Ask the expert: Why do I need work experience?

Dear George,

I am 22 years old and in my final undergraduate year. I would like to go straight on and do an MBA but all the top schools seem to demand years of work experience. What is the point of that?

Dear Prospective MBA,

You are correct in saying that the MBA is somewhat unusual among postgraduate qualifications in generally demanding that students already have some experience in the area it professes to teach (management and business).

Most notably, the two professions of law and medicine do not require this, instead including large amounts of “on-the-job” learning as part of the teaching process. (Few people, of course, would want a doctor to be allowed to practise before being qualified.)

Rightly or wrongly, management is not regarded as a “profession” and individuals require no previous qualification to undertake it. The argument for the MBA requiring some previous experience of work—whether as a manager or something entirely different—is that students can apply their experience to the theoretical concepts they meet in the classroom.

This is especially true in analysing case studies based on real situations. In many areas there are no rights or wrongs in management—it is not a “hard science”—just options and making decisions often requires drawing on previous experience of similar situations.

More cynically, it has also been suggested that MBA graduates with previous experience tend to do better in the recruitment market, and attract higher salaries. This looks good in alumni data and can also be important in rankings.

That said, you are incorrect in saying that all MBA programmes demand prior experience. Harvard and Stanford, for example, make it explicit that they will accept MBA applications from people straight from college (though usually they ask for a superior academic record and an indication of “leadership potential”). It is true, though, that it is almost universally expected at leading business schools in Europe.

There have been some concerns in the US that the insistence on work experience is narrowing the applicant base for MBA studies and it is possible that they may follow the European model of specialist masters degrees in areas such as finance or marketing and, particularly, the so-called “Master’s in Management”—a pre-experience MBA in all but name.

For anyone eager to get a qualification under their belt before starting work, a specialised masters or general masters in management is the obvious route. You can always take an MBA after gaining some experience.

George Bickerstaffe.

If you have any advice for our prospective student feel free to post it below. If you have a question for George Bickerstaffe please email it to: AskTheExpert@economist.com

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23 Responses to “Ask the expert: Why do I need work experience?”

  1. Tokugawa Says:

    I would like to put my opinion slightly to different position. Even if there are schools that would accept candidates without any prior work experience, I would strongly recommend to anyone who is pursuing MBA degree to have some work experience. I did well on my undergrad in good school, but most of subjects seemed so abstract and intangible to me. However, after a certain time at work, I started to realize what I had to learn and what I missed to study at undergrad, which awakened my hunger to go back to academia again. MBA should not be just about study, get your credits and score higher GPA. I understand that by going to MBA straight from undergrad one may save a lot of time of his/her career life, but at this person, most likely will have “no food to put on table of discussion” and no personal experience to make parallels with subjects offered at MBA program.

  2. firosh Says:

    can i do an mba after my hotel management diploma of two years and with my work experiance?

  3. Ravi Says:

    I run my own business and have both theoretical background in business and a lot of practical experience – learned mostly the hard way.

    I will not employ anyone without relevant practical experience, regardless of which business school/university they went to. Theory is easy and anything can be made to look good on paper. The reality of the business world is totally different from what the books say.

    “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Thomas Alva Edison

    The above is still true!

  4. ashok bakshi Says:

    hi i’m an indian and want to go to Europe for any work being apart i’ve experiance for teaching specially for higher classes, i worked as computer lecturer now i’m in delhi and working in a international call center. plz help me to find how can i be there. ?

  5. vishak Says:

    Sir,
    I am currently doing my final year in comp sc and engg.I would like to do an mba immediately after that.Im also preparin for my gmat.As im an average student only,my options are limited.Kindly advise.

  6. olumide Says:

    Sir,
    I am currently doing an MBA and I agree that experience is an advantage but after having 5yrs experience in the legal field, I still find the modules I am being taught absolutely strange. I believe that a good MBA is the best personal develpoment anyone can give himself especially for people who want to have a career change or take on a managerial role. I think anybody planning a career change should think about getting a good internship experience whilst studying the MBA!

