Work Experience and the MBA
Academic potential is the core indicator of one’s ability to succeed in an MBA program. However, the next area is work experience.
It’s no secret that business schools expect their applicants to have work experience. This is really what sets graduate schools apart from undergraduate programs. Having work experience allows the admissions committee to assess your leadership capabilities, managerial qualities, communication skills, and more.
At Manhattan Review, we tell our applicants to keep in mind that business schools want to fill their classrooms with a diverse group of students who will ultimately impart information they’ve gained during their particular work experience. In this way, students learn from other students, not just faculty so the learning environment becomes a richer one. That said, the more practical business knowledge you have, the more you can contribute.
There are some business schools that do accept applicants who have just received their undergraduate degree. However, most actually require a minimum work experience for an MBA program, usually from 2-10 years.
Full-Time versus part-time jobs.
Admission committee members are most interested in full-time jobs for obvious reasons. Internships and part-time jobs typically do not require the kind of experience needed, such as responsibility, accountability, and project management. Always be prepared to discuss your full-time work experience in the admissions interviews and essays. Make certain your résumé highlights results rather than activities. And most important of all, be sure to zero in on leadership and managerial skills as well as ways where you initiated time or money-saving procedures for the company.
If you lack full-time work experience, then you want to look at schools that do not have strict requirements but will consider strong internship experience, obviously more than just summer work. So here you must be smart. Enhance any part-time work experience by adding hobbies, sports activities, language skills, any area of your life that has given you extra knowledge and expertise, such as: learning to be a team player; time management skills, discovering a new culture by living abroad or in your travels.
Another option would be to try and find out if your lack of work experience will hurt your application. Do this by asking the school of your choice a few questions. What types of jobs do MBA grads get without work experience? Are there companies that hire MBAs without work experience?
Quality of the work experience.
Schools vary widely in their work requirements. If the quality of your work experience is high, the quantity may not be as important. If you have changed jobs frequently, be sure to explain why, as well as how you developed leadership skills in your various roles. Admissions committees understand that not everyone will be hired by Google. While it’s true that big brand experience does work in your favor with top MBA programs, know that your application will not be overlooked if you don’t have this kind of experience. If you are working for a small company, remember to adequately compute your performance, roles and duties, and exactly what positive changes you brought to your company.
It’s all about quality. Business schools look for a rise in responsibilities and leadership opportunities. No matter how long you’ve worked, it’s your performance that is going to be considered. Admissions committee members most often gauge work experience in three ways:
1. Did you explore work opportunities to the fullest?
2. How was your work ethic and teamwork on the job?
3. Did you exceed your employer’s expectations?
There are other items that are important when it comes to work experience in general. And it’s crucial that you touch on these areas both in your essays and in your interviews. For example, have you worked abroad? Have you undertaken a project where it was necessary to deal with foreigners? Can you demonstrate that you were active in more than one area of the company, not just your title area? The answers to all these questions will show your initiative to take on challenges; how you work with others; did you score well in the realms of responsibility, undertaking difficult situations, and offering the right kind of leadership where needed. Lastly, and we can’t stress this enough, if you have considerable gaps in your work history -- more than 3 months -- use the optional essay to address this if you haven’t already done so in another area of the application. Of course, state that aside from actively searching for a new job, you did something interesting and wonderful to write about!
For more insights into the MBA application process we recommend that you attend our free interactive MBA Admissions Webinars where you gain lots of useful insight into the MBA Admissions process from Manhattan Review’s director of Admissions Consulting, a former member of Wharton’s admissions board. Alternatively, please call +1-800-246-4600 or +1-212-316-2000 to arrange a free MBA consultation.