How to Approach Freelance Work and Layoffs in Your MBA Application

If you do mostly short-term, project-based work, you might struggle with how to structure your resume so that it does not give the impression that you switch jobs every few months. If you list each job separately, not only will your resume be too long, but you also run the risk that your reader will think you have not had a stable career—when in fact, if you are a successful freelancer or contractor, the opposite is the case. So, how can you organize your resume so that it showcases the strength of your work and avoid having the variety and number of your work experiences come across as a weakness instead?

The key here is “clustering.” Rather than listing each short-term job separately, cluster them all under one heading, such as “independent contractor” or “freelance project manager.” Next to this heading, note the time range (i.e., start and end dates) during which you have worked for yourself. Then, using bullet points, list the individual projects you completed as a freelancer, noting your primary accomplishments for each one, followed by the related company/organization name and dates. The goal is to keep the focus on your accomplishments.

Similarly, many business school applicants worry about the impact having been laid off might have on their candidacy. Do the admissions committees view a layoff as a sign of failure?

One thing to remember is that many MBA candidates share this worry—thousands of them worldwide, in fact. For the admissions committees to dismiss all such applicants outright would simply not be practical. Moreover, the admissions committees know that the global financial crisis and subsequent recession are at the root of the problem, not necessarily the individual candidate’s performance. Indeed, layoffs and firings are not the same thing, so admissions committees will examine your application with that in mind, seeking your broader story.

If you find yourself in this situation, what is important is that you show that you have made good use of your time since the layoff by studying, volunteering, seeking work, enhancing your skills, etc. Each candidate will react differently, of course, but you need to have a story to tell of how you made the most of a difficult situation.

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