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How to Explain Gaps in Your MBA Resume

Many MBA applicants believe that their professional past needs to have followed a perfect trajectory, with them having gone seamlessly from job to job, from promotion to promotion. The reality, however, can be quite different. Candidates sometimes get laid off and are unable to find a new job for several months. Sometimes, an illness or other personal reason forces them to take time off. The COVID-19 era certainly precipitated its share of workplace disruptions, as has recent upheaval in the tech industry.

So, if you have a gap on your MBA resume, is all hope for your future lost?

In short, no.

First, let us define what we mean by a job gap. The rule of thumb is that any lapse of more than three months between jobs should be explained in your application. This means that if your job gap is shorter than three months, you can simply note the beginning and end dates of the interval on your MBA resume and not worry about it any further.

But what should you do if your gap is four months, six months, or even a year? Even then, you have no need to panic. You will just need to explain the gap to the admissions committee in one way or another. Some schools ask specifically in their application about any career interruption of longer than three months and want you to discuss what you did during that time; others expect you to use the Optional Essay to do so. The key to minimizing any concern about the interval is showing that you used the time effectively. For example, imagine you are an admissions committee member reading the following:

“I had a job gap of six months. During that time, I slept a lot because my previous job had been busy. So I relaxed and eventually found a new position.”

This “explanation” does not convey to the admissions committee a sense of drive, initiative, or proactivity. Contrast it with the following:

“In the six months between leaving [previous company] and starting at [current company], I embraced the chance to explore areas of interest that I had not previously had time for. I committed myself to learning to play the piano, with twice-weekly lessons and two hours of practice every day. I completed XYZ course on [something relevant to career goals] to bolster my understanding and skills in that area, and I shadowed [someone working in target career area] for ten hours a week to confirm that it is the direction I want to pursue professionally and to learn about the daily life and responsibilities of individuals in that role.”

The second example represents someone who used their time off for personal, intellectual, and professional growth, and that should easily dispel any concerns the admissions committee might have about the applicant’s job gap.

If you would like a professional’s opinion on how best to address any discontinuities in your MBA resume, simply sign up for a free half-hour consultation with one of mbaMission’s expert admissions consultants!

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Berkeley Haas School of Business Essay Tips and Examples

Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, Essay Analysis - mbaMission

For its first required application essay, the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, wants candidates to dig deep on a personal level and discuss something about which they are passionate, and for its second, applicants are asked to explain where they hope to go professionally after earning their degree and how they anticipate the Haas MBA program will help them get there. In response to the school’s third prompt, applicants must submit a brief essay on their firsthand experience with a diversity-related situation or issue. And the program’s fourth required “essay” is actually a short video on the candidate’s connection with one of the school’s four Defining Leadership Principles. The Haas admissions committee takes a slightly different approach to the optional essay than most programs do, offering both a short, multipart questionnaire (which is less complicated than it might seem at first glance) and a straightforward prompt that invites applicants, if needed, to address any unclear or problem areas in their profile. Together, the essays should allow you to offer insight into who you are as an individual and who you hope to be as a future business leader, to complement the information presented in your resume, recommendations, and basic stats. Read on for our more detailed analysis of all the school’s 2024–2025 prompts.

Berkeley Haas 2024–2025 Essay Tips

Required Essay #1: What makes you feel alive when you are doing it, and why? (300 words maximum)

Perhaps you are familiar with the psychological concept of “flow,” which is a mental state people enter when they are completely immersed in and focused on something they enjoy and are enthusiastic about—it is also described as being “in the zone.” With this question, Berkeley Haas is basically asking you to discuss what puts you in the zone. If you are truly excited about something—and, we would assume, therefore engage in it on a regular basis—writing about it should not prove too challenging. Like all other application questions, this one has no “right” answer, so do not try to guess what you think the school wants to hear. Authenticity is key to your success here. Note that the prompt includes the words “when you are doing it,” so although you may feel strongly about certain causes or values, such as animal rights or environmental matters, for this essay, you will need to discuss an activity rather than an ideology.  

The school does not stipulate that your topic needs to come from a specific area of your life (e.g., professional life, community service, personal life). We appreciate that you are likely passionate about your career, but this is not automatically your best choice for a topic here, especially given that the school’s second required essay offers a better opportunity to discuss your professional side. What Berkeley Haas wants to learn from this essay is what gets your heart pumping and mind revving. Enthusiasm and intensity can be very inspiring and energizing and can lead to big ideas and actions. Sharing what incites such feelings in you gives the admissions committee an idea of where you might someday make an impression on the world, how you might leave your mark—especially once you are equipped with all you will gain and learn during your MBA experience.

