What to Do About a Work Experience Gap

MBA admissions consultants discuss an applicant who’s looking for part-time MBA programs but is lacking current work experience

This is the second in a series of profiles on the winners of FIND MBA’s recent MBA application advice contest, where three top MBA application consultants analyze the chances of MBA applicants. Read the first here.

After doing her bachelor’s degree at one of Romania’s top school— Academy of Economic Studies—Carmen Wrona went on to work for around five years in a variety of marketing roles. In 2008 she stopped working due to personal circumstances. She’s now looking to do a part-time MBA to help her re-tool for a post-Financial Crisis business world.

She scored 500 on the GMAT and is currently considering the part-time MBA at the Cracow School of Business in Poland.

FIND MBA spoke with three admissions consultants about Wrona's MBA applications, as well as what she can do to help improve her profile.

Work experience

All three application consultants said that any gap in an MBA applicant’s work experience history can be a big red flag for admissions committees. Since Wrona hasn’t worked since 2008, this presents quite a big challenge.

“It sounds like she hasn't worked for a really long time,” says Stacy Blackman. “That's not good.”

Particularly, not having letters of recommendation from recent supervisors might be problematic.

“I'd be very concerned about her recommendations, says Dollaya Chaibongsai, managing director of The MBA Exchange.

More practically, not having any recent work experience might make it harder to participate in classroom discussions. “In many cases the part-time programs will be more understanding because they tend to take older applicants who maybe have taken a year off because of a family issue or because they had children,” according to Stacy Blackman.

“At the same time, they want people who have recent, relevant information to bring to the table.”

With such a long gap, Blackman suggested taking some time to explain what happened during this time in Wrona’s application essays.

“Let's see what we can do to fill up that gap and make the story continue on so it doesn't look like you fell off the edge of the earth in 2008,” says Blackman.

GMAT score

With a 500 GMAT score, Wrona’s score is in the 31st percentile, scoring lower than most applicants. However, GMAT scores in part-time programs tend not to be as competitive as for full-time programs. This is due to the fact that those who apply to part-time programs tend to be more mature, and business schools instead generally put more priority on work experience.

“The big limitation is not the GMAT score, it's the fact that she hasn't been working for several years,” says Duncan Chapple.

Indeed, the Cracow School of Business doesn’t even require the GMAT to apply for its MBA program.

However, if Wrona wanted to apply to other MBA programs in the region, a stronger GMAT score might be necessary.

School selection

The Cracow School of Business in Poland offers several different MBA programs, including an International MBA offered in partnership with Switzerland’s University of St. Gallen, as well as an Executive MBA offered jointly with the Stockholm University School of Business.

“It might be the right place for her if she just wants to be local and she wants to work during the program,” says Stacy Blackman.

However, there are other options in the region, which might be better options in terms of landing a job after graduation.

“I think she should look carefully at the part-time options that are available to her, and really think about what cohort is most likely to introduce her to a classmate who will hire her into her next role,” says Duncan Chapple.

For a stronger network in Poland, according to Chapple, Wrona might consider doing a part-time MBA in Polish, instead of one in English.

Otherwise, there are a number of international-facing part-time and Executive MBA programs in the region that might be interesting. For instance, the Poznan-Atlanta MBA program offered through a partnership between the Poznan University of Economics and Georgia State University.

Or the Katalyst EMBA program that’s offered jointly by Hungary’s CEU Business School and the Warsaw University of Technology. That’s “one of the outstanding programs in the region,” says Chapple, which “would give her a fantastic network globally.

Other observations

One thing that Dollaya Chaibongsai advised was for Wrona to really consider whether or not she actually needs an MBA.

“What she may not realize is that it may be really hard for her to get an MBA, because she needs to show motivation to do it, but also a real reason. And if she just wants to get back into marketing, she may not need it.”

Chaibongsai suggested that she consider her career goals and maybe even talk to a career counselor, before signing up for an MBA.

Participating Admissions Consultants:

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