How to Handle Employment Gaps in Law School Applications

A [recent] ClearAdmit post discussed addressing gaps in employment on a resume for MBA admissions. I was wondering how this advice might be modified for a law school applicant. I believe most schools do not ask applicants to address the gap, but addressing it somehow seems necessary as the gap will show on the resume submitted, etc. In my particular situation, I was unemployed and looking for work for 2 months after being laid off prior to finding new permanent employment. Any recommendations?

A layoff is never a pleasant experience, but you seem to have landed on your feet very quickly. Right now, the average duration of unemployment is 10 months -- and that's probably undercounting the chronically unemployed -- so two months is practically nothing.

There are a couple of ways to address a layoff in your law school applications.

Law school application forms typically require you to list your employment, employment dates, as well as reasons for leaving. In the "reason for leaving" column, for that particular job you'll write "laid off."

Separately, applications also typically ask whether you have ever been terminated from a job, and they require you to check "yes" or "no." Unless they specify otherwise, assume that "termination" covers getting fired as well as being laid off. You'll have to check the "yes" box, and you'll most likely be required to attach a short explanation.

In your case, there's not much to say, and you can keep your attachment short and sweet. The mere fact that you've been laid off is not going to be a black mark. In that attachment, stick to objective facts when discussing the layoff, and don't editorialize ("It's really unfair that I was laid off because I was one of their top performers," "I'm happy not to be working for those bozos anymore," "Their internal politics remain a mystery to me," etc.) A gap of two months in between jobs doesn't really need any explaining -- it can take that long to activate your network, send out resumes, conduct interviews, and go through the soup-to-nuts hiring process all before you officially start your new job. It's sufficient to tell them that you spent those two months searching for your next job, which you started on XYZ date.

For applicants with longer gaps between jobs, how you handle a lay-off can say a lot about you. If it's taking you longer than two months to line something up, it helps to be able to say something like, "I used my time in between jobs to start a volunteer group/make a dent in my list of 100 books I want to read before I die/care for my ailing grandmother/teach myself French/drop fifteen pounds and train for a biathlon/wrangle my neighbors to clean up the park/rescue abandoned dogs and find them foster homes." You want to demonstrate that you weren't glued to the couch watching Behind the Music reruns (and who among us doesn't feel that temptation?), but rather that you were doing something meaningful with your free time. Show admissions officers that you took those lemons and made lemonade. [Edited to add: A good and wise friend asks: What's wrong with doing a really non-glamorous job to pay the bills in the meantime? My answer: Absolutely nothing. By all means, if you can find a "grunt" job to tide you over until you make something better happen, that's perfectly fine and good. Admissions officers won't find fault with that; in fact, many of them would admire you, because they know you can survive when times get tough. By necessity, for many people being employed at all will trump doing an unpaid activity that's meaningful, but in that case be mindful of continuing to cultivate the weak ties that make for such powerful networking as you search for your next good job. Activities, if you can still squeeze them in, can be good for that.]

One of the traits admissions officers like to see is grit. It's hard to acquire or demonstrate grit if life hasn't kicked you in the gut at some point, so if it has (for example, a longer spell of unemployment), show them what you're made of. Demonstrated resilience makes you more attractive as an applicant than someone who hasn't been stress-tested by life.

Congratulations on finding a new job, and good luck with your applications.

[From the archives, more postings on grit and lemonade:

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).