The Resume Gap Myth

Prospective MBA students often get very nervous about resumes, worrying madly if they’ve got the perfect sequence for admission to the top business schools.

Goes without saying

Here’s the good news:

1. It’s ok if you have a gap in your resume
2. There’s no perfect work sequence

In fact, I consider the worry about a “resume gap” one of the biggest myths in business school admissions and recruiting.

Most people I know aren’t “gapping” at all. They may not be going into an office, but they are working. Not sitting around playing video games.

It’s About Productivity

Take the example of JoAnna, who is now at Wharton. She finished a master’s degree in economics in 2009, the depths of the Great Recession. After graduating, she even moved directly to New York, but couldn’t find a job. It was hard for her, but she didn’t sit around idly. She was methodical about getting out and meeting people. She took on two volunteer internships and started studying for the CFA (she took it and passed Level 1). In her business school application she got to explain some of these activities in her optional essay, which gave her the chance to talk about a time that may not have been pretty on the surface, but was really an accelerated growth phase. And as for her resume, she can add some of her activities in the great, catch-all “other” section. What turned out to be a dry spell ended up being a winner.

Simon had a different issue. He used his summer after his junior year in college to run an eBay business. He worried about putting previous internship on the resume, assuming it would draw attention to his lack of an internship the following summer. The reality: he didn’t need an internship because he was working for himself. He made enough money to contribute to his tuition for the following year (and then some!). While not officially “employed” he learned essential entrepreneurial skills, which are useful for running your own business inside or outside of a company.

Explaining Yourself
I recently, and quite openly, advised students not to worry so much about a gap in their resumes a career panel put on by the Cornell Johnson School of Business. And I will admit I was challenged by a career service professional about the “myth.” Her worry was that you’d get questions. I agree; you will get queried. In person, and in a business school resume, you have plenty of room to explain yourself, and even use those questions as a launching pad to talk about your ability to be flexible or to do something different. Why not use this “gap” to elucidate your story.

In today’s entrepreneurial environment, working at a Fortune 500 company or a big-name management consulting company might hold less of an attraction for 20-somethings than they used to. If you are drawn to (or need to) work outside the traditional system, you’ll learn managerial and leadership skills in any number of ways. The rules are changing. That “gap” may not represent a gap at all.

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