  7. Taylor Says:

    I went straight from my business undergraduate into a finance/international business MBA. I also held a full time job throughout 3 out of 4 years for my undergradute. Around the time that I started the MBA, I began a career as an independent contractor with an financial services company. So although I did not the “management” experience, so far I have been able to apply most of the principles that we are learning to my career now. And like it has been stated elsewhere, I might not draw in the top salaries like someone with an MBA and 4-5 experience, I am gaining that experience while I’m finishing the degree. I’m “paying my dues.” I feel as though in a few years, I will be just as or more marketable than most others in the job market. Another advantage is that I am doing my MBA at night and on the weekends, which is when most other professionals and established individuals take it as well. This gives you access to amazing networking opportunities as you have some points of commonalty with them, and you can show off your skills in the classroom. I impressed one of my classmates enough that she introduced me to her boss, and that is how I got into my last position.

  8. Brian Says:

    I will not go to any business school where they admit 22 years old college graduates, however stellar grades they earned in their college studies, as I do not want to waste time and tuition fees with those who never had real work experience as a professional.

  9. Yep Says:

    That’s rather narrowminded of you, Brian. Perhaps you’re afraid that these 22 year olds may actually compete and beat you by a long run.

  10. Ajay Shetty Says:

    Invaluable comments !

  11. Nuno Says:

    Yep, I think that Brian is correct. Experience is needed before you take an MBA, and I feel that by myself. I am 25 years old, I have 1 BSc and 2 MSc (all of them in Engineering), I studied in 3 different European countries, and I’ve been working in another European country different from all the ones where I’ve lived before. Unfortunately, my professional career only started last month, though I have been with my company for 7 months. I came to the company where I am now to do my MSc internship and I was offered a position.
    The position that I now have concerns Custommer Support (Software and Hardware) and Sales & Marketing. I like the fact that I am a multi-task person and that I can take other positions that not sitting in front of the computer programming or doing data processing. I find it important that I have such aperture, and that the people that work with me feel the same about me.

    I am already planning to take an MBA in the next 4-5 years, but first I want to get some working experience as well as money. The fact that I am now in a company has been a very enriching experience for me, because all my previous internships were in investigation institutes, which doesn’t really give you a true notion of the real world, and how competition goes out… It is important for me that everyday I give my best, because I want my company to succeed even more. Not only because I’m ambitious, but also because we have to prove that we are the best, and I obviously want to maintain my job… It’s a predators’ world!

    I see by myself how important it is to have working experience in order to take an MBA. Our company manager has an MBA, and he told me that for you in order to take benefit of it, you need at least 4 years of working experience, and after taking an MBA, you won’t be able to use all your MBA knowledge in less than 2 years… You also need working experience after your MBA in order to make it valuable and functional!

  12. khushbu patel Says:

    Sir ,I have complited Bachelor of science With chemistry and my percentage is 53 % ( gpa is 3.13. ) I have get admision in the university of FINDLAY, ohiyo. USA. But sir i have no work experince so the visa officer ask me about work experince then what can be accuse to officer.Plz suggest me .Plz reply as soon as posible .

  13. Karim Says:

    Folks,
    I have a BA in Economics of Finance & Banking and currently working for Roshan( a huge Telecommunications Company in Afghanistan ), but I still face a lot of challenges, despite, knowing most of Accounting and Finance terminoloy and theory.
    I totally believe that experience, indeed, is something that we MUST have before going to MBA. While working one can notice his/her weak points and this stage could be a good start to prepare for more real life work experiences and challenges and apply them to case studies once you are in an MBA class.

  14. akshat dhimole Says:

    Sir,I have completed my B.E in 2007 with 76%.Currently I am working as software engineer in MNC.Could you please advise me whether I can go for MBA if then please suggest me the institutes where I can apply.

  15. vishu rehan Says:

    after clearing the mba is i easily get the job?

  16. Jasmeet Says:

    I am 22 years old and i have completed my graduation (Bachelor Of Business Administration) last year. After completing my graduation i took a one year drop for preparing for the MBA entrance exams like CAT, MAT, SNAP, & CET. But now the problem is that i am not much sure about clearing any of those mentioned entrance exams. I know that i have already wasted my crucial year, but would like to have your crucial advise.
    Now i am thinking to do a job to get an experience and then will decide to do my MBA. I would like to know that what type of job should i do ,so that its experience gets counted while MBA recruitment. As i want to do MBA in Finance, so i thought it would be better if i do a job in a bank.

