Work experience: Why is it important for international MBA applications?

Written by MBA Crystal Ball

We get this question frequently on discussion forums and over email. In fact, a little to frequent for our comfort. So it doesn’t hurt talking about it again here. If you are an MBA applicant with considerable experience, you now have our permission to say ‘Duh!’ and skip this post.

There seems to be a general perception among a lot of Indian MBA aspirants that the earlier they get their MBA from abroad, the better their job prospects would be in terms of company choice, role, designation and salary. Most of them are either in college or haven’t been too successful with their Indian bschool applications (CAT for IIMs and other 2 year courses). When the best programs mainstream management courses in India aren’t so fussy about work-ex, why should international programs insist on work experience for being selected and making the most of the program?

Though there is no thumb rule and there have been cases where students with an excellent academic and professional track record have managed to get into the top business schools with very little work experience, there are reasons why we recommend spending a few years getting a decent amount of real-world experience before you decide to take a plunge into the international MBA world.

For a domestic Indian MBA programs, pre-MBA work experience is not the primary criterion and you can proceed with it immediately after graduation. However the process is quite different for an international MBA program. Here you need to leverage your pre-MBA work experience highlighting your meritorious achievements, professional accomplishments and leadership qualities at work. Business schools look out for potential candidates who can add value to their school and also benefit the most from the program. So if you want the b-school to consider you as a suitable candidate, you need to have some industry knowledge and hands-on experience in your chosen career field.

An international MBA is not just about learning business concepts or skills through theory. It tends to be practical and collaborative in nature with an emphasis on teamwork and insights into the real business world. There are the group projects, role-playing, simulations, case discussions to mention a few. The case study method is popularly used for teaching various subjects. It revolves around a real-life scenario with some issue or problem faced by a company with a lot of actual data and facts provided. You are required to evaluate it, use your knowledge and judgement based on your previous experience and present your opinion on how you would tackle the situation. Through these various interactive sessions, you get to know diverse points of view which give you different perspectives of handling various corporate situations. You should be in a position to partake in these discussions and not feel completely lost. The MBA journey can be a mutual learning experience if each student is able to gain (and provide) significant inputs from/to the class.

If you have completed over three years working at the time of applying, you can share your experiences and add some spice and flavour to your MBA essays and a thoughtfully created resume. By the time you set foot into your business school, you would have completed around four years of working which is generally the average for most top schools. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule and if you think you have gained rock solid work experience earlier than your peers, then we’ve got a different story.

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  1. Red   |  Friday, 26 August 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Most B schools wheather they are best or worst (depends) requires you to have at least 2 years of work experience in order to be eligible for their rather annoying application process, you said that there are as you quote, some ‘exceptions to the rule and if you think you have gained rock solid work experience earlier than your peers, then we’ve got a different story.´

    Is it that?

  2. Sameer   |  Friday, 26 August 2011 at 3:47 pm


    Surprisingly, there are quite a few international schools that accept candidates without experience (yup, forget the 2 year cut-off, we are talking about zilch work-ex here).

    I know folks who’ve attended such programs and are doing pretty ok in life. I’d say for such guys, the success can be attributed to their inherent capabilities rather than the degree.

    But as a general rule, we don’t recommend schools that bend over backwards to attract candidates.

  3. Amulya   |  Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 5:28 am

    Please suggest a few schools which accept students with zero or one year work experience.

    Thank you Sameer.

  4. Sameer Kamat   |  Friday, 23 August 2013 at 10:58 am

    Amulya, sorry we can’t recommend names as we aren’t convinced that someone with no managerial experience will benefit from an MBA program.

  5. sujata   |  Monday, 05 May 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Dear Sir.
    I wish to join MBA in good business school in US.
    I have done 10+2+2 course from Bombay.(B.Com in june2012)
    I have always scored 90% and above marks in my examination.
    I am a qualified Chartered accountant from India.
    I have been working full time with Ernst and Young since august 2010.
    I wanted to know if my work experience for three years will be counted when I apply for MBA in US.Is my educational qualification enough for MBA admission ?What other papers apart from essays add weightage to the application.
    Please advise.

  6. Sameer Kamat   |  Wednesday, 04 June 2014 at 12:10 pm

    @Sujata: Apart from essays, you’d need to submit a GMAT score, TOEFL score, recommendations, resume and there’d be an interview if you clear the first hurdle.

    This might help – Does Chartered Accountant (CA) articleship count as experience?.

  7. PRASHANTH   |  Thursday, 10 July 2014 at 1:34 pm

    im a fresher.i have to do ms in international business and to work in abroad. is it worth the money?? will i get decent job to settle bak my investment??

  8. Sameer Kamat   |  Wednesday, 23 July 2014 at 10:00 am

    Prashanth: Tough to answer that without knowing more about your expectations, test score, and other parameters. Why not work in India for a few years and then think about an overseas degree?

  9. Green   |  Wednesday, 15 October 2014 at 10:41 am

    I have a run-of-the-mill profile – A B. Tech in Computer Science and I’ve completed two years at an IT big wig. I haven’t made much foray in to the world of ‘management’ (since I’ve only two years of exp and my domain is largely technical), do I even stand a chance to get into a good B School abroad? Must I consider it as an option owing to my not-so-glamourous profile?

  10. Sameer Kamat   |  Wednesday, 12 November 2014 at 11:41 am

    @Green: Waiting for a year or two more would give you that exposure. If not, try to get it from extra-curricular work.

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