That said, do not worry if the thing you feel so fervently about might initially seem commonplace to someone else. For example, perhaps you feel passionate about basketball. Because this is an interest anyone could share and enjoy, you might have concerns that it could sound pedestrian or unremarkable—and for many, this is a completely unremarkable pastime and one they should not write about. If, however, you can show that you have engaged with basketball in a way that takes the activity well beyond being a commonplace hobby and that it is something you connect with on a deep level and in various ways (perhaps having played for many years, you now coach youth teams from underprivileged neighborhoods in your community), then it most definitely becomes an acceptable discussion topic. In such a case, basketball could be used to reveal intensity, dedication, commitment to yourself and others, growth, longevity, and/or resilience. Of course, we are offering basketball here just for illustration purposes. We imagine you likely feel the flow when engaging in a completely different activity or even in disparate activities that are unified by a single behavior, such as when you are creating something or perhaps motivating others. The options are very much endless.

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Columbia Business School Essay Tips and Examples

Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School (CBS) requires all its applicants to submit a short-answer goal statement of just 50 characters, and its January applicants must respond to an additional 50-character short-answer question, explaining why they have selected the alternative program start date. In addition, candidates must write three somewhat concise essays. Like the goal statement, CBS’s first essay prompt is about candidates’ career aspirations but focuses on the long term, and the additional length (500 words versus 50 characters) demands much more depth. For their second essay, applicants must discuss their active role in an inclusive experience, and for the third, they are asked to describe their vision for their time in the CBS MBA program and the role they anticipate playing in creating this experience. Together, by balancing professional aspirations with more personal, values- and character-based topics, the school’s essays should provide candidates with sufficient opportunity to provide a well-rounded impression of themselves as aspiring CBS MBAs. Read on for our detailed analysis of the program’s 2024–2025 questions.

Columbia Business School Essay Analysis, 2024–2025

Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)

Examples of possible responses:

  • “Work in business development for a media company.”
  • “Join a strategy consulting firm.”
  • “Launch a data-management start-up.”

CBS applicants accustomed to X’s (formerly Twitter’s) standard 280-character allowance might find the school’s 50-character limit here more than a little challenging—especially considering that it includes spaces! To get a sense of how brief your opportunity really is, note that the question is itself exactly 50 characters. With such limited space, this can hardly be considered a true essay, but you will need to approach it with the same level of thought and focus you give all your other written responses for CBS. 

So, this prompt is a no-nonsense request for information that is all about getting to the point and telling the admissions committee what it needs to know—that you have a clear and achievable goal. The school’s sample responses illustrate not only that conveying the requested information in such a tight space is definitely doable but also that you do not need to worry too much about grammatical issues or crafting a complete sentence (in other words, you do not need to start your response with “I want to” or something similar). We like to offer the statement “Reveal true goals, not what you think CBS wants” as both our example of keeping things concise and our advice on how to approach and fulfill this request. 

So think about what you truly want to do with your career in the short term, and state this aspiration directly. Keep in mind that the rest of your application needs to provide evidence that your stated goal aligns with your existing skills and profound interests, especially once they have been augmented by an MBA education. This will show that your professed goal is achievable and lend credibility to your statement. If you can do this in 50 characters (not words!), you will have done what you need to do to answer the school’s question quite well.

January Short Answer Question: Why do you prefer the January-entry term? (50 characters maximum)

With this straightforward query, the CBS admissions committee wants to understand why you are pursuing the shorter form of its MBA program, which omits the traditional summer internship. Candidates have a myriad of reasons they might prefer this option, and CBS is interested in yours specifically. Perhaps you already have a job lined up or will be returning to your current firm (or maybe a family business), in which case, you would not need an internship to gain hands-on experience or build a relationship with a company in hopes of landing a post-MBA position there. Maybe you are certain you will start your own business, which would make completing an internship less crucial. Whatever your reason, simply state it directly for the admissions committee. The school is not looking for a predetermined “right” answer here; above all, they want to see that you have thoroughly considered your options and have landed on a reason—and can articulate it succinctly—that this route is the right one for you. But if not needing an internship is your reason for selecting the 16-month program, make sure you do not simply say, “I do not need a summer internship”; explain why that interim position is not needed. 

Essay 1: Through your resume and recommendation, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next three to five years and what is your long-term dream job? (500 words)

CBS starts this essay question by more or less telling you not to recap your career thus far, so we strongly recommend that you do so (and briefly, at that) only if context is absolutely needed for your stated goals to be understood and/or believable—perhaps if you are making a fairly remarkable career change. Pay particular attention to the phrase “dream job” with respect to the long-term portion of the question. The school is prompting you to be creative and perhaps even to challenge or push yourself to think big. CBS wants individuals who do not just follow prescribed paths according to someone else’s blueprint but who are aspirational and more inclined to forge their own way. This is not to suggest that if you have a more traditional plan in mind that you are in trouble or at risk of losing the admissions committee’s attention, but you might need to take a little extra time to consider your ambitions from the perspective of “what if?” and to delve more deeply into what you hope to achieve to find the more personal and inspiring elements of your goals. Showing creativity and individualism here can only be helpful.

