Share this post

When putting together an application for an MBA, the portion dedicated to your work experience can be confusing. With vague instructions and explanations as to what is important, do you feel you have enough? Is it the ‘right’ kind? Confused about what should be included? Does it feel a lot like a test no one prepared you to take?

This article is designed to answer as many questions about the process as possible.

What kind of job experience is required for MBA?

Have you taken the GMAT before?

Is work experience mandatory for an MBA?

The question asked more often than others seems to be whether or not work experience is mandatory.

The short simple response is – no. Having no work experience will not impact your ability to earn an MBA. At one time, lacking work history would have meant you would be rejected, however, changes and reformation have yielded options and programs for students who want to go straight from earning their undergraduate degree to enrolling for an MBA.

There is a wide variety of programs with requirements ranging from no work experience to 3 plus years. You need to find what works for you and your goals. After all, you will only be pursuing one MBA in your lifetime. You should, therefore, not rush into an MBA, but rather prepare properly for this exciting journey.

Take your time, explore all of the options open to you and even consider non-MBA avenues.

Will I earn more money if I have work experience?

Prospective students often inquire as to whether or not they can earn as much with an MS, MEM, or MSc as they would with an MBA. The answer to this is – yes, but it is a conditional “yes.” Earning potential is comparable, as long as the school you attend is a “top university.”

Non-MBA venues to consider, such as a program in MEM, MS Finance or Accounting, can be invaluable to future management positions. Non-MBA options can thus be used as stepping stones to gain experience prior to obtaining an MBA. Programs like the MSc in Management procured at a top school such as HEC Paris, Manchester Business School, Oxford, LBS, ESADE, and LSE are solid precursors to an MBA.

For those sure they are ready to go after an MBA, some choices open to you include schools in India and outside.

An Indian B-School that allows you to apply with a reasonable GMAT of 690 and no work experience is SP Jain – Mumbai. The School offers a 2-year program designed to give the experience you will need. Another 2-year program that gives you the tools required while you earn an MBA is through a top Italian Business School, MISB by SDA Bocconi, which offers the “Mumbai track.” During the program, students spend the first year in Mumbai while in the second year, students study on campus in Italy.

Programs offered solely outside India are plentiful and innovative as well. We’ll cover three such unique opportunities for undergraduates to apply and be accepted into a 2+2 program. To qualify, you would have to be in your third year of undergraduate study. Once accepted you will be mentored throughout the remainder of your course and work for two years, earning the experience through the guidance of the college Professor mentoring you. At the end of these two years, you join the MBA class at their location. Universities offering a 2+2 program are Harvard, SUNY Buffalo, and Stanford.

In addition to those programs, there is the “Silver Scholar Program” at Yale University, which offers a comprehensive path to an MBA. Oxford offers a 1 plus 1 program which includes using the first year as a building block for studying basics, thus gaining valuable insight prior to the actual MBA program. Other colleges that offer an accelerated or early career MBA program include Rutgers, ISB, YLP, Chicago Booth, Carnegie Mellon, Tepper, and UIC.

Opening the door further reveals more opportunities – you can simply apply to a good mix of non-MBA and MBA programs that are geared for students with 0-2 years of work experience.

MBA or MS, Decisions – Decisions!

The question becomes – which path is better; early admission, MSc Management, MS, should I remain steadfast on attending my MBA or perhaps opt to apply a mix?

  • • Ultimately, that is for each individual to decide but the fact is – if you have little to no experience and while not required, it is beneficial to gain experience through another program prior to leaping ahead to an MBA.

    Read more: Masters (MS) or MBA

For those prospective applicants who have work experience, if you have 3 years’ experience or more, ideally you should directly consider an MBA.

What constitutes work experience

What makes up ‘work experience?’ What is included and what is discounted? Does it have to be in the field of your Bachelor’s degree or specifically in management?

These questions will keep a person up at night, worried and wondering. However, the answer is as simple as any employment post your Bachelor’s degree that is full-time is counted, regardless of the field or position. While leadership roles are a plus, if you do not have any – it is not a negative.

