on to the next step in your career or qualification. Remember not to make the gap in your resume the focus of your primary essays, such as the personal statement. Your essays should emphasize your strengths, your best experiences, and your most suitable qualities. While you can weave your setbacks into the narrative, make sure to discuss them in a positive light and demonstrate how they made you a better MBA candidate.
In the interview
If you are invited for an interview, you can rest assured that they will ask you about your gap. This is the most direct way your employment gap will be explored and you need to be ready to satisfactorily respond to all their queries.
You should learn how to prepare for your MBA interview and know how to explain gaps in your MBA resume submission.
Your strategy should adopt the following points:
A good piece of advice here would be to hold an MBA mock interview, perhaps a few times over, to make sure you have the flow, precision, and accurate story details.
Examples of reasons for gaps in your resume and how to tackle them
There may be hundreds of reasons for unemployment. It’s important to reflect on your circumstances and prepare an answer that will show off your unemployment as a strength rather than a weakness:
It is also fine if you took time off to simply do something fun like trekking across Africa, traveling through Asia, or attending a retreat in South America. What you need to do here is demonstrate that you had a solid work ethic before and after your hiatus and that these experiences resulted in your growth and maturity.
You can, for example, provide evidence of how hard you worked on key projects before and after your trip. The best way to do that is by including references from previous supervisors who can attest to long hours worked, high energy, and optimal investment in the job.
What is most important here is that you remember the committee wants to know that you didn’t just spend the off time sitting idle.
Sample MBA admissions essay explaining gaps in your MBA resume
As we have said, an optional essay is an excellent place to proactively address any gaps in your employment from a place of reflective context.
You can, for example, emphasize your previous work experience to show that you are indeed a hardworking person. Let the committee know about your achievements and promotions so they can see that it was only because of your gaps that you became an even stronger person overall.
Here is a sample:
To the Admissions Committee at [INSERT BUSINESS SCHOOL]
I have been working since I was 17 years old. I started by supporting my family and earning a few extra dollars as pocket money by joining the kitchen crew at my local fast-food chain. Right after school, I would head out to work and put in my hours before heading home.
It wasn’t due to any financial problems – we were a lower-middle-income family that had everything we needed, and a little extra too. But, I believed that helping my family in any way I could was my responsibility.
After graduating from high school I went on to college and still kept working in part-time jobs in careers that included working at a deli, monitoring traffic at a car parking service, and even valeting at a 5-star hotel in my city. During all four years of college, I worked and studied.
The three main advantages I got from these experiences are that they made me realize that I could stand on my own two feet, they gave me the confidence and helped me realize how to work with colleagues, and they also helped me cut my college tuition debts by a substantial amount.
After graduating, I went on to join ACME INC. as a junior marketer in their sales department. It was fulfilling, and exactly the kind of work that I thrived in. I was promoted twice in just three years and was soon in charge of a marketing team.
It was right after three months of that final promotion that my former employers started to face difficulties. Over two months, most of my team was made redundant as the company tried to cut costs. But, alas, with even 50 percent of the staff being made redundant, and the remaining working from home, it was still too much of a financial hit for the company to continue, and I too found myself out of a job.
Ever since then, I have made sure to keep myself busy. As soon as I was laid off, I started searching for jobs that didn’t require my coming into an office while performing the same duties as my last job. And although I couldn’t land a full-time position, I was still able to find a few freelance marketing gigs that helped me put food on the table as well as save a little money on the side.
Right now, as I am applying to your esteemed institution, I would like to let you know three things. First, I realized an MBA program was the right choice for me because I loved my last job and I want to perform in it better – to help create a business that is as resistant as possible to unforeseeable circumstances. Second, although I have saved enough money for my first year’s tuition, I know that I can stay on track with my course work as well as work on the side to finance my education – life has given me that confidence. And finally, I know I will be able to attend, flourish in, and graduate from this MBA program because I bring passion, determination, and experience with me.
I hope you will consider all these factors and accept my application to the MBA program.
