• Target Test Prep 20% Off Flash Sale is on! Code: FLASH20


Smart Tactics for the Single-Employer MBA Applicant

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Mar 17, 2024

Are you an MBA applicant who has worked for the same company since college? That isn't unheard of—especially for candidates in a rotational program such as consulting or investment banking, where folks typically seek an MBA after working for a few years. But others might be struggling with how to tell their career story or wondering who to ask for recommendations. The best advice for the single-employer MBA applicant aiming for competitive business schools is to show progression.

Whether you've been at the same firm for two or five years, you've likely had different roles over this time period. Therefore, your job is to paint a picture of how you've moved your career forward. Share how your responsibilities have increased and that you've handled more significant projects, deals, or other high-profile work. You may even be doing work usually reserved for a more senior position at your company.

Try this exercise to get started. Write down each position you've had and then list bullet points of what you learned in each role. What skills did you use, what were two or three of your biggest accomplishments in that role, and why did you leave it? You don't want to simply state that you left because you got promoted. Instead, focus on something like, "I wanted to grow this skill or gain exposure to X."

This activity is more than just philosophical musing. It's information and positioning that you can hone and reuse, if not in your data form, then in other parts of your materials.

What if You Weren't Strategic About Your Moves?

Some candidates have long been clear-eyed about how their time at one company would ultimately support their career vision. But if you're like many other applicants, you might not have thought out your moves beforehand. Basically, someone offered you a position on another team, and you took it. While that may be the case, you still need to craft a narrative that sounds better than just flying by the seat of your pants and making career decisions on a whim.

If you're struggling to find a relevant thread or story across your roles, ask a friend for help. Tell them your future goal post-MBA, and see if they can discover skills or responsibilities from each role that helped you build the skillset you'll need going forward.

Or maybe it's the opposite situation. You may have moved within your company to learn a different function, experience a new team, or gain exposure to a different geographic region. But then, when you got into that position, you realized it wasn't for you. That's okay, too. Knowing what you don't want is excellent information to have as you're narrowing down options to find your unique passion.

Resume Advice for the Single-Employer MBA Applicant

Your MBA resume is the place to clearly show the promotions and different positions you've had at one company. Avoid bunching all the various roles and titles together one after the other under the company name. Instead, list your most recent position and then put three or four bullets under it. Then, list the previous role and do the same so that it's crystal clear what you did in each position.

The application reader will often scan from the bottom up when they read your resume so they can understand your career trajectory in chronological order. With this organizational tactic, there's no doubt about your progression.

Did you know? Stacy Blackman Consulting provides a resume review service on an hourly basis to help clients maximize this all-important application component.

Make sure you blow out each role and show what you did for your MBA essays where possible. If your internal career path wasn't just growing within one team or function, you should devote some essay space to justifying your moves. For example, if you made lateral moves at your firm or did a complete 180 in your function and went from accounting to marketing, the career essay might be the perfect place to touch on what you've already done.

On the other hand, if your career has grown within the same team or function, gaining ever more responsibility over time, then you want to make sure that a career-focused essay covers not only your achievements, trajectory, and goals but also why you care about that path that you've been on.

It's tough because only so much space and word count are available. Ultimately, you need to fill the gaps for the admissions committee and head off any questions they might have about your candidacy.

What about recommendation letters?

Business schools like to hear from a current supervisor when they read your recommendation letter(s) unless that puts your employment at risk. Ideally, you would want your other recommender to be someone who has observed your work in more than one role. This could be somebody who worked directly with or managed you in one role but with whom you still interacted after you moved on. That's because if your recommenders back up how you communicate your career progression in their own words, that makes for a much stronger impression on the admissions committee.

If the person you're considering isn't with your company anymore, that's okay. They will still have some great stories from earlier in your career. Let your recommenders know that, for the single-employer MBA applicant, showing growth over time and backing it up with specific examples is essential to the admissions committee.

You Are More Than Your Career

There is more to your MBA candidacy than what you do at work. So, remember to think about what you do in your free time. We've worked with several clients who didn't have a compelling professional story. Or they had been at the same company for three or four years. But they do have substantial charity work experience or an unusual hobby or something else about them that would add to the classroom discussion and that other students could learn from.

Every single person applying to MBA programs needs to bring their whole self to the task. Your work life and career are just one part of you. Don't obsess over this part of your candidacy because admissions committees really do look at each person holistically.

When it comes to time for interviews, be prepared to explain why you stayed at your company for years. The question is going to come up, but don't take it as a negative. They'll likely ask other applicants why they made their own company switches and various career decisions. There are no right or wrong answers. The interviewer is trying to ensure you thought through all your career decisions rather than floating through life directionless with no plan.

Take Advantage of the Additional Information Field

Finally, some applicants won't be able to spin any forward progression in or outside of work due to something personal. Perhaps it started during the Covid years, and you or a loved one was sick. The reason doesn't really matter. But if you know there's a glaring gap in progress in your resume, it's best to proactively explain it in the optional essay or additional information field on the data form.

Use that space to reassure the admissions committee that you'd be an asset to the program. If something was going on in your life where you had to take a back seat or where you needed the stability of your role, explain the relevant circumstances. The AdCom members are still humans, after all. They will appreciate that you preemptively answered any questions they had.

In fact, it might be the difference between them giving you a chance at an interview and throwing your application into the ding pile because you failed to anticipate their question.

Listen to B-Schooled Podcast Episode #128: Advice for Single-Employer MBA Applicants

The single-employer MBA applicant has their work cut out for them, but the challenges are manageable. The critical step is showing progression in your career journey in your resume and MBA essays. Also, choose recommenders who have witnessed your work in multiple roles and candidly address any gaps or lack of progression.

Remember, you are so much more than your career story. Bring your whole self to this process and try not to get stressed out over justifying your single-company experience.


Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.