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Seven lessons I learned from applying business school while I was unemployed

March 17th, 2009 · 2 Comments

You just got laid off. Or you think that you will be laid off in a few months. You have just started working on your MBA application. You’re worried how your unemployment will affect your resume and MBA application.

Over the past couple of months, I have received a number of emails regarding applying business school while being unemployed. I happened to be laid off right after I started working on my MBA application in 2000 during the last recession. I applied two top MBA programs and were accepted by both. I would like to share a few lessons I have learned.

  1. You should decouple job hunting from business school application. Given how competitive business school application process is, you might or might not get into the business school of your choice. But, you still need a job to continue your career. So, unless you’re absolutely certain that you’ll get into a school, you should continue to actively look for a job while you work on your business school applications. Getting into business school is a desired outcome, but don’t bet your life, career, and future on it.
  2. Your unemployment status should have little negative impact on your application since a lot of applicants will be in the same shoes given the current state of our economy. However, to make your application more competitive, you need to demonstrate that you’re "making a lemonade out of lemon" — how do you react to layoffs? Are you creative and resourceful to look for jobs or create opportunities for yourself? It’s very important to show how you handle adversity. 
  3. Do you have enough savings that you can afford not to work for a few month or even longer? Instead of looking for a traditional job, you might want to explore some alternative opportunities:
    • go to work for an NGO in an area that you’re passionate about
    • teach English abroad
    • enroll in an Outward Bound class 
    • get certified as a fitness instructor, EMT, or whatever certifications you’re interested in
    • sublet a place in a foreign city and live there for 3 months. I once rented an apartment in Paris and lived the life of a Parisian for three months. It was one of the best experiences I’d ever had, and it was actually cheaper than living in the United States.
    • start a blog, and write one post a day for 30 days. 
    • do you want to write a book? Then spend a few months to finally write the book!
    • If you’re financial independent, what job would you like to do? I knew someone who loved making guitars. He took a 6-month unpaid sabbatical, and apprenticed at a local guitar shop.

        All of these activities will make you happier, know yourself better, and help your business school application.

4. Reflect on your experience at your former employer — why did your former employer have to lay off workers? Were they prepared for the recession? Did they make any strategic mistakes? What would you do differently if you were CEO of your former employer? You should think strategically and critically about your layoff experience — it could be very valuable material for your business school application.

5. Create a structured life for yourself while you’re unemployed.  I have seen too many professionals who got themselves into a vicious cycle: sleep in, wake up at 10AM, work on a few resumes and send them out, surf the net, go out for a lunch, more net surfing, feel depressed, get some dinner, watch TV, more net surfing or video games, get really tired, go to bed. The next day, feel more depressed, and more hopeless since there is no job lead. Your goal is to look for a job and work on your business school application. You need to be very disciplined, stay self-motivated, set specific goals every day, work hard to hit all of your goals.

6. Use your free time to network with business school alumni and fellow MBA applicants: You’ll learn a lot about the business school application process and get feedback for your application by talking to alumni and fellow MBA applicants. Get yourself out of the house, and connect with others.

7. Start your own business: This is not for everyone. But, if you’ve always been *thinking" about starting a business, this is time to bootstrap your own business. Assuming you’re a young professional with no family obligation, starting a business has almost no risk — if your start-up fails, you can always use business school as a back-up. By the way, the experience of starting a business during recession will make great material for your MBA application. 🙂

If you like this article, you should also read

  • Seven lessons I learned from attending business school during recession
  • Should you go back to business school to hide from recession (Part 1)
  • Should you go back to business school to hide from recession (Par 2): 4 compelling reasons and 3 overrated reasons
  • 7 tips to improve your chance to get into business school
  • How to improve your GMAT Score from 650 to 730

  • Tags: MBA

    2 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Andrew Wang // Mar 17, 2009 at 5:17 pm

      Good article. I especially like points 5 & 7. Self discipline is definitely crucial to build and maintain momentum in reaching goals. Otherwise it's very easy to get into a rut. I'd recommend in following a do-to list, and ask regarding each activity, whether it'd help me to reach my goals.

    • 2 guest // Mar 17, 2009 at 11:12 pm

      Great post. What are your thoughts on I was searching on there the other day and saw a lot of ppl from my industry (consulting) were applying to my top schools. How can I stand out from them? Thanks

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