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What type of work experience is required for MBA abroad?

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 (Read MBA After Graduation vs Work Experience: Which is Better?).

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.

What type of work experience is required for MBA abroad?

What type of work experience is required for MBA abroad?

What’s the right amount of work experience for MBA applications?

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)
1 Harvard 3-5 27
2 Wharton 5 28
3 Stanford 4 28
4 Columbia 5 28
5 Chicago Booth 5 27.9
6 MIT Sloan 4.8 28
7 Kellogg 5.2 28
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)
1 INSEAD 5.7 29
2 HEC 6 30
3 LBS 5 29
4 IE 5 29
5 Oxford 5.1 28
6 Cambridge 6 29
7 IMD 7 31
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. Read Average age and work experience at top MBA programs around the world

What is ‘good’ work experience for bschools?

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.

1. Leadership experience

By leadership, ideally we mean formal leadership experience. But in many jobs, this may not be possible.

For instance, an investment 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.

2. Skills

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.

3. Professional Maturity

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.

Big company vs small company experience: Which is better?

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.

Family business experience?

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.

Will business schools consider my internship experience?

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.

Does part-time experience count?

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.

Will too many job changes hurt my MBA application?

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.

We work (very selectively) with promising applicants and help them get into the top business schools. Get in touch with us, if you’d like us to be partners in your career transformation journey: info at mbacrystalball dot com

Read these related articles:
MBA without work experience – Pros and cons
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
A look at Product company vs Service company work experience for MBA applications

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Email. Or follow on Linkedin, Facebook.

35 thoughts on “What type of work experience is required for MBA abroad?”

  1. Hi Manish,
    Glad I found this article. Thanks for the insight. I am planning to join mba next year and my target schools are NUS, NTU and Mannheim(all offering 1 year program). I will have 5 years of experience by the end of march next year. I have been working in the same IT company since the beginning. I have one year of international experience and couple of leadership roles at onshore and now at offshore. I have been thinking lately to switch to a different company so that adcom do not doubt my ability to take risk or move forward. However, the company for which i work is an Indian IT company reknowned in software and consultancy sector across globe and gives ample opportunities to work at different levels. Request you to guide me if i efforts should be put to change jobs at this time or to concentrate on fine tunning my extra curricular skills.

    Thanks in advance,

  2. Hello Manish,
    I have 6 years of automotive electronics industry exp. I am a electronics graduate and now have an admit in MS electrical engg from New York University fall 2017. After getting an admit i am confused whether to go or not. Can u suggest me how can i eleviate my career from this stage. Thanks.

    • The answer would really depend on your definition of ‘elevate’ Ashish. In general though, after 0-2 years of experience, MS is not a great option – unless this is special program for experienced professionals. If you are looking to switch over to the management side, MBA will be far better. If you want to remain on the tech side, why not PhD?

  3. Hello Manish,

    I request for your opinion regarding the RoI from ISB in my case.

    I am a working professional in one of the top ranked automobile industry in India. With 5 years of experience, I am earning a salary of 15 LPA (fixed+variable) currently. And if everything goes the same way as it has been in last 5 years, I expect to see myself as getting into a Manager role with approx 20 LPA (fixed+variable) salary by April 2019.

    Currently, I am targeting to get an admission into ISB for the batch of 2018-19 because I am keen to explore different fields of work and thereby increase my versatility, expertise, and career choices in the long term. But, I did some digging into ISB website and came to know that average salary for last year was somewhere around 22.5 LPA. Even if I be optimistic and expect the average salary to rise in next two years to 25 LPA, it would be only 5 lacs more than what I would be earning if I choose to continue in my current job.

    Although I know that pursuing an MBA from ISB might unlock for me many opportunities and give me greater exposure in the long term, I fear my decision of pursuing MBA from ISB because of the RoI in my case.
    Does an investment of 30 lacs in return of 3-5 LPA jump financially sound good? What benefit in future would make my choice of pursuing MBA correct? How does the whole “risk-reward” thing look in my case?

    • You partly answered the question yourself N Saha. A pure financial RoI may have a longer payback in your case but the intangible is, would you be happy and content doing what you are? An MBA usually puts you in a very different orbit, work content wise. And that should be the main reason why you pursue it; of course not at a bad RoI. If you are good, the acceleration after MBA can be way faster too.

  4. @M.G, sir
    I am a 3rd year(5th semester ) student doing from amity university Noida.

