In normal times the answer to this question is ‘yes.’ Unless there is a compelling no-fault reason you are unemployed, or you have just sold a company for a few million bucks, your unemployment will count against you. In a situation where 3 in 20 are admitted, it’s going to be hard to be one of the three.
But these are not normal times. Lots of people have been squeezed out of the job market due to the Credit Crunch and resulting recession. If you’re one of them, Adcom will understand that. The emphasis then shifts to how you have responded: (a) what have you done with your time, and (b) how has the experience changed you? How have you grown? Unemployment often forces on us a period of life-stocktaking, where we have the breathing space to reevaluate our goals or at least ask ‘what do I really want to do next?’ Adcom is interested to see if you can do this ‘personal work,’ and what your answers are.
Keep in mind also that the average senior executive — your role model in your MBA aspiration — will face periods of career upheaval. Showing you can cope with this is a mark in your favor. For a sense of what others are doing and thinking, and particularly how to reflect on this kind of career bump, see the Wall Street Journal blog ‘Laid off and Looking.’
Also see The Rose Report, written by Rose Martinelli, Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions at Chicago Booth GSB. I’m a big fan of this blog which really walks the walk in making the admissions process transparent. This is what Rose has to say on whether unemployed candidates will get into Booth this year:
“The simple answer is yes! Many people have been displaced over the past year through no fault of their own, and finding a new job in their target industry/function has been equally difficult.
So what can you do? First, take stock of what you have learned about yourself during this time. For many of you, this may have shaken your confidence and impacted what you want to do with your life/career going forward. Help us to understand this in your application. Second, let us know what you have been doing with your newfound freedom and what motivates you. Are you taking classes, volunteering your services, traveling, etc.? There is no right or wrong activity… Again, help us to understand your choices and motivations. As you’ve probably learned by now, we’re so much more interested in how you have coped with these surprises and what you’ve learned about yourself.”
Footnote: back in June I posted an article here about the humanities-based diversity of Adcom’s own career backgrounds, and how this should affect your approach. Martinelli fits this mold too. She received undergraduate and master’s degrees in vocal performance from Northwestern University, and spent 15 years as a professional opera and concert singer before doing an EMBA at Chicago Booth.