An important part of your MBA application strategy will be explaining your career progression through your resume and essays. Work history is about more than your job title, the admissions committee wants to understand how you compare to your peers, what you have accomplished both tangibly and in the realm of soft skills, and what your career trajectory might be when you graduate.
What if you have received no formal promotions, have an erratic career path, or were laid off? Even if you have one of these common career challenges, you can demonstrate your excellence in the workplace and your capacity to be a leader and great manager after you graduate from b-school.
Lack of Formal Career Progress
Does your resume show the same job title for the last five years at the same company? Some industries promote employees rarely, and others have a flat structure with little room for a formal climb up the ladder.
Even with a lack of formal title increases, you can use your resume and essays to describe the progress you have made in your career. Think about the most valuable projects and initiatives you have completed, and how your responsibilities and achievements have progressed through the years. If you have not had the opportunity to formally manage people, you can discuss situations where you have managed a project team or cross- functional initiative. Participating in the management of a junior employee can also count towards your management experience. As you build your resume, focus on highlighting achievements that demonstrate your progress through time. Your essays should also demonstrate lessons learned through your career and show that you have progressed in your knowledge and management experience. When your recommenders discuss your credentials they should explain the nature of your workplace if formal promotions are rare, and compare you against your peers to show that you are a super star even if your title doesn’t show it!
Erratic Career History
Have you jumped from job to job and industry to industry? This could be a symptom of not knowing exactly what you wanted to do, following opportunity when it arose, or searching for the ideal career for you.
While job hopping can be seen as a weakness, it can also demonstrate that you are dedicated to finding the right career path for you. The main task for you is to lead the admissions reader through your career and make sense out of the chaos. If you have been consistent in job function or industry this task will be simpler, and if not, you should find a thematic thread through your career. Have you consistently sought opportunities to build new ideas or products or do you always lean towards a job that helps others? Whatever passion you have been following, show the admissions committee why it was the right path for you to take. This is an opportunity to show your self-awareness and passion to find a career that is meaningful to you.
Many applicants have faced a layoff in their career. While a job loss is stressful and personally upsetting, a layoff is not necessarily a deal breaker for business school. Many industries are volatile, and with the current economic situation it isn’t usual for an amazing employee to run up against downsizing realities.
Whether you were laid off last week or at the beginning of your career, it’s important to focus on the positive aspects of the situation. When explaining the situation, avoid any bitterness and state the facts clearly. Then explain how you evolved in your career or turned this temporary setback into an opportunity. A lay off can be a great opportunity for soul searching, and might even lead you to start pursuing your career goals before you go to school!
Whatever your career path has been up until this point, you have certainly learned important lessons along the way and now have the opportunity to demonstrate your introspection about both where you have been and where you are going.