MBA Admissions and Work Experience

Work experience is an integral part of any good MBA application. In most cases, your work experience determines your eligibility into an MBA program. The basic minimum is 2 years of full-time work experience prior to the start of your MBA. However, when you look at the average number of years of work experience published by business schools, you’ll see that 4 years is common.

An MBA is a Professional, rather than an Academic, degree. Candidates pursue this degree to enhance their “employability”, primarily in two ways: to move up in their chosen industry (such candidates are commonly referred to as “career enhancers”) or to break the barriers and get their foot into a new industry (“career switchers”).

Regardless of the chosen career path, MBA candidates will need at least 2 years of full-time work experience to make themselves attractive not only to the business school, but also to future employers. The admissions professionals scrutinize a candidate’s resume closely because they want to understand the nature of the work experience the candidate is bringing to their program.

The main reason for the work experience requirement is to ensure that candidates have the foundation to build upon in the program, and are able to contribute to class and group discussions. As an MBA candidate, you’ll constantly be asked to provide examples from your work. Without any work experience, for example, you won’t be able to see how different functions in a company work together towards the common goal.

MBA is a demanding degree and there won’t be much time allocated for lectures or theories. You’ll be required to complete your reading assignments on your own time; time in class will be your opportunity to exchange opinions and learn from your professors and your peers.

What does “good work experience” mean?

Every business school is looking for ways to create a diverse class to attract more candidates to their program. While candidates with certain backgrounds make up the majority of MBA applicants (most specifically, Engineering and Commerce graduates), admissions teams are making a special effort to attract a wider pool of candidates, including candidates with not-for-profit background, women, LGBT, veterans, to name a few. When candidates come from very different professions, assessing their work experience becomes more of an art than science. As a candidate, you might be wondering if your work experience is good enough.

As a former admissions professional, my first advice would be not to dwell on quantity. It is really the quality of your experience that will make your application stronger. You don’t need to hold a very senior position (if you’ve graduated just 2-3 years ago, it’s quite expected that you may still be at a junior level), but you can still show that you make a difference.

“Making an impact on the organization” is a big plus; this impact could be anywhere from increasing the bottom line to bringing a great sense of humor to the team. That’s right, intangibles count, too! Most of the time, candidates overlook or underestimate these intangibles. You can have a great sense of humor, or you can be very approachable and available to help out – these are the “soft” qualities that could help you stand out.

But how do you show a good sense of humor that on your resume? You could still have good examples of how you demonstrated this quality of yours.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is an excellent personality trait. More and more books and articles are published on the importance of the EQ, especially from a leadership perspective.

As you may already know, by now, most MBA programs value leadership potential. As a young candidate, you can create your own opportunities to showcase your potential. One great way to prove it is through relationships and the initiatives you take. You can spearhead some cool team events during tough times to improve morale; become the “fun police” in your organization, and so on – these would be fabulous examples to include in your resume or on your essays.

As you can see, it’s not only about the number of years of experience under your belt. Increasingly, it’s more and more important to showcase your contributions throughout your time in the organization and the difference your presence makes in the office.

What about internship experience?

Smart undergraduate programs realize how important it is to have some practical experience prior to graduation in this competitive job market and have started incorporating excellent co-op programs and summer internships into their curricula.

Candidates who completed an undergraduate degree with an internship have a greater advantage than those without any co-op experience. Their “employability” post-graduation is higher since they’ve had the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in class and develop a more realistic sense of their new skills.

Many business schools have started recognizing some of the co-op work or summer internships. As a candidate, if you have such experience, you should definitely include it in your resume and make sure you have good references from your internships. The profile of companies where you interned is also important: if you have some multinational company names on your resume, your profile will be stronger.

What about volunteer work?

Volunteer work has become a mandatory requirement for MBA programs regardless of your full-time experience. Since entry into top MBA programs (and into desirable jobs after graduation) is very competitive, business schools’ admissions teams and career centres have a luxury of picking only the best well-rounded individuals.

In an MBA program, you’ll wear many hats. The course load is heavy; you’ll be interviewing constantly throughout the program for internships and full-time jobs; and on top of that you’ll be asked to participate in student clubs of your interest. Volunteer experience shows that you could juggle multiple responsibilities and could handle a busy lifestyle of an MBA student. It also shows that you are not self-centered and are willing to contribute beyond yourself.

What if I don’t have any full-time work experience?

Sometimes you may see a candidate without any full-time experience admitted to an MBA program. If you dig deeper, you’ll find out that the candidate has amazing volunteer work and that the admissions team was simply blown away by the work he or she has done in a developing country. If you are that sort of a candidate, you may be considered quite an exceptional candidate. If the rest of your application is equally competitive, you’ll have a great chance to get in!

To summarize, MBA is very practical degree. It is definitely in your best interest to have some work experience prior to the start of the program. There will be lots of class discussions and team discussions. Your professional experience will enhance your peers’ learning experience and you will build on your own one by putting ideas into context. Not to mention that it will increase your chances of landing a good internship and full-time employment.

Check out these school profiles at the Poets and Quants website to learn more about some of the top candidates admitted into various MBA programs.

If you need personal advice, as always, please feel free to book a FREE 1-on-1 Consultation.

Book My Free 1-on-1 MBA Admissions Consultation

Good luck!

Claire Gumus,
Admit Master MBA Admissions Consultant.