The Value of Work Experience to Your MBA |

The Value of Work Experience to Your MBA

By QS Contributor

Updated June 16, 2020 Updated June 16, 2020

Work experience is one of the most significant factors of an MBA application – differentiating it from other graduate business programs. In MBA applications, work experience can set a candidate apart from the rest of the pool.

Using a career as a path to an MBA

If an MBA is your long-term goal, it is important for you to determine the right kind of work experience. Certain business schools are very specific about work experience in their eligibility criteria, so the period of time in employment should not be too short (or too long) and a beneficial position and sector should be sought out, as far as possible.

For top business schools such as Wharton and Harvard, students working for big names such as  McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group or Google stand out in an already competitive pool. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that working for less-well-known companies isn’t valuable; all work experience will strengthen an MBA application.

You should research what the differing requirements are at different schools, and in different countries. In India and the US, generally, requirements are lower than they would be in Europe.

Experiential learning

As opposed to doing a pre-experience program, a pre-MBA career can help you determine your interests and goals before going to business school. You can, therefore, identify which MBA specialization or track to pursue to get the career you want.

Such career goals are also easier to realize because candidates already have business knowledge. Candidates also can get more out of MBA pedagogy, being able to identify pertinent issues in course case studies.

In view of the above mentioned, let’s take a look at Kolb’s Theory of Experiential Learning. The theory is split into two parts: a cycle of learning and four learning styles. The cycle of learning is as follows:

1.Concrete experience: Encountering something new or reexperiencing something from the past.

2. Reflective observation: Reflecting on the given situation.

3. Abstract conceptualization: Forming new ideas or improvements over and above the existing idea.

4. Active experimentation: Application of the newly found idea to the world.

This cycle is designed to help achieve effective learning; you can see that, according to this, students who already have a knowledge of the working world will make more progress during an MBA, than those for which business concepts are entirely new (in a practical sense).

Learners can then be further classified according to their learning styles. Candidates entering their graduate business courses without experiential understanding of the business world may find it much harder than their more experienced peers to retain information; this is particularly the case for those whose learning relies on experience or ‘doing’, though experience underpins each style. On an MBA program, you will also be learning from the experience of your peers.

Feeling and doing (accommodating)

  • This set of people are highly intuitive and rely less on logic.
  • They procure information from elsewhere and conduct their own analysis.

Feeling and watching (diverging)

  • These people are known to be sensitive and gather as much as information possible.
  • This set of people are effective in brainstorming and have an artistic mindset.
  • They have an open mind and listen to feedback.

    Kolb’s Theory of Experiential Learning Graph

 Thinking and doing (converging)

  • These are people with practical solutions to problems.
  • They are not concerned about interpersonal skills or people.
  • They use experiences to learn different ways of practical applications.

Thinking and Watching (Assimilation)

  • They understand information and organize it logically.
  • These people need enough theory to think about things and reach an effective conclusion.
  • Explanation over practical opportunity is the priority.

How work experience develops skillsets

Alongside high GMAT scores and good personal attributes, work experience is a key differentiating factor in MBA applications. Candidates with strong work experience demonstrate an understanding of the business world and their own ability to cope within a working environment.

Prior work experience engenders skills like initiative, responsibility and resourcefulness in candidates. It signifies a maturation from learner to contributor.

In addition to this, instead of needing to pursue a graduate development program after graduating from a pre-experience program, a graduate with previous work experience can return to a full-time position, often several ranks higher than those on grad schemes. Work experience can also help a candidate build a personal brand. 

So, you can see why getting some experience before going to business school can make all the difference.

This article was originally published in October 2017 . It was last updated in June 2020

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