I met with an MBA applicant last week who is still working her way through a top ten undergrad program. She is dead-set on matriculating into an MBA program immediately after she graduates and wanted my advice. In short, I told her to wait. Want to know why? Read on…
One of the most important things to realize about an MBA education, is that you extract about as much from your classmates as you do from the academics. In fact, the entire premise of the degree was designed around this simple structure: Bring together experienced and ambitious professionals and let them work together to learn the very best practices in business. The very simple reason why your work experience is so important is not about you, it’s about what someone else can get from you. If you have little to offer, you will not find the same love and respect from your classmates as everyone else in your cohort is enjoying. But it gets worse…
The second reason why work experience is so critical is because the recruiters who travel across the country to hire from your school are expecting to find not only top students, but also students with valuable work experience.
Who do you think will be more competitive in the recruiting process, an MBA grad from your school who also has five years of experience, or an MBA grad from your school who has zero post-undergrad experience? Trust me, for recruiters, it's a no-brainer.
Now I am not saying it’s impossible to get hired post MBA or to even be selected to attend a top program with little or no professional experience under your belt, but I am saying it’s not likely. I spoke to an admissions officer last week after my conversation with the applicant, just to make sure I was not giving bad advice, after all, this applicant is a really good student and has impressive achievements. The adcom member told me out of the entire time he has worked at this school (which I will not name, but it’s a top 20 program), he has seen exactly zero applicants accepted without work experience. With all the qualified applicants out there, it simply makes it too easy for them to tell folks without experience to come back next year. Think of it like the 12 year old who tries out for one of those reality singing shows on TV…the judges know the likelihood of them returning next year is high, so they’d rather give the slot to someone who has earned it more.
Do some schools bring in a few students directly out of undergrad? Yes. Could you be that one this year? Maybe. But have you considered that even if a school were to let you in, it may still not be the right decision?
This brings me to the last reason you should avoid trying to go back to business school without work experience, and this time, the reason really is all about you. By working a few years, you will learn more about yourself, discover what you like about the workplace, and ultimately become more confident in your vision, goals and post-MBA pursuits. And the most important thing of all? You’ll likely learn as much about what you don’t like as what you do. And that’s some valuable stuff. Do yourself a favor and get out there in the real world and log a few laps. You'll be glad you did in the end.