We’ve established in an earlier post the importance of work experience for international MBA grads. Of course, there are a few who break into top league MBA without any work experience too but those are more exceptions than a norm. In this post, we go into a little more depth to analyse the good, bad, ugly, great, awesome of it all. We will also assess questions that many candidates grapple when it comes to the nature/quality of their experience.
The all important question – how much experience is good? Deferring to the averages, here, most US programs have 5 years as the right time. Note that this is experience when you will enter/start the program. Don’t believe me – let’s look at some data for M7 business schools:
|US MBA Programs – Average Age|
|S No||School (M7)||Average incoming experience (yrs)||Average Age (yrs)|
|Source: School websites; P&Q; BTG|
The smart ones would ask, is this trend the same all over? Let’s look at some popular European MBA programs and find out:
|European MBA Programs – Average Age|
|S No||School||Average incoming experience (yrs)||Average Age (yrs)|
|Source: School websites|
There is a range here yes, but it is safe to say that European schools tend to have folks with at least a year more of experience. Another nugget, most of these are less than 2 year long programs too so in the end game, it eventually does balance out. MBA after 30 is usually tricky anywhere you go.
While many of these schools showcase a wide range of experience, it is usually good to be closer to average and that’s not just to conform to norms. The entire school machinery is usually geared to serve the averages better than the outliers. If you are an outlier, make sure you have done more research and are prepared to make your own way.
So far, we’ve done the easy bit – we’ve just counted how many years. But all experiences are not considered equal by bschools. Unlike the years of experience, it is tough to show this in a clean table. Instead, we’ll try to analyse this under a few sub-areas (by no means exhaustive) to get a feel of what is better.
By leadership, ideally we mean formal leadership experience. But in many jobs, this may not be possible. For instance, an i-banking analyst may not get a chance to lead a team in 4-5 years time. It is important to be able to show leadership in other dimensions though. Quality here is more important than quantity. A management consultant leading a team of 3 might create a far bigger impact than a manager leading a team of 100 BPO staff for instance. The yardstick for experience in general is the impact that you have created/delivered – for your clients, your organization, society or to yourself.
Another of the soft aspects which is really tough to characterize, but we’ll try with a few examples here too. In any job, one needs soft skills and technical skills. Some of the technical skills might be irrelevant for an MBA application. For instance, if you are Python developer, that skill may be something you would soon leave behind during and after the MBA (not necessarily I know, but higher probability). The key is to assess and showcase how many skills your work has provided which are transferable – both for your MBA classroom and beyond.
One could say that this is a sub-layer of leadership. This is an attribute which shows how well you’ve developed personally as a result of all those years of experience you’ve piled on. It is for instance the ability to manage conflicts in geographically spread teams or the poise of dealing with teams having folks from all over the world. It is difficult to show this on the resume and the real magic on this front happens as part of your application/essays. This is where, those not having formal leadership experience, especially need to shine and ensure they are not left out of the race.
To dig deeper, let us now take up a few common questions/scenarios that we have seen in the past. This will also help you get a better sense on the quality of experience that matters and doesn’t.
This is a constant struggle and like so many things, the answer is not black or white. A big global brand can definitely get you instant recognition and the adcom would not have to think twice about the quality/nature of experience you mention in your profile. Apples to apples, it is definitely a great idea to be associated with a big company. But the nuance comes in if you can bring in a lot more at a smaller firm or even a startup. Go back to the three attributes outlined earlier. If working at a small company ticks the box on some/all of these, then go for it. But remember, you have to showcase and in some cases, even educate the adcom about the experience. The onus is a bit more on you in this case.
Traditionally in our country, family businesses/entrepreneurship hasn’t had the sparkling reputation it is building up for the past decade or so. In the eyes of international MBA programs though, family business experience is definitely considered and depending on what you’ve done there, could even be meatier than a traditional role at a big firm. If your family business is a Fortune 500, then of course things are easier. But if not, then the onus again lies on you to bring life to your experience and detail out all aspects of it that you manage. Don’t try to pass on stuff that is being done by someone else and be completely truthful about it of course.
Internships are usually not considered in the metric we’ve showed in the table above. The treatment however may vary depending on the nature of internship (read CA articleship) as well as the particular school. It is best to validate this from the horse’s (read MBA adcom) mouth when in doubt. Even if it is not counted as experience, if you’ve done something substantial as part of it, you can and should always showcase this in your application.
Some of us start working while in college. Some others double up on a part time engagement while having a day job. None of these are considered when schools measure your years of experience in general. But, as in the case of internships, it is always good to show these and more importantly, explain what you gained out of it/impact you created.
Say you’ve switched 3 jobs in last 4 years – does that matter even though you already have the requisite average experience? The answer is yes and the reason is because, at a high level, this can show lack of commitment/clarity. All is not lost however. If there is a clear reason/rationale behind your career moves (instead of only being opportunistic), you can still explain your situation clearly in the application. This is going to remain a slight handicap but the blow can be parried with the right articulation.
We hope that this article gave you both a quantitative and qualitative feel on one of the most important aspects of your MBA application. If you have other questions or suggestions, please leave a comment below.
– Can a high GMAT score compensate for less work experience?
– No NGO, Non-profit, social work experience?
– Why work experience is important for international MBA applications?
– MBA in USA without work experience for freshers
Image credit: ncsu.edu