What does not count though would be work experiences gained during your undergraduate studies, internships you completed as an undergraduate student and articleships. To stress this, jobs of any kind, volunteer work as well as training and internships do not count as work experience if they were performed while you were completing your undergraduate studies and volunteer work. Volunteer work is not applicable during or post-Bachelors either.

If you performed a 3-year articleship in part or wholly post earning your undergraduate degree, the portion that comes “after” graduating does count.

Gaps in your experience are acceptable, however, you will need to provide valid reasons as to why you were not employed or why you shifted companies. Stating, “I left the company because I was offered more at another location” is not a valid reason. An example of a reason that would suffice would be maternity leave or a life change event such as moving to another country. When tallying your months or years of experience with gaps in your employment history, the general rule of thumb is that it counts as continuous “IF” the gap is under 3 months – anything over and you will need to discount those months.

If you are currently unemployed, experts recommend potential students endeavour to apply for and hopefully gain employment prior to applying to MBA programs. The reason for this recommendation is because the committee considers your “current work experience” in determining which potential students will be admitted and which will be denied.

How much work experience – Required vs Recommended

After the question do I need experience, what plagues students is, how much work experience?

For this, you will need to check individual MBA schools that offer the program(s) you are interested in. One requirement you will need to meet is the amount of history they specify.

Some universities have 1-year programs which are strict on how much work experience is required or cut-offs. This is an avenue better suited for students with over 5 years of experience as those are geared toward a faster pace of students with the knowledge that comes with experience.

In India – the IIM Universities (across the board) all have required cut-offs which vary from 5 to 6 years. While in the UK, Schools specify a minimum of 3 years of work history. The cut-offs are strictly adhered to. Therefore, if the school says you are required to have 60 months of employed history and you have 59 months 3 weeks and 2 days, you will not be accepted into their program – they do not make exceptions to this rule.

There is good news though – there are schools that dropped the ‘cut-offs’ and ‘required’ exposure and now ‘recommend’ a specified amount of work experience. Opting to study in Europe, Asia, or Australia will allow you to get into an MBA program even if you fall short on the ‘how much’ experience. These top schools endeavour to look at quality alongside the quantity to factor whether or not they should accept or reject you.

The trickiest question – Quality

We have all heard the phrase; Quality over quantity

But what exactly makes up quality work experience in regards to MBA hopefuls?

It is not the where you worked, or the field so much as how well rounded your experience is and how you stand out when compared to your peers.

The goal of the committee is to fill the class with as many perspectives and as much diversity as possible. The first glance they take is into the applicant’s field, they do not want to fill the room with only Software Engineers as that offers only one viewpoint and no variety. The next look is more in-depth with each applicant’s career graph being measured against their peers. This means – sticking with Software Engineers as our standard – that your work experience will be reviewed and compared to other Software Engineer applicants. The committee will look over essays and LORs submitted to glean the best candidate for each spot in the program.

A well-written LOR or essay becomes an asset while one just jotting or listing can be the undoing and leave you on the sidelines. A quality essay will show what you have accomplished, how your feat stands out when compared to your fellow applicants.

If you are typing for example;  “I did a two million dollar project solo.”

  • With that sentence, our readers will not know whether this happens daily, or rarely. The lack of details also leaves the reader wondering if your achievement was in some way special?

If instead, you were to write; “In the company, I am employed at, less than 5% of employees work independently on projects, however, I was entrusted with a two million dollar project solo due to my work ethics”

– This sentence includes the reader and tells what you did, how these are noteworthy accomplishments, and it shares how you stand out from the crowd.


The bottom line is that the committee reviewing and selecting applicants is set to answer one question: Will this candidate be a successful alumnus?

So whether you have experience – be it a little or a lot is looked at but it does not weigh as much as what your experience has done for you and how you have conveyed the significance of the experience to the committee. An applicant who has taken the time to include details that show where and how they have excelled will stand a greater chance of obtaining that vied seat in the program over one who has a lot of work experience but not the range of exposure.

Webinar on Work Experience in an MBA Application

Additional Resources –

Share this post