A friend of ours is a financial adviser who likes to compare the gyrations of the stock market to a yo-yo being carried upstairs. My husband emailed him this morning and asked, "What happens if the guy carrying the yo-yo drops it?"
It's been a dizzying few days in the financial market. I have heard from several applicants who are concerned they may not have a job tomorrow. One applicant asked me, "Will losing my job hurt my chances of acceptance?"
If you lose your job at a company that is an obvious and very public victim of the current credit melt-down, it will not affect the admissions committees' evaluation of you and your credentials at all. They will not "hold you responsible," or think less of you. As I told the young woman I was speaking with, "Don't worry about it. You have bigger things to worry about."
Schools will look at how you respond to a layoff, especially if it becomes lengthy. If you quickly find another job, especially if it’s a position closer to your long-term goals or a promotion, it will help you. But if it takes a few months, adcoms will look at what you did when you didn't have to work. Did you acquire new skills? Did you volunteer more? Get involved in a favorite cause? The election? Devote more time to a hobby or sport? As usual your response to events will say more about you than the fact that something -- including a layoff -- happened.
There is one way that the financial turmoil will influence your chances whether employed or laid off, especially if you are in financial services and applying to schools that attract a lot of applicants from financial services: Competition will intensify and acceptance rates will decline.
Crains of NY reports today that unemployment in New York City surged in August (before the recent spate of dismal news) almost one full percentage point to 5.8%. The unemployment rate is still slightly below the national average, but the spike represents the sharpest monthly jump in New York City in at least three decades and is attributable partially to job loss in the financial sector. In fact "'...the continued financial sector turmoil guarantees that job losses on Wall Street will climb rapidly over the next few months,' said James Brown, a state Department of Labor economist."
So what can a hot-shot investment banker at Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch do? How can an AIG quant jock protect himself?
- Have crystal clear goals. Present a compelling case for pursuing this degree at School X. You don't want to come across as merely one more refugee seeking shelter from the financial storm. Present yourself as a person with vision and goals who sees your target school as the best way for achieving them.
- Spend a little more essay real estate on non-professional activities that reveal your ability to contribute uniquely to your class. Unless your work experience or career progression has been truly exceptional, this advice applies to anyone coming from financial services or a common professional group in the applicant pool.
Then you’ll be ready when the yo-yo resumes its climb up the staircase.