    1.I would like to know if my U.G degree is accepted / recognized by U.S/European universities because i have heard that 3 year degree are not accepted by many universities in U.S and is my college considered ‘genuine/authentic’ by the foreign universities.
    2. I would also like to know the minimum grades(degree grade/marks and NOT the GMAT marks) required for getting admission.
    3. As i am currently perusing a finance degree so i want to get a masters in finance only but i am confuse between doing MBA in Finance or MS in finance. Which one is better. and which one can help me earn better in the future.
    4. and does writing a research paper and getting it published increases the chances of getting admission and scholarship also.

  5. Hi Manish,

    This article is very insightful. One thing I would request you to elaborate is, ” MBA after 30 is usually tricky anywhere you go”. At present, I am 26. I have 32 months of work experience as a software engineer (I am a B.Tech), and I have just completed my MBA in Business Economics from Delhi University. I always wanted to get into consulting, and I couldn’t afford an international MBA at that moment, therefore I had chosen this course (Business Economics is a specialised course in Economics, Marketing and Statistics). Currently I am working as a Senior Business Analyst (a data scientist) with an MNC and I plan to appear for GMAT in coming 3-4 years for a second MBA, but this time either from ISB or any Ivy League so that I can land a consulting job with the Big 3. But by that time, I will be 30+.
    I request you to help me with this dilemma. Should I appear for GMAT earlier? Or is it too late for me? Will me work experience will be of any help to me if I go for a second MBA in 3 to 4 years for a consulting role?

    Thanks a lot for your help.

  6. Hi Manish,

    I am a Revenue Service Officer with 8 years of experience ( 10 if you include the training period). In your mock GMAT sample, I could answer correctly 9 out of 11 questions. Which top business school should I target for doing MBA?

  7. As a fresher I got job in Amazon as transport operation specialist
    But I completed my engineering in the Stream of computer science,but I’m good in managing and have passion to work in management side .
    So , my query is whether to take this job
    Whether this is useful to career or shall I do job in technical field?
    Even my academics are good all are above 90%
    Please do reply and suggest me
    Thank you

    • Sai,

      The choice of career should depend on both your immediate career interests and what you want to do in the longer term. Purely from an MBA perspective, this role ‘sounds’ good; but many tech professionals frequently make it too.

  8. Hi Manish sir, I’m an architect and I graduated college (NIT Bhopal) 4 months back. I’m targeting for studying abroad after gaining the needed experience. I was hoping to know if my work experience in the field of architecture would fulfill the work ex. requirements. Considering the fact that I’m just a fresher and don’t have a team to lead at the moment.
    Also every University asks for your under grad GPA, I was 7.45, does that mean I will be missing out on the good B-schools?
    Or can my GMAT score top my UG grades, if I prepare well for it?

  9. Hello Manish,
    I was wondering if I am having work experience in the range of 2-4 years, aren’t there any schools which will consider it a good experience and allow me to persive further education?

      • As I’m working in a IT startup company so if I work in that startup for 5 years, can I apply in top b schools?
        Also does brand name of the company matters in business schools during their application process? If yes then should I switch from startup to bigger companies?

  10. Hi Sir!
    I’m a final year BBA student with avg grades throughout my student life, and not as many extra curricular activities as well! After working for 2 yrs, I’m extremely keen in pursuing an MBA degree specifically in Human Resources from abroad. Can u please guide me as to what all are the universities and colleges that I should target in accordance with my profile? Also, please do tell me about the career opportunities in HR after an MBA in same.
    Thanks in advance!

  11. Hi Manish,
    I am a 24 year old 2019 grad from B.Tech CSE. Currently in my 2nd job and around 20 months total experience.
    From my experience, I have understood that I am not suited for core tech role, since my technical skills are just better than average and my interest just doesn’t lie here.
    5 year goal is to start a manufacturing business and I want to gain management knowledge and experience in the meanwhile.
    Wanted to understand if helping in family business for a year to learn about business management and a global MBA program from fall 2022 is an appropriate career path to reach my goals.
    Is a global MBA still worth it, now that the pandemic has raised serious doubts about the relevance of MBA programs given the high cost of these programs?
    Would appreciate any thoughts from you on this situation.


    • Family business can indeed be a very good idea – make sure to have good credibility though. Hopefully, the world will stay resilient – so far, we don’t see any slowing down in MBA applicants which is a testimony to it.

  12. Hi. If I work with an unregistered firm (which provides freelance services) will that count as my work experience?

  13. Hi Manish
    I currently have about 2.5+ year of work ex in an IT firm dealing with data visualization and ETL. My goal for the medium term is to be a product manager in tech. What would be your advice on MBA for me, if I’m looking to apply for the 2023 intake? Would it be a wise decision? I’d have 3+ years of experience at the time of application.


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