Feature Article: Layoff Your Worries… If You Use Your Time Well

mbaMission writes a monthly feature for our friends at Beat the GMAT. The following piece was penned for BTG by mbaMission Founder, Jeremy Shinewald:  

What could be more nerve-wracking than applying to business school without a job? After all, how can you reveal your strong management traits if you are struggling to manage your own career? Well, your internal voice need not be that cruel. Thousands upon thousands of people—and indeed, thousands of MBA applicants—have been negatively affected by the implosion of Wall Street firms, the decline of the automakers, the real estate bust and more. If you had been laid off and unable to find a job during the boom, that might have made a statement about your desirability to employers and thus as an MBA candidate, but this is 2010, and having been laid off now is hardly a scarlett letter. If the top MBA programs were to shun anyone who had been laid off and then gotten back on his or her feet, or anyone who has been laid off and has not yet found his or her new path, then they would certainly miss out on some tremendously talented and accomplished people.

Remember, admissions offices are governed by self-interest. The admissions committees want the best candidates, period. So, you should not overly concern yourself with your layoff and attempt to hide it. Rose Martinelli, director of admissions at Chicago Booth, told mbaMission,

“Bottom line: we all understand that people have lost jobs for no reason other than the economy …. People just need to be honest. This is a very unusual time, and B-schools haven’t seen this type of situation across so many sectors, so we are learning, too. I think honesty and transparency is the best that we can hope for from one another.”

And Soojin Kwon Koh, director of admissions at Michigan Ross, added a little more perspective by saying,

“We understand that great employees at all levels within an organization can get laid off … We’re going to look at an applicant’s entire professional history and not just the last year. And we’re going to look at all the pieces of the application, not just the work history.”

Indeed, we have spoken with several admissions officers on this point, all of whom emphasized that a layoff itself is not an issue and that unemployed candidates should certainly still apply to their preferred business schools. However, they also stressed that they would want to hear that such candidates did not simply take the time off but instead made the most of that time. Darden director of admissions Sara Neher explained that candidates need not fear taking a professional “step down,” stating that she was impressed by a particular candidate who rolled up her sleeves, quite literally, when she found herself out of a job:

“I had someone this year who got laid off but knew she wanted to start a restaurant someday. … So she ended up working as a waitress and then got into the kitchen a little bit and got to do some managing, and spent five months working in a restaurant. … It wasn’t for the money; it was to learn something on the ground that she could put into practice. … She fired people, she hired people, she dealt with a lot of interpersonal issues, and that will be good fodder for class and for learning.”

MBA applicants need not interpret “staying active” as gaining immediate employment. According to Peter Johnson, director of admissions at Berkeley-Haas, those who are stifled in their job hunt should consider undertaking informational interviews, job-shadowing and/or unpaid internships; doing so can send a significant signal to an admissions committee about a candidate’s determination and resiliency. Further, many admissions directors pointed to community leadership as a clear way for applicants to prove that they have remained engaged and spent their time productively. While the time one spends laid off can undoubtedly be trying, the admissions officers we interviewed seemed to regard these tough times as somewhat of an unfortunate test. The Admissions Committees want to see that unemployed applicants are still building their cases and shoring up their candidacies, even as the economy is in retreat, so that they will have a story to showcase and be poised to excel when the economy recovers.

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