Although this is not a request for a textbook personal statement essay, your response will certainly involve some elements of the topics covered in such a submission, such as short- and long-term goals. The mbaMission Personal Statement Guide offers advice on brainstorming and crafting such essays, along with multiple illustrative examples, and could therefore be helpful in preparing your response to this CBS prompt. You can download your free copy here.

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Six Tips for Effective Onboarding: Becoming Confident in Your New Job

This post was written by resident mbaMission Career Coach Elissa Harris. To sign up for a free 30-minute career consultation with Elissa, please click here.

With MBA graduations right around the corner, many of you will be starting new jobs soon. Getting off on the right foot is critical for job satisfaction and long-term success within an organization.

Whether your new employer offers substantial onboarding and training programs or whether you are expected to take the reins yourself as you forge ahead in your new role, these six tips can help set you up for success:

Gain clarity on your responsibilities. 

Ask your manager what the metrics of success are for your new position and how your work fits into that of the overall team. Learn about the company’s culture and any unspoken norms; listen carefully to your manager’s directions, and ask colleagues for guidance. 

Be proactive. 

Keep your manager up-to-date on the status of your projects; be aware that managers might have specific preferences on how they would like to be kept in the loop. If you are unsure about how to proceed on a project, consider asking for support with this language: “I am not clear on what my next steps should be, but here’s what I am thinking. Am I on the right track?” or “I am thinking about doing X next but wanted to confirm that with you first.”

Ask for and incorporate feedback. 

Get specifics using language like “This week, X happened. I’d love your thoughts on how I could have handled this situation better. Can we discuss it more?” Pay attention to nonverbal feedback; notice the changes/edits made to your work product, and ask why they were made. If you are struggling, request templates or samples of strong work product.

Get to know your team. 

Participate in office activities, and consider joining affinity groups. Gather information on each person’s working style; ask questions like “What do you need from me to ensure that we’re doing our best work?” Show appreciation for your team’s support and guidance.

Maintain a positive mind-set. 

Feeling overwhelmed (or even underqualified) when you start a new job is common, so do not worry. If you were an expert at your new job on Day 1, you would be bored by Day 30. Each day is a new opportunity to learn.  

Share your new job with your network. 

Add your new role to the experience section of your LinkedIn profile, and post an announcement of it, along with a note of appreciation to those who helped you. Send personalized thank-you emails to anyone who assisted you during your job search.

Finally, you worked hard to land your new position, so enjoy the journey! Be curious. Have fun. Build relationships. Learn new things. Find ways to make an impact.

MBA Admissions Myths Destroyed: Harvard Business School Is for Everyone

Harvard Business School (HBS) offers an excellent MBA program. This is largely a given, and we are not questioning that. However, what we will call into question is whether HBS (or any other school, for that matter) is right for you. Every year, we get a few calls from confused MBA aspirants who say, “I visited HBS, and I am not sure if there is a fit,” as if that indicates some sort of problem. Indeed, and this may be shocking to some, HBS is not for everyone—particularly those who do not relate well to case-based learning, those who want a lot of flexibility in their first-year curriculum, and those who would prefer a small class size (HBS’s Class of 2025 has 938 students, while the same class at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, for example, has just 244).

We hope that applicants will use this post as a jumping-off point to critically appraise their target MBA programs and determine which schools are indeed right for them. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Would I prefer to be in a larger program, or would I feel overwhelmed by a larger program’s size?
  • Would I prefer to be in a smaller program, or would that feel claustrophobic?
  • Would I prefer to be at a school with a flexible curriculum and a consistent stream of new classmates and where I could make my own academic choices early on?
  • Would I prefer to learn in a comprehensive core curriculum where I am, for a period of time, learning the same material as my classmates and where academics would provide me with a course structure?
  • Am I best suited for the case method, lecture method, or programs with strong experiential components? And do I really understand what each entails (for example, the teamwork and public speaking that are necessary with the case method)?
  • Do my target schools match my academic objectives?
  • Do my target firms recruit at my school?
  • Are alumni well placed in my industry/post-MBA location? (Are alumni even crucial to my career?)
  • Do my target schools have facilities and an environment that appeal to me?

Again, these questions are just a start. We could pose many more, but the point is that you will get far more than a brand from your MBA studies—you will gain an education and an alumni network in return for your investment of two years and thousands of dollars. You should therefore skip the rankings, determine what is important to you, and then do your research to identify a program that truly fits your personality, needs, and goals.

If you would like to receive targeted guidance on your business school application, simply sign up for a free 30-minute consultation with an mbaMission admissions expert.

Admissions Myths Destroyed

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