Why Work Experience Matters to Business Schools
Your academic record is one of the most important indicators of your future ability to succeed, which is why admissions committees consider your undergraduate GPA. It is also the reason why the GMAT is given so much weight – it is a test that is a very accurate predictor of your ability to succeed in a graduate business management program. Admissions Committees rely on the GMAT.
Almost as important as those factors, though, is your prior work experience. Unlike law school or medical school where the graduate program itself can be the entirety of your professional training, almost every business school will prefer that you have significant work experience, with many programs having mandatory minimum work experience requirements. Your prior performance in the professional world gives the admissions committee a way to assess your real-world potential to excel in areas such as leadership, management, interpersonal skills, and other soft skills that are hard to judge in a classroom setting.
At Manhattan Review, our advice to applicants is to keep in mind that when it comes to work experience, the two things that admissions committees want to know are how have you dealt with adversity in the workplace, and what experience you bring to the MBA class. Business schools are unique among graduate schools because students learn from each other, not just from classes or from the faculty.
Full-Time jobs versus part-time jobs
Full-time experience will receive the bulk of the consideration from admissions committees. While part-time work and internships may be included, admissions committees are most interested in how you performed in full-time positions because those positions require far more responsibility, accountability, and project management skills.
You should expect to discuss your work experience during your interview. In particular, you should be prepared with specific examples of your performance, especially examples which highlight your leadership and managerial skills. Also, highlight incidents in which you took initiative to improve a company’s processes.
There are some MBA programs that do not require any prior work experience, and those are the programs you will want to target if you only have internships and part-time work on your resume. In that situation, you may also highlight interests and activities that show your ability to learn new skills.
Different schools have different work experience requirements. If you have high-quality work experience at a well-known company, the length of your experience may matter less. This is because admissions committees know how competitive the most selective jobs are, and you’ve already been rated favorably against a group of your peers. On the other hand, admissions committees understand that not everyone will work for J.P. Morgan or Google for their first job. In some cases, you may have had more of a chance to make an impact at a smaller company where you had more responsibility.
The three things that admissions committees will ask themselves about you when looking at your work experience are:
- Did you explore work opportunities to the fullest?
- How was your work ethic and teamwork on the job?
- Did you exceed your employer’s expectations?
While admissions committees will focus on traditional work experience, don’t think that a “traditional” MBA background is the only way to gain admission to a top management program. Unique experiences can be even more valuable to admissions committees when considering your application as a whole. Programs such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps are looked on favorably, and military experience is a huge bonus for most of the top programs. Also, be sure to highlight experiences that show off a rare skill, such as work experience in a second language, or international work experience.
Finally, if you have a long gap in employment, be sure to address it in the optional essay. Many young people today are facing an increasingly difficult employment environment, and admissions committees will understand if you were looking for a job for a while. Just be sure to show them that you made wise use of our time.
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