    Is there any other better related job? And for how many years should i work, so that i get good package after doing my MBA?

    I kindly, kindly request you to give response to my queries.

  17. Colenso Says:

    With the increasing emphasis on internationalism in the modern world of business, it’s clear that being to communicate fluently is essential. Given that all the posters here are posting in English, it follows that their command of English is likely to play a vital role in their success on any MBA program taught in English, or in any firm in which English is the language of communication.

    My advice then to most posters here is this. If you want to get on in the world, the first thing you need to do is to improve dramatically your English. But how does one do this, perhaps you ask? My answer is that to master a language you must learn from the masters. So start by reading Austen, read the Brontes, read Dickens, read Thackeray, read Greene, read Waugh, Woolf, Joyce, Lawrence, Conrad and Orwell. But don’t stop with them – this is only the beginning: learning is lifelong. It requires passion; it requires commitment; it requires choices. To read as much as one needs to read, one needs to stop wasting one’s time watching television; one needs to stop wasting one time watching sport; in short, one needs to dedicate oneself to things in life that matter. Reading, then, is a serious undertaking.

    Forget your airport fiction. Only by reading great works in a language like English may you possibly learn to appreciate the beauty of that language. Read, read and then read some more. Then, using what you have read as an example, learn how to write. Tough isn’t it? All that hard work and effort just to get on in life and make an extra buck or two.

    Too many people somehow believe that just wanting something very much is enough. It ain’t. You need commitment; you need passion; you need integrity; you need self-discipline. As well as all that, you need to educate yourself properly. Not the Mickey Mouse education that passes for education these days, but a proper education. If you don’t know the great languages of antiquity then start by teaching yourself classical Greek, Latin and ancient Hebrew. Make sure you acquire a rigorous understanding of mathematics, physics and chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology.

    Last but not least, train the body so that the mind and the soul have a fit companion. Run; swim; jump; throw; climb; wrestle: Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano (One ought to pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body).

    Most of us get what we deserve. If life is not what you feel it ought to be, then strive harder to improve not merely your own life but also the lives of those around you. Then change the world.

  18. Colenso Says:

    My apologies. I should have written of course:

    “… it’s clear that being able to communicate fluently is essential.”

    Being able to proof-read one’s own work and pick up mistakes before, rather than after, one has posted, is probably also an essential skill in the online world in which we live…

  19. trandahl Says:

    Interesting comments. Colenso… I have been reading [translated] works from Montaigne, Rousseau, Augustine, etc. I can’t help but fall in love with their “dated” understandings of education– they merely read. And they loved it.
    I have been looking into graduate schools as well, but, sometimes I find the prospect silly. When I read about other posters’ motivations and reasons for pursuing these degrees, the answer usually boils down to money.
    I’ve been reading the Bible, too. Jesus had some crazy views on money… “Do not store up treasure for yourself on earth…”
    Hmm…
    What else is worth living for?
    Passion. Fervor. Zeal. Commitment.
    Who remembers these?
    Who cares about becoming an I-banker, if it is merely a means to a retirement and a boar in the Keys? Ah, the ideology behind some of my peers’ claims… irks me, to say the least.

  20. sharma Says:

    I am an undergrad in final year engg and i want to get an mba immediately after my engg.could you please give me a list of colleges which accept international students without prior work exp.

  21. ajay Says:

    I’m from India, a graduate in engineering in Electronics & Communications and have 2 years of experience in the IT field as a Software Engineer. I’ld like to do an MBA in IT/Systems Management (MIS) in the US. Will my experience hold good? What are the top US universities for this specialisation?

  22. Full-time Job After Graduation or Start Work on an M.B.A Says:

    […] many business-school officials don’t agree. Many M.B.A. programs require students to work for a few years first before starting their studies. This way, say officials, students get more out of the program and have more to offer other […]

  23. GMAT MBA Prep Says:

    agree with this, and I would second it. You, your classmates and your teachers will benefit from you work experience when in class discussion.

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