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To the Unemployed MBA Applicant: Look for Opportunity and Hedge Your Bets

May 21st, 2009 · No Comments

This is a guest post by Bud Bateman, who is an MBA admissions consultant and former management consultant.

You just aced your GMAT, and your high-fiving the rest of your pre-MBA management analyst team brethren at Deloitte.  You just took down the biggest test of your life and well, you’re pretty proud of yourself.  Your 750 rocks, and while it’s not 99% percentile, it’s good enough to get you and your 2.5 years of work experience into a top ten MBA program. As you sit there, pondering what it might be like to move beyond your humble upper middle class beginnings, your Managing Director calls you into his office.  His perfectly combined hair, Brooks Brothers suit and Cordovan leather shoes are a perfect reflection of you in 25 years.  You think you’re getting staffed on a new project for a Fortune 100 firm that could really use your intellectual horsepower.  As your MD starts rattling on a little too long about your contributions and your talents, it hits you. You’re getting laid off.  Not only are you getting laid off but your MBA hopes and dreams are sinking faster than LTCM.  Suddenly that BMW looks a lot like a Scion.   

As your high-fives turn to crying and flower-bringing, know that admissions committees understand that it hits the fan. Several admissions consulting firms offer advice on their blogs.  Veritas Prep has put out a nice and pretty guide on their blog. offers their unique insight as well. The bottom line is that getting laid off does not put you out of the running, but it does make you less competitive as the weeks of unemployment drag into months.  If you can find a significant extracurricular activity that can show your continued progression, that’s good.  If you can find another job, that’s great.  Just be aware that this new job, given it’s brevity, is unlikely to serve as a showcase for continued professional progression.  Basically, you got laid off, you needed a new job and you got one.  It’s a hard sell to convince the admissions committee otherwise.  This is when that 750 GMAT score comes in handy.

Again, the admissions committee is empathetic to a certain point.  They are well aware of the business environment as they are at ground zero.  Admissions committees are in the unique position of serving as the gatekeepers for MBA programs but also as data aggregators for GMAC (the administrators of the GMAT).  GMAC surveys members of the admissions committee every year and their research is publically available for download. One interesting report details MBA applicant trends for 2008. What is notable is that only full-time MBA programs are application significantly up.  Part-time and Executive MBA programs are flat, year over year. 

So what good does that due the newly unemployed?  Well, in a traditional MBA applicant sense, not a lot.  There is no silver bullet or lining here. However, there is opportunity here and I encourage applicants to think outside of the box. Think about this. As recent MBA graduates continue to flood the job market, recruiters are going to place a heavy emphasis on specialized skills that these individuals may possess.  This means that the generalist approach that many MBA programs employ may not be enough to convince recruiters that you are ready to hit the ground running on day one. Recruiters want to know you are a slam dunk and firms want to know that you can come up the curve in days, not weeks or months.  It’s a brave new world out there; experience and execution count even more today than a business plan or a case study.    

The GMAC report also details the acceptance and matriculation rates for other types of masters programs that utilize the GMAT as an entrance requirement.  Masters programs in accounting and finance are specialized degrees that create a deeper domain expertise in these subject matter areas.  They also tend to run shorter in duration and may create a more compelling ROI than an investment of two years at an MBA program.  Full time acceptance rates at these alternative masters programs are also higher than full time MBA programs. 

So this is my bottom line advice, go where the opportunity is.  Don’t complain, just adjust and check your current MBA vision at the door.  If you get laid off and can get another job, apply to part time or executive MBA programs as applications are flat and admissions requirements are generally easier than full time programs.  If you can not find another job, apply to your desired MBA programs knowing your chances for success are diminished.  However, hedge your bets by applying to several alternative master’s degrees programs.  Think better ROI, deeper domain expertise and higher acceptance rates.  Yes, it’s somewhat non-traditional, but at least you can have some cheese with that whine.

Related posts:

  • 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
  • 8 Things you should do if you feel stuck in your career
  • Business School or Law School? You’re asking the wrong question!
  • Are you interested in a lot of different things, but not sure what exactly you want to do about  your career?

    Excellent resources:

  • How To Get Into the Top MBA Programs, 4th Edition
  • The Official Guide for GMAT Quantitative Review
  • Vault Career Guide to Accounting, 3rd Edition
  • Starting Your Career as a Wall Street Quant: A Practical, No-BS Guide to Getting a Job in Quantitative Finance and Launching a Lucrative Career
  • My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance
  • A Practical Guide To Quantitative Finance Interviews

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