This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
Think about what you would you do if you needed to move into a new job just a few months before submitting your MBA applications. Or, maybe there’s an intriguing career prospect on the horizon, but you’re not sure if changing companies now would help or hurt your chances of admission.
These scenarios happen all the time, so I’d like to share some advice to help you weigh the pros and cons of starting a new position before applying to business school.
One client I worked with, Josh, was deep into his third draft of essays for round one applications when he landed a new job. The move happened just as his former company, a tech startup, had begun a round of layoffs that likely would have included him. While Josh felt excited about starting a new position, he also worried that switching jobs right before submitting his MBA applications could cause problems.
Generally, I advise candidates who have held their position for less than a year to stay put. The admissions committee looks for consistency, and job-hopping could convey flakiness or a lack of clear career goals. However, if you’ve held the same position for a long time, a new career move might show initiative and bolster your candidacy.
Some argue the admissions committee won’t value a horizontal job move but that a vertical move with greater responsibility and leadership opportunities would be viewed favorably. While this is often true, there are always exceptions.
If you’re taking on a career change that’s in line with your long-term goals, you can move to a position with less or equal responsibility as long as you can explain through your essays that you’re trying out something new, but would still benefit from the MBA degree in terms of greater growth in the new field.
Like many applicants in this situation, Josh wondered what to do about his letters of recommendation, since most schools prefer insight about an applicant from current supervisors. Also, he wasn’t sure how to address his new work responsibilities in essays or the MBA resume while he was still getting up to speed with the practices of his new employer.
Strong recommendations are critical, so ask yourself if your possible job move will burn bridges at your existing company with present or former supervisors. One option would be to share your MBA plans with a new employer and seek a reference from someone at that company.
Because Josh didn’t want his new boss to know about his MBA plans just yet, he was advised to use the optional essay to explain that he had chosen to get a recommendation from his previous supervisors because they were in a better position to provide examples of his leadership traits and work responsibilities.
For the essays, he framed most of his career goals story in the context of the work he had done for the previous three years. Josh touched upon the reasons he joined the new company, but kept a tight focus on what skills he wanted to gain from his MBA and his future goal of starting his own company.
We saved the resume revisions for the end, when Josh had been on the job for a couple of months and felt more confident in describing the responsibilities of his position. This three-pronged approach worked, and Josh was accepted to Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
If there’s one cardinal rule about late-in-the-game job switching, it is to never change positions as a ploy to impress the admissions committee by shifting into a career path you think the school will find safe or compelling. As long as you can show how the recent job change is consistent with your mid- to long-term career goals, you should be fine.
However, be sensitive to any concerns the admissions committee may have that your new job is so great that you won’t actually want to leave after eight months to go to business school. Whether you choose to stay on the existing job or try out a new one, be prepared to explain the whole story in your application.