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MBA applications: FAQ regarding voluntary career breaks

Written by Sameer Kamat

Two questions that we get often get from aspiring MBA applicants regarding taking a career-break for completing their MBA application. As opposed to forced career breaks (lay-offs, redundancies, down-sizing), here candidates are talking about a voluntary break from their hectic jobs.

1) “I want to produce a high quality application as I am targeting some of the top tier schools. I need some time off to concentrate on my GMAT preparation and MBA applications. After that I would have to manage MBA essays, recommendations, prepare for interviews for multiple schools which would also be quite demanding. If I’m able to take a break (of around four months) from work I’m sure I’ll do a good job with my MBA application. Or if my managers and the HR team don’t agree, I don’t mind leaving my job to focus full-time on GMAT preparation and MBA applications. Would this break be justified?”

The period before your MBA application is quite precious as your fellow competitors might be toiling hard to get the maximum mileage from their current job so that all these achievements can add diversity and value to their profile. There may be others trying their luck at an overseas assignment or trying to take up leadership positions so that all this figures in their application and improves their chances of getting into the best possible school. The admissions committee (adcom) may wonder whether you willingly took the break or whether you were forced to. Either ways they’d want a justification. So you would have a tough time trying to explain the need for this break to the adcom.

An MBA program is quite a vigorous one, especially the time-management part being very tricky. This is more pronounced for a one-year program which tends to be more intense and requires juggling to meet multiple project (both individual as well as group projects) deadlines, attend social networking events (these events could be lead-generation venues for your future jobs or internship), attend lectures, seminars…in short you really ought to be efficient and maximise your output in the available period.

If you‘re feeling over-burdened about handling your MBA application along with your current job, this can raise doubts about your capacity to survive in a competitive b-school environment. Even though your application would be in perfect shape because of your devoted efforts, this career-break could be a setback for your application.

2) “But I have a high pressure job. I need to travel quite often. How will I get enough time for my GMAT prep and essays both of which need a concentrated effort? I would like to apply to my top priority schools in the first round itself as I would hold the maximum chances of getting in; so I would have multiple applications to manage. Doesn’t taking a break at this point sound logical?”

It is pretty common for Indian students to take a break while preparing for important targets (IAS, IIT, Miss World etc). But when it comes to international MBA applications, this practice would seem a little unusual for Adcoms that get strong profiles from across the world without this Indian tadka of career-breaks.

If you ask us, we’d recommend that you resist this temptation of taking this break. There are better ways to manage it. You can follow some of the ‘best practices’ (can’t help it, corporate buzzwords are omnipresent!) like beginning your B-school research early.

We have come across candidates who sort out their school-related queries on forums and are regular readers more than two years before their scheduled MBA plans. You can spend time on school websites and various MBA forums gathering information. You can set aside some time each day or maybe some devoted time on the weekends for the same.  

As far as your GMAT preparation goes, you can get hold of some good GMAT books. Browse through them to get a feel of the kind of questions asked. If you think you can manage it on your own, that’s the best way forward. In case you wish to get some GMAT mentors, you can go in for coaching or one-on-one tutoring. Online coaching has made it possible to access study material even when you’re travelling.

Your GMAT scores are applicable for up to five years so once you’re done with that, you can focus solely on the essays. Take it one at a time and though the process might take slightly longer, you’ll be able to come up with a good quality application.

Once you’re convinced about being able to multi-task, go ahead with the time-frame allocation for each component, set milestones and focus towards achieving it. All the best with your efforts!

We have come across genuine cases where it would’ve been almost impossible to focus seriously on MBA related activities. But these are rare. In most cases, better planning can resolve the issues without having to resort to extreme measures like leaving your job.


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Sameer Kamat

About Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball | Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter @mba_cb | Facebook


23 Comments

  1. Gmani   |  Monday, 19 December 2011 at 9:00 am

    Dear Sameer,
    I work with the Inst.equities arm of an MNC & have been laid-off due to the current scenario in the equities market, so if it takes next couple of months for me to get back to work(Bcos i am not interested to get into any other namesake jobs)will the break be taken as a negative point for Bschool Admission.The reason for my layoff is due to the restructuring process initiated in our Asia-Pac Head Office & not due to non performance.Seek your view

  2. Sameer Kamat   |  Monday, 19 December 2011 at 9:37 am

    Mani sir,

    Business cycles can be cruel and in these phases corporates that ‘value their people the most’ can be more cruel. They can show little sympathy before getting the axe down even on their best performing employees. Ironic are the ways of the corporate world.

    The silver lining there is that Adcoms know how it works. More so in the US than anywhere else, where the hire-and-fire policies can be quite brutal.

    My advice to you – Let your pre-layoff accomplishments do the talking in your apps. Over the coming months, after from waiting for the tide to turn, see what else you can do for self-improvement. You’ve been given a break from the mad rush of the dog-eat-dog world. Use it as an opportunity to introspect and live life a little more than usual.

    P.S. For others trying to establish a connection between the post (where we talk about voluntary breaks) and Mani’s query, there isn’t any.

