If you’re among the business school candidates concerned about a gap in your resume, don’t try to hide it. The first thing to know is that staying mum isn’t a strategy, and hoping your admissions reviewer isn’t going to notice won’t do anything to win their favor (it’s the opposite, really).
That’s because admissions committee members are experts at both assessing the whole picture about a candidate while at the same time, scrutinizing the details of an application. They’re instinctively checking the chronology of what you’ve done and how it matches what’s on your resume and application form.
As an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions and former UCLA Anderson Associate Director of Admissions, a break in a candidate’s resume always gives me pause. When I was at Anderson, we oftentimes probed into these gaps in employment, trying to piece together what the candidate did during that time period. It can be an awkward situation for everyone: admissions must chase down the information, and you’re put on the defensive.
Here are my top five tips for addressing a gap in your resume or a period of unemployment:
Don’t leave them guessing.
The absence of clear information always creates speculation – both about the reason itself and your motivations for omitting it. The admissions committee can be very creative in coming up with their own conclusions or question your motives. There are plenty of reasons you don’t want to leave this to their imagination, nor do you want to give the impression you drifted around aimlessly during that time.
Be straightforward and sincere.
Maybe you were laid off, initiated a career switch, or took time off to start an entrepreneurial venture. Or maybe personal circumstances or illness were to blame. Whatever the reason, you want to offer an explanation, and not an excuse. Provide the admissions committee appropriate context as to why you have that gap and what you were doing during that time. As they review your entire application, you want them to assess your candidacy from a place of understanding. Convey that you’re honest and reflective, with an awareness that your reasoning may alleviate any concerns.
Share lessons learned.
Speaking of being reflective, your ability to be introspective can be a point in your favor. This means being able to articulate not just the circumstances surrounding any employment gap, but what you learned from the experience. If you were laid off, for example, maybe the unexpected break afforded the opportunity for valuable contemplation instead of instinctively rushing into the next job, which may or may not have been a good fit. Perhaps you took the time to think deeply about what you wanted to do next and what kind of impact you wanted this to have in your career, which also shows maturity and clarity of purpose.
Take advantage of the optional essay.
The optional essay is a great place to proactively address any gaps in your employment from a place of reflective context. It doesn’t have to be super long, and you don’t have to go into exhaustive detail (nor should you). Did you fill your time in other meaningful ways, such as volunteer work or studying for an exam? Sometimes a gap year in your undergraduate studies I which you used this time doing something with purpose can fill an individual with renewed ambition and purpose upon returning to school, which can provide great insight into your motivations and personal development.
Don’t overthink it.
Candidates can get very stressed about how it will look to a school if they weren’t productively employed every month since graduating from university. While the broader panorama is of interest, it’s the last few years of your career history that are subjected to the most scrutiny in terms of where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished. You want to demonstrate career progression and a track-record of achievement, especially over the last year or two, so if you had a gap several years before during the early stages of your career, the admissions committee will be more understanding.
Remember, the admissions committee is looking at the holistic picture of your profile and perspective – considering how you’ve evolved over time. How you choose to frame your upsets and challenges as insights and opportunities can make a world of difference.
Jessica Chung is an expert coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Associate Director of Admissions at UCLA Anderson. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.
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