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Work experience and MBA admissions

Work Experience for MBA: A Breakdown

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This is the second #AskBaskar GMAT Blog in a series that we’re bringing to you, to answer some of the pertinent questions we get from B-School aspirants, and tell you how and why MBA can catalyse a positive change in your life. Today, we’re looking at what having work experience means for your MBA/other management programs, how your candidature is evaluated, et al. Work Experience for MBA is important. But does not having it place you at a disadvantage?

Read on, to find out.

You can check out the first such blog here, where we talked about ‘Doing an MBA during a pandemic,’ and whether it’s really worth it.

Spoiler Alert: It is!

For The Experienced

I have work experience in a certain domain, and I’m planning to pursue MBA in a different domain / industry. Will my work experience count? 

I’m going to answer this question in two parts. The first part is from the perspective of admissions.

1. What are the Business School Admissions Officers looking for or thinking when they come across a case such as this?

When candidates apply, B-School Admissions Officers are of the opinion that they’re getting fresh blood, someone who isn’t overly experienced/developed, and can be moulded into a finished product.

The school will carry out their academic obligations, and favour people who will be the best possible alumni for them. Good schools also measure whether they have done justice to an MBA candidate, i.e. whether they have been able to find a suitable placement for you.

So at the admission stage, you should have a story that gives conviction and reassurance to the admissions officer that you are someone who two years down the line, is likely to find a job (with relative ease), and enhance & preserve the reputation of the school, thereby vindicating the school’s decision in picking you. 


Say you’ve been working in fintech for a few years, and you want to pursue a career in investment banking. It’s a shift, not particularly unusual, which people have made in the past.

But if you have worked in tech in a retail vertical, and you want to move into investment banking, that’s a much more radical shift, and there is nothing that gives credibility to your story. There’s nothing to give them the belief that you’ll be able to make that shift convincingly.

Their thoughts? “He’s a coding guy, and he has worked in the retail vertical. Now he wants to go into investment banking post an MBA. How likely is he to find a job?”

Thus, the admission officer might have reservations about offering you an admit.

So, to reiterate, at the admission stage, you should have a story that is cohesive with respect to what you did, and what you plan to do. Having that could land you an admit.

2. What is likely to happen post-MBA?

If you have five plus years of experience in a field, think twice before embarking on a radical shift in career, post MBA. Say, if you have seven years of experience in Pharmacology, and you want to shift to investment banking, the chances of making the change are lesser post an MBA. So, have ambitions that are more grounded in reality.

However, if one has only two years of experience in retail, (which is not much for an MBA applicant) and if you want to shift to investment banking, it is more likely to happen. Do a bit of research before saying you want to shift your domain. You might want to shift domain to finance, but it might not have to be investment banking. It could be retail lending, for example, which fits much better with your previous career experience.

So have a broader, yet relevant domain in mind.

A Change of Mind

The second important thing – pre-MBA, we have some preconceived notions about what we want to do, what career we’d like, etc. But we’re not aware of many interesting career options that exist post an MBA. It is not uncommon that when we do an MBA and land a summer internship, we discover careers – sometimes careers that are tailor-made for us.

Let me give you an example.

One of our 2005 GMAT students went to Purdue University to do his MBA at the Krannert Business School. He used to work for an Indian software company as the sales head for its North America region. Took his GMAT. Got into Purdue. Pre-MBA career ambition – moving from sell-side IT to buy-side IT.

He used to say, “I want to get into a large bank, be the buy-side of IT, come back to India and offshore those processes. That is the best of both worlds. I want to be sitting in Bangalore, I want to be sipping coffee in Chennai and heading an offshore unit for an American bank to get an ex-pat’s salary and live a Chennai life.”

Now, let us contrast his dream before he left India for MBA to where he found himself after his MBA. In the first year of his MBA, he got a job with a large axle manufacturing company, Eaton Inc. At the end of the summer internship, he said, “This is not an IT job. This is an ops job. I never thought such a role existed, and that such a role is cut out for someone like me.” 

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What’s the takeaway?

Have ambition. Say I want to shift domains. But work towards it.

If you want to move into investment banking, then take up some relevant courses – edX, Coursera, or NSE Academy courses, etc.

Demonstrate that you’re willing to change and have taken steps toward that.

While you should take up these courses to convince potential recruiters, make sure you go with an open mind because you might find job opportunities that you have not thought of, which are ideal for you. It is possible to shift, but if you’re shifting, have enough points to justify in your CV, both for admissions and as well as for post MBA.

An MBA in many top business schools is not specific. In the second year, the kind of courses that you choose (electives) is what makes you an ‘MBA in finance’ or ‘MBA in marketing.’ That is the time when you actually choose what your specialization is.

At the admission stage, I want you to have a story, which would give confidence to the admissions officer that two years down the line, you’re likely to get a job. So keep this perspective in mind.

For the Uninitiated

“I have no work experience, and I want to do an MBA abroad. Are there any colleges that I can apply to?

If you’re not bent on doing an MBA and are open to management education in general, I have just the solution for you.

A lot of Asian students do their post-graduation in management immediately after completing their undergraduate courses. To address this population, the top-notch business schools in Europe, be it London Business School, St.Gallen or HEC, all started Masters in Management (MIM) programs. US schools’ variant of MIMs is called ‘MS in Management.’

These programs are for people with less than 12 months or 18 months of work experience. The curriculum is similar to MBA.

What’s the downside? You start your career post-MIM, which would probably be a couple of notches lower than what a post-MBA career from the same school is likely to be. A person is likely to have four to five years of work experience for MBA. Whereas in the MiM case, the number of years of experience is going to be anywhere between 0-12/18 months and that accounts for the difference at the entry level. Often times, the difference evens out when you clock 3 to 4 years of experience post MiM.

The Verdict

If you’re someone with no to low experience and are considering top colleges, look at MIM rather than MBA. Conversely, if you are particular about getting an MBA, you will have to compromise on schools. This option is something that I will never vote for.

Where you do your business management program matters a lot more than when you do it.

I’d rather have you do it ‘X’ years down the line. Don’t do it straight out of college or within 12-18 months if it means compromising on the kind of college you attend. The MBA degree you get from not-so-good colleges is not going to take you too far.

MIM from a good college is worth 100 times than MBA from a not-so-reputed college.

And I’ll leave you with that poignant statement.

Wish you the best!

-Baskar, Wizako.

(This was adapted from a Live Q&A video we did on our YouTube Channel. Check it out here or below)

GMAT Prep & MBA | Live Q & A

Remember, if you have any questions, you can always #AskBaskar.

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  1. Sir what are your views on doing MIM from colleges like Insead, illinois university with 3 years of experience or should i wait 1-2 years to apply for their MBA program. I’m very keen on pursuing MBA from a reputed college, also very confused what will be the right thing for me.. please guide me .

    • Hello Neha,
      If you haven’t taken the GMAT yet, would recommend you to work for a few years, then write the GMAT, and apply to an MBA program. If you’re at a stage in your GMAT Prep where you’re confident you’ll get a 750+, you can write the GMAT, and apply to a deferred MBA program with top schools.
      If on the other hand, you’ve taken the GMAT already, you can go ahead and apply to a good MiM program at INSEAD, or at other European Schools, according to your eligibility for the same.

      Wish you the best.

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