Applying For An MBA:
Work Experience

Why is work experience so important for an MBA program? The MBA degree develops practical knowledge and skills using methodologies that require a high level of participation from every student in the program. Professors assume that their students will have enough “real life” experience to be able to move quickly through the material they teach. Students who have two or more years of professional work experience are better able to learn and retain the theoretical management information when they can relate it to actual hands-on experience. Additionally, professors depend upon the student’s industry knowledge to enhance classroom discussions.

An MBA program is a mix of theory and practice. Unless you have worked in an organization, you do not understand the pressures of working with a team or as a team leader. Working in an organization gives you an experience of working with different individuals and helps develop different ways of thinking.

Work experience also contributes to the development of teamwork and class participation, which are central to MBA education. In many classes, group projects will be assigned. The team will make a formal presentation and receive a group grade. Students with work experience can more readily contribute concrete examples and information learned in the workplace, which are appreciated by their teammates.

Individuals who have had several years of work experience are often more adept at time management. MBA program are very demanding and students find themselves juggling the pressures of class preparation, team projects, their job search, and extra-curricular activities (sports, clubs, visiting speakers, etc.). Work experience teaches people to be more efficient, prioritize well, and balance pressures. Without these skills, the MBA can be extremely stressful.

In addition to the academic advantages, MBA admissions officials also suggest that students who have work experience are generally considered to have more opportunities to clarify and test their goals. They are better equipped to make the well-founded commitment that an MBA requires. Students with bachelor's degrees often think they know what they want to do when they graduate but, in fact, they usually lack the insight and experience to truly know. Work reinforces and challenges one's ideas -- it adds perspective, understanding, and motivation. Committed exposure to the professional work environment can help you be more certain about career choices.

Keep in mind that companies will be looking for MBA graduates who have practical work experience plus the academic credentials. If you don't have work experience, you will be competing with others who have the same academic credentials as you plus that additional experience. The stronger candidate will get the better job offers and the higher salaries. Remember, it is extremely important that you be able to articulate your goals clearly. MBA schools are looking for students who have a sense of where they are going, what they plan on doing in the future, and how they will make a contribution to the business world.

What is important is not how long you have worked but what you have learned about yourself and your professional strengths. Most business schools want to know that you have faced challenges and dilemmas that you have solved in collaboration with others and that you have learned from the way you resolved these issues. What matters most is that you have developed a deeper understanding of the complexities of managing work and people, and the challenges of working with colleagues and supervisors. If you understand these issues and have a better understanding of what you need to learn and the skills you want to develop, you are probably ready for business school!

“Within the general domain of work experience, business schools generally look for the following in an application for admission: scope of responsibility, career progression, leadership potential, analytical skills, communication skills, and the ability to work in teams. All of these things ultimately matter, both in terms of how an individual operates within the B-school community and further down the road in his/her professional career.”

Evan Bouffides
Assistant Dean and Director of
MBA Admissions & Financial Aid
Olin School of Business
Washington University in St. Louis

In business school, you will learn as much from your classmates as you will from any class. In a study group of five people from across the globe, and with varying professional backgrounds, you will work together throughout your core curriculum to tackle some of the world’s most relevant business questions. The knowledge and skills you acquire from your pre-MBA work experience will be critical to the success of your group. How have you been trained to identify a problem? And to find a solution? Can you inspire people with an idea? Can you lead a diverse group towards a common goal?

When evaluating applications, we look to see that each applicant has the experience necessary to have built a foundation in fundamental team-skills and to display his or her leadership potential – potential that, during your MBA, will be developed into the solid set of skills necessary for a truly global business leader.

Cassandra Pittman
Marketing Manager,
MBA Programme

The MBA Tour - Boston, MA 01890