Work Experience for Business School: How Much Do You Need?
Leadership talent is developed and honed through work experience – or so the theory goes. While many business schools don't have formal requirements for the number of years of work experience to apply, the unstated rule is that you should have at least two years. In fact, admits at top business schools have an average of four to five years of full-time work experience. The more work experience for business school, the better! When you start getting nearing the 10-year mark, consider Executive MBA programs which are designed for a more experienced student base.
What Expertise Do You Bring?
Applicants are expected to bring a certain expertise to the classroom that enriches the discussion. When reading a case about opening a Coca Cola bottling plant in Kenya, for example, a student with a finance background might raise the IRR and capex requirements of the project, whereas a student with a marketing background might discuss pricing and promotion issues. Since management is not a science, business schools prize the rich discussion that emerges from having a diversity of perspectives.
Years of Work Experience
Having four to five years of work experience is the sweet spot when applying to top business schools. However, quality can trump quantity. You should ask yourself the following questions: Have I had significant impact in my organization or community? Have I served as a leader? Have I grown as an individual? When evaluating leadership potential, business schools look to both traditional forms of leadership (e.g., managing a team), as well as other types, such as managing upward or having an ethical backbone. This isn't to say that you can't apply to business school straight after your undergraduate studies, but it is rare.
Oversubscribed / Undersubscribed Professions
Schools seek a well-rounded student body and this is evidenced by the range of backgrounds represented in a typical classroom. Business school students hail from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from doctors, entrepreneurs, strategy consultants, investment bankers, brand managers, government officials, and non-profit folk. If you come from one of the oversubscribed profession like investment banking or management consulting, however, the bar will be higher. The best way to stand out from the competition is to come from an undersubscribed background and/or have a unique set of work experience for business school, such having worked overseas or held leadership positions at an early age.