International MBA with little or no work experience?

by chirag on October 2, 2011

Front Cover of the book

Many Indians aspiring for a place in good international MBA programs start getting impatient and end up applying too early. Then when the inevitable rejection email comes in, there’s a whole lot of disappointment to deal with. The general misconception in the minds of many young applicants is that it doesn’t make sense continuing to work in the corporate world, if they anyway plan to leave it all to get an MBA degree. Why waste time working, when you can improve your job prospects faster using an MBA course and target better companies for better roles, designations and salary. Right? Wrong!

Most applicants who think that way are those who have tried their luck at cracking the application process for  Indian B Schools (CAT for IIMs and other 2 year courses) and haven’t had much luck. They turn their attention to international programs and assume that the application process works more or less in the same way.

But the important thing to realise is that the top international programs insist on work experience as a pre-requisite. The professional exposure is important not just to get in, but also to get the best out of their investment.

If you talk to people who have got admits from the good schools, you will find a majority of them have spent time building up their work-experience. You would also find a few who had less work experience, but still managed to get in. But these are exceptions rather than the rule. They might have had some other factors that went in their favour. There are reasons why you should spend a few years getting a decent amount of real-world experience before you decide to target the international business schools.

For a domestic Indian MBA programs, pre-MBA work experience is not the primary criterion and you can proceed with it immediately after graduation. However the process is quite different for an international MBA program. Here you need to leverage your pre-MBA work experience highlighting your meritorious achievements, professional accomplishments and leadership qualities at work. Business schools look out for potential candidates who can add value to their school and also benefit the most from the program. So if you want the b-school to consider you as a suitable candidate, you need to have some industry knowledge and hands-on experience in your chosen career field.

In an international MBA classroom, a significant amount of the learning will be practical and collaborative in nature. Of course, there will be the usual lecture based teaching as well, but you would still need to draw upon your experiences from the professional world. You would be involved in group projects, role-playing, simulations and case study discussions. The case study method is quite widely adopted by many business schools. You would get a (simulated or real) business scenario with some issue or problem faced by a company. The case study material will be loaded with tons of data and facts. You are required to evaluate it, use your knowledge and judgement based on your previous experience and present your opinion on how you would tackle the situation. Through these various interactive sessions, you get to know diverse points of view which give you different perspectives of handling various corporate situations. You should be in a position to get involved in these discussions and not feel completely lost. The MBA journey can be a mutual learning experience if each student is able to gain (and provide) significant inputs from/to the class.

Most schools will expect a minimum of around three years of work-experience, but the average in most top schools would be close to five years. More than just the number of years, the quality of work-ex is also important. It’ll help you tackle the bschool ‘essays’ (an essential part of MBA applications) that ask you to talk about your managerial and leadership exposure.

When you consider overseas educational options, there’s a lot at stake. So take a step back and learn more about how international MBA applications work. Apply only when you are confident that you have what it takes to compete in an international arena.

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This is a guest post by Sameer Kamat, founder of MBA Crystal Ball, an admissions consulting venture. He completed his MBA from the University of Cambridge on a double scholarship. He is also the author of the bestseller Beyond The MBA Hype, described in the media as a book that ‘systematically and effectively demolishes the notion that an MBA is a magic wand that will change your life.’ This article is based on the book.

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