As you can see, this essay covered the background, the current status, and the plans of the candidate, while at the same time informing the committee about what happened to cause the employment gap, and how the candidate didn’t just sit at home during the pandemic but went on to empower themselves.
Sample MBA interview answer explaining gaps in your MBA resume
Next, let us go ahead and have a look at some sample MBA interview questions and answers you can give when explaining your gap:
Sample interview answer 1: I took a break from working as a sales team leader following the birth of my son. But, I didn't stop working completely. During that time, I found remote marketing jobs and worked from home as I nursed my son. I am finally ready to get back into building my career with the help of an MBA since my son is now in preschool.
This demonstrates that you managed to become a mother and still found the time and energy to keep working and that the next step is to advance your marketing career armed with an MBA.
Sample interview answer 2: I got fired from my last job. As I sat at home looking for work, I had ample time to reflect and started asking myself why I had been fired. I soon realized that whatever passion I used to have for that job had all but disappeared. It also made me realize that this was the opportunity for me to switch to a career that has always been my passion – business and finance. This became evident to me when I took part-time gigs at [INSERT COMPANY] and realized I was flourishing in my position as a junior business analyst. That is why I want to earn my MBA and continue to grow in this field.
Here too, the candidate spent the time thinking of the mistake in their previous career choice and realized that they could be more successful – and happy – by following their passion with the help of an MBA.
Preparing for your MBA interview?
The lesson to take from this post is that gaps in your resume do not prevent you from joining an MBA program. As long as you know how to explain gaps in your MBA resume, you will always have a chance of getting that seat.
Just perfect your essay writing and interview skills and you should be good to go.
1. What are my chances of getting into a business school if there are gaps in my MBA resume?
It is still possible to get that coveted seat in an MBA program when you have had gaps in your resume. The trick is to increase your chances by explaining – via your application and interviews – the reasons for the gaps and how you have become a better person because of the experience.
2. How do I know when an answer is too personal to mention in an essay or during an interview?
It is okay to provide a brief outline of the circumstances, but you should not feel any pressure to disclose personal information, like a diagnosis. However, remember details matter too. The more context the committee has, the better they will understand your position.
3. I got fired – how do I explain this to the admissions committee?
Simple; you tell them you got fired. Then you go on to tell them why, and any other measures you took to alleviate the problem. This will show that you are an honest person who accepts responsibility for your actions and choices.
4. Will it reflect badly if I said that I simply took time off and did absolutely nothing during the gap time?
Well, yes and no. Yes, in the fact that you are not giving the admissions committee any information to go on. Perhaps you can say what it was that prompted you to suddenly up and stop working. Was it because you needed time off to yourself? Was it because of a crisis? Even admitting that you had burned out in your job is an acceptable answer.
And no, because if it was a personal – too personal a reason to discuss, that is – then you may also mention this fact to the interviewers instead of letting them guess at the reasons. You can vaguely let them know what caused the sabbatical and leave the medical or legal details out of it.
5. How can my referees help me when there is a gap in my MBA resume?
They can attest via your MBA recommendation letter about your work ethics during the times you worked with them. Your lecturers can attest to what kind of student you were as you tried to learn a new skill or upgraded an old one while ex-bosses can attest to your hard work and going above and beyond your job description
6. Does the number of years in the gap matter?
No. There are no time limits to mourning or health issues, for example.
7. When should I apply for an MBA when I have gaps in my MBA resume?
Most business schools have two or three rounds of applications per year. You can increase your chances of getting a seat by applying as early as possible – Round 1 or Round 2, at the latest. This is because there are more seats available.
8. What are considered to be “legitimate” reasons for gaps in MBA resumes?
While there are no definitive reasons for the gaps in an MBA resume, those that are related to health, death of a family member or acquaintance, changing careers, pursuing education, and being let go from employment are some of the most common reasons quoted for the gaps. In case you have a unique reason, you can go ahead and explain it. The main thing is that it is the true reason.
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