How to Explain a Job Gap in Your MBA Application

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Have a job gap in your resume? Don't leave the admissions committee guessing.

Pat Harrison is Senior Associate Director of Admissions at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College

I once gave feedback to an unsuccessful applicant who had a big job gap in his employment history. Now the fact that he had the gap wasn’t what was troubling to the admissions committee (we recognize that in this economy a lot of people unfortunately have found themselves in this boat), rather the bigger problem was the fact that he hadn’t addressed anywhere in his application what he had been doing during his period of unemployment. When I asked him that question, he seemed surprised and said he didn’t think we would be interested. Now, what he had been doing was actually quite compelling, but because he didn’t address it in his application, we didn’t know about it and had to make our decision based on the information we had. In this type of situation, we don’t know if the applicant is doing something amazing or if they are sitting on the sofa binge-watching TV. Moral of the story: never make us guess about anything, because we may guess wrong.

The best approach to addressing a job gap is to be straightforward and explain why you left your prior employer and what you did during the time you weren’t working. Were you taking classes to develop additional skills? Were you using the time to travel and learn about different cultures? Or were you pounding the pavement to network and find a new job? All of these are fine. We often learn more from the struggles in our lives than the successes. Demonstrating resilience, optimism and personal growth during a period of unemployment will be viewed positively by an admissions committee, so take advantage of the optional essay and tell us your story.

The same advice it true for anything that may not be obvious from the face of your application like a major career switch, poor grade, or unusual choice of recommender. For example, many people are hesitant to ask their current supervisor for a letter of recommendation because they fear it might jeopardize their employment. This is not a big problem if you explain that is the reason, but if you don’t explain it, we are left with the equally realistic assumption that you don’t have a good working relationship with your supervisor. Again, don’t make us guess.

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