Timeout with Trav: Getting Laid Off

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Dear Trav, 

I was laid off during the recession and out of work for about a year. How will that affect my candidacy?

Clearly, this would have been a huge challenge for you and I applaud your diligence in working to overcome it!  The global financial crisis affected millions of people—both well qualified and poorly qualified. Some industries were affected more than others, and if you were in an industry such as Finance or Real Estate, this may be fairly common. However, you will need to explain any gap in employment in the optional essay in your MBA application, and a yearlong gap will need a particularly thoughtful explanation.

Even though we’ve been through the worst economic climate in 80 years, a gap of employment for more than a couple of months will certainly raise questions with the admissions committee. Nearly every candidate has some kind of weakness in his or her application, and they need to take steps to address potential concerns. This isn’t to say that concerns cannot be overcome, but you certainly have something to prove!  In your case, you want to prove to the admissions committee that you’re a stellar performer in your professional career and will be an attractive candidate to MBA recruiters.

In particular, I would look to get very strong and enthusiastic letters of recommendation from your current and former employer.  If the former employer can say that you were a fantastic employee and a leader among peers but that you were laid off due to external economic factors alone, this could allay potential fears of your past performance. If your current employer corroborates with a similarly enthusiastic recommendation, this will serve to assuage any concerns about your employ-ability   In your resume and essays, you’ll also want to emphasize professional achievements to show how you shine amongst your peers.

With such a large gap in employment, the admissions committee will want to see how you used your time. They are looking for candidates who are ambitious and willing to turn obstacles into opportunities. I had a South American applicant who moved with her fiancé to the United States, but was unable to work for a period of several months due to visa issues. She spent this time serving as a volunteer consultant to a nonprofit in her hometown, developed a proposal for an innovative fundraising strategy, and had to use persuasion to show the older, conservative members of the board how it would be valuable.  These are skills and experiences that MBA programs are looking for, and therefore she turned a potentially damaging situation into one that was beneficial to her application.

Another client was laid off from Wall Street and spent a couple of months as a ski bum in Colorado. He spoke very candidly about this in his optional essay and said that as a passionate skier, this was something he had always wanted to do his entire life. He considered this break as a reward after a very demanding position in banking.  Both candidates were admitted to top-tier MBA programs. However, schools want to know that you weren’t just sitting around on your couch all day long, watching soap operas and enjoying your unemployment checks. Show your personality, passions and ambition!

I would highly recommend speaking to an expert Admissions Consultant about your situation and how to best position it. You don’t want the Admissions Committee to see this as a sign that you have performed poorly in your professional career and had a difficult time finding a new job because you do not recruit well, lack interpersonal skills or have other weaknesses that would make you a poor MBA candidate. With the right perspective, you can show the committee what perspectives and skills you gained through this challenge in your life.

Very best of luck to you!


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Travis Morgan is the Director of Admissions Consulting for Veritas Prep and earned his MBA with distinction from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He served in the Kellogg Student Admissions Office, Alumni Admissions Organization and Diversity & Inclusion Council, among several other posts. Travis joined Veritas Prep as an admissions consultant and GMAT instructor, and he was named Worldwide Instructor of the Year in 2011.