  3. neha   |  Saturday, 11 May 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I am an engineering graduate..passed out in 2012. Joined a reputed firm as a software engineer in oct last year . Unfortunately after completing my training i had an accident .. Treatment for which required complete bed rest. Bt my managers aftr 3 weeks of leave forced me to resign as the company was already cutting down itsbwork force. Despite trying hard i had to resign in feb. Now it will still take me afew months to recover. Which i want to.utilize by preparing fr mba exams. Kindly guide me if some good b school will provide me admission or will this career break affect me adversely ???

  4. Sameer Kamat   |  Tuesday, 14 May 2013 at 5:04 pm

    @Neha: Hope you are recovering well. Seems like you are going through a pretty rough phase. Accident & Layoff happening at the same time is quite challenging.

    If you are looking at international bschools, your overall experience is quite low. So when you recover fully, start looking at getting your career back on track. Hopefully in 2-3 years you’d know where you want to take your career. That’s when you can bring the MBA option back to consider.

  5. neha   |  Wednesday, 05 June 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Thnk u so mch for ur advice. Plz guide about pursuing mba in india ??

  6. Gowtham   |  Friday, 06 September 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Hi Sameer,
    I’m a Sr.DBA holding 5 Years of work experience in IT Industry.My Academic Scores are in decreasing order(x’th-70%,x12’th – 62%,B.Tech – 57%). Now that I want to switch my career from IT to Management. Kindly suggest me a way where I have to start with. Basic thing what I have in mind and came to know from others is I have to take GMAT with good score and then apply to B-Schools(In India). Apart from this I really don’t have any idea regarding essays, recommendation letters etc and where do I have to get ‘em. Only thing I knew and want is to pursue MBA in one of the top 10 B-Schools in India and get my career shifted. I was searching for your mail id and where/how do I contact you, to get proper guidance from you.

    Regards,
    Gowtham

  7. Sameer Kamat   |  Saturday, 21 September 2013 at 7:51 pm

    @Neha: That would be the CAT MBA track, and we aren’t qualified enough to advise you for that path.

    @Gowtham: Pick up a copy of Beyond The MBA Hype. It’ll get you sorted quickly. If you need personalised help, you’ll find our email ID on the right panel.

  8. Banu V   |  Wednesday, 05 March 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Hi,

    I have completed B Sc Physics in 2011. I worked at Infosys for 18 months as Testing Executive. I took a voluntary career break for 1 yr to prepare for my mba exams. Missed xlri cut off by 3 marks. I got calls from tiss and other colleges. But I couldn convert any top institute. I didn apply to any of the other colleges apart from xlri , tiss and IIMs. I missed applying spjain and ximb. Now my problem is I am thinkin of giving gmat and all mba exams. But I could not afford one more year break but i have no other go than going for another year break. I do work at mad on weekends. Its volunteering. Please tell me sir what to do..i do try for another job to fill this yr. But in case if i do not get any opportunity i have to go for a yr break again. So this would show in my resume a break of two yrs with only volunteering on weekends. Please suggest any other plans to fill this career gap. How does this going to affect my mba applications..?

  9. SUDESH PATODIYA   |  Tuesday, 11 March 2014 at 7:29 am

    Hi Sameer
    I currently work with TCS and I have 2 years and 5 months work experience.
    I am preparing for GMAT and want to get into a top B school in US.
    I am resigning from my job next week to join my family business for few months which is different from my field of study, but since they need a helping hand I have no other option but to leave my job.
    Can this break from job and shifting to business for sometime become a setback in my MBA Application next year.

    Please reply ASAP as I have to decide on my resignation.

    Thanks

    Sudesh patodiya

  10. Sameer Kamat   |  Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 7:19 pm

    @Banu: The best way to avoid extending the gap is to take up a job. It isn’t common for GMAT MBA aspirants to leave everything and just prepare for the test and applications.

    @Sudesh: If you don’t have a choice but to join, then you shouldn’t be asking others for opinions, bro. You have to have your priorities clear – family or career. I’d say go for family. Careers can always be managed later when things stabilise on the personal front.

  11. Akshay   |  Tuesday, 18 March 2014 at 3:39 am

    Hi,

    I have a 3.5 years of IT experience. I left my job in 2013 July. Its been 8 months now and i will be appearing for GMAT in coming couple of months. Will this career break affect me adversely in admission process? As I have a career break, will I be asked to produce a recommendation letter?

    Thank you,
    Akshay

  12. SUDESH PATODIYA   |  Tuesday, 18 March 2014 at 7:41 am

    Hi Sameer

    Thanks for your suggestion bro.

    Sudesh Patodiya

  13. db   |  Monday, 07 April 2014 at 6:57 am

    Hey Sameer,
    I just recently moved back to India after being in the US for 6 years (4 years of studying + 2 years of working) for personal reasons, and have a 3 month gap in employment. I did, however, take an online course through Coursera and kept myself somewhat busy.

    I’m going to start a job soon, and I plan to apply to MBA colleges (like Booth, ISB, NUS, etc.) this year and the next. Do you think the Coursera course can help with explaining the gap in employment?

