The b-school Before and After Paradigm

We are often reminded (and rightly so on the one hand) that finding a common thread in our careers is an important step in convincing the admissions committees you have been progressively responsible and focused, and have not just meandered through your professional life. 

While finding that common thread is indeed a critical exercise to not only ensure you are ready for the b-school application process, but also to judge whether or not you have a solid vision for your future, a trap that often ensnares b-school applicants and alumni alike is worrying too much about the logical progression of your career trajectory from a narrative point of view.  Applicants often become distracted or obsessed about finding this “theme” in their careers to the point that they force a round peg into a square hole just to try and make everything connect.

Perhaps the most important thing to realize when reflecting on your career progression is that your career before business school and your career after business school are on two entirely different planes.

Particularly for those who plan to change careers, it is quite common to find their past and future have very little to do with each other on the surface. 

As is commonly known, b-school can be a terrific period of career transition, not only from one level of responsibility to the next, but also from one industry or discipline to another. But even after you graduate and work professionally, your employers will look at your pre-and-post-MBA roles in entirely different lights.  It is far more important what you do after the MBA than what you did before.  Translation: your entire career does not need to be one clean, seamless story. 

While it’s great if you have been promoted and moved ahead at work prior to applying to b-school, you can usually still demonstrate readiness for an MBA program if you have simply worked hard and made a good impression. 

In post-MBA world, however, you want your career to “take-off,” as you create an invigorated trajectory going forward, one that builds rapidly on your education and ratchets-up your responsibility with each progressive move up on the proverbial corporate ladder.  You will be forgiven in the application process (and frankly, in the professional world as well) for your past side-tracks as you found your way to b-school and your new vocational calling.  Go ahead and forgive yourself of zigging when you should have zagged, because the only time it will be held against you is when you come across as unfocused in your future vision.  If the zig-zagging communicates that you “still haven’t found what you’re looking for” (to quote the band U2), an admissions committee might encourage you to take another lap or two and re-apply later.

We have some good posts and commentary on how to find the thread in your career to create a compelling narrative for the admissions committees, but never forget that your pre-and-post MBA achievements are entirely different paradigms, and that is just fine.