    Thanks!

  14. Palak   |  Tuesday, 22 April 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Hey Sameer,

    I have 5 years of work ex in IT.2 months back I moved to another city with my husband and now looking for a job here. Not sure when will I get a job here but I am using the time to prepare for GMAT which was already in plan.Please suggest if this will affect my application and what measures I can take to fill this gap.

    Thanks

  15. Sameer Kamat   |  Tuesday, 29 April 2014 at 12:34 pm

    @Akshay: The recommendation letters would be needed not for the break but to speak about your 3.5 yrs of experience.

    @Sudesh: Good luck!

    @db: Coursera wasn’t a full-time course, right. So there may still be questions about what else you did.

    @Palak: Get involved in anything that has a structured role. Doesn’t have to be a paid job.

  16. Yashica   |  Saturday, 10 May 2014 at 4:11 am

    Hi,
    I’m currently working in a manufacturing company which doesn’t leave me ample time to prepare for CAT.
    Since I have no interest in continuing in the same sector , I was contemplating on quitting my job (since I was denied leave without pay for 3 months time period) and focussing on my MBA preparations.
    I’m aware of the chaos a career gap can create , so inorder to justify I was planning to state that I was working alongside my father who runs a hotelling business.
    Its not that I would just be stating it since I’ve grown up discussing hotelling matters with my dad……….
    Now all I want to know is if this would serve the purpose and justify my career gap……………………..
    Please reply asap since I planning to quit very soon…………………..

  17. Kohli   |  Tuesday, 03 June 2014 at 7:32 pm

    Hey Sameer,

    I had a quick query regarding the number of attempts for the GMAT.
    I’ve already taken the exam thrice, however I’m still not satisfied with my score. I was wanting to check on what would be the number of attempts that may lead the adcoms to raise eyebrows and question my capacity to handle an MBA program. Also I would beg restful if you could provide some guidance on a what we can call a safe number of GMAT attempts.
    Many thanks.

  18. Sameer Kamat   |  Wednesday, 04 June 2014 at 12:22 pm

    @Yashica: Working with your dad might fill the gap, but also ask yourself – does that new experience take you anywhere closer to your post-MBA goals? If yes, then it’ll save you a lot of justification effort.

    @Kohli: I’ve known folks who’ve taken the test 5 times. One of them topped his class and is working for McKinsey now. As long as you are making progress with the attempts, it’s fine. Don’t spend too much time on it though.

  19. Priya   |  Tuesday, 17 June 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Hi Sameer,

    I have already done my MBA from a reputed institute in India and have been working with couple of multinational companies with a total work experience close to 5.5 Years (pre and post MBA). I had to quit my job as I am shifting out of the country with my husband moving out of the country. I a contemplating on taking my 2nd MBA (1 yr program) for a global perspective and prepare for leadership role. I would be living as an Expat and got no option to figure out another job immediately. Will this break hamper my chances?

  20. Sameer Kamat   |  Saturday, 28 June 2014 at 12:08 pm

    @Priya: You have a valid reason for the break. If you 5.5 year career has been eventful with good accomplishments, go ahead and apply. You can always use the option essay to explain why you had to take the break.

  21. Jasmeet   |  Sunday, 10 August 2014 at 11:20 am

    Hi,

    I have been working for last 4 years now, out of which last 2.5 years have been with world’s most admired company in the retail sector. I am perfectly happy working with my company. My conundrum is not whether I should leave my job to brace myself for Gmat but it’s whether I should look towards MBA as an option at all. Lately I have been rated among top performing employees amongst my team-mates. I have good chances of getting selected for a bigger role in the future (may be another 2 years). However, I find myself often at a status quo in my current role and have an urge of doing something different (may be I am bored?). The puzzle thats bothering me is shall I take the leap of faith and work towards my MBA goals and later join better jobs or do my labor and earn the rewards of my current job in years to come. If I choose to stick with my company, will looking towards a management degree in a later stage of my life seem feasible? (considering if I’m married and stuck with whole lot of other commitments). I hope my situation is clear to you and may be you can help me with this.

    Best,

    Jasmeet

  22. Puja Malhotra   |  Wednesday, 20 August 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Hi Sameer,
    i quit my job last month after 3 years of work experience as a project manager in a reputed multinational company. I’m going to volunteer in Ghana till september 2015. I would like to know whether applying in round 2 next year would hamper my chances of getting into a good bschool, as I would mostly be treated as an unemployed MBA applicant when I’m back next year. Is there any way of covering it up while searching for jobs. And, if I do get a job, would it be ethical to join knowing that I would eventually leave if i get into a good school?
    Thanks,
    Puja

  23. Sameer Kamat   |  Tuesday, 26 August 2014 at 5:09 pm

    @Jasmeet: If you are happy with the way your career is going, why slam the brakes now? You can always target one year in India or UK or elsewhere after a few years if you get the feeling of stagnation.

    @Puja: You could apply this year itself, so that you can come back next year from Ghana in time for the classes to begin. And there’s nothing unethical in taking up a job, when there are no guarantees about getting an admit from top bschools.

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