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Preparing for Your MBA: Work Experience Tips

17 Dec

Among the numerous prerequisites to applying for your MBA, work experience can be one of the most challenging to define. Whereas GMAT scores are easily quantifiable and your undergraduate GPA is likely already established by the time you’ll be applying to business school, it can be difficult to gauge whether the professional experience you possess is enough to impress an admissions committee.

Read our answers to some common questions about MBA work experience requirements and start planning how to best strategize your business school application.

How much work experience do I need?

The answer to this question can vary significantly between different business schools and different types of MBA programs. Some business schools offer MBA programs designed to help early-career professionals and recent graduates build essential workplace skills and business knowledge to launch them on their career journey. Programs of this nature will often have no work experience requirement. On the other end of the spectrum, executive MBA programs exist for seasoned managers who want to take that last step to the top of the corporate ladder. Executive MBA programs often require between five and 10 years of work experience.

Most conventional MBA programs fall somewhere in between. A common work experience requirement for MBA admissions is at least two years of professional work experience. Many programs consider this to be a sufficient amount of time for you to develop important soft skills like interpersonal communication and time management, and to get an idea of what area of the business world you want to work in and what kinds of roles you’re interested in pursuing. This is the standard amount of work experience required to apply for the Online MBA program at William & Mary, which the program’s faculty believes will adequately prepare you for the intellectual challenges of their unique business curriculum.

What counts as professional experience?

Generally speaking, “professional work experience” describes any sort of role in a business organization or office setting. Depending on the industry, these could include entry-level positions such as research assistant, junior associate, copywriter, designer, lab technician or analyst. More advanced roles like team leads and account managers count as well. While this is not an exhaustive list, it should give you an idea of the kind of roles business schools are expecting to see when they look at your resume.

For early-career applicants to business school, it is important to note that internships in reputable organizations generally can be counted as professional experience. As long as you have spent time learning the structure of a company, its business goals and the day-to-day realities of working in an office setting, your admissions committee will take that experience into consideration.

Does it matter what industry I work in?

It does not! Most business schools value diversity in their MBA program cohorts, and they welcome students from all professional backgrounds who can share their unique experiences and challenges with their classmates. As long as you are familiar with the ins and outs of the professional world, it’s likely your work experience will be positively received by your MBA admissions committee.

A partial exception to this rule may be if you are interested in pursuing a specific concentration or an MBA with a focus in a particular business area like marketing or finance. But even if you’re pursuing your business degree to pivot into a field in which you do not currently work, schools will often offer optional pre-program courses that can get you up to speed on the fundamentals of your new chosen career path so you can hit the ground running in your coursework.

What if I don’t have enough work experience?

Many business schools are somewhat flexible regarding their expectation of professional work experience prior to enrollment. They may take your prior academic accomplishments into account when reviewing your admission file. In particular, if you have another advanced degree like a J.D. or a Ph.D. or if you studied business as an undergraduate, they may view this as sufficient evidence of your ability to succeed in the graduate-level coursework their program offers.

Regardless, if you are truly committed to earning an MBA, it is worth your time to contact an advisor or other admissions professional at your business school of choice to have them review your background and evaluate where they think you stand in terms of potential admission. They may simply advise you to ensure that the rest of your admissions file is airtight and too compelling to ignore, so be sure to request recommendations from credible sources who will write glowingly on your behalf, write a strong and persuasive admissions essay, and be prepared to speak eloquently about your accomplishments and professional goals in an interview setting.

Does volunteering count?

Volunteering, such as time you may have spent after college in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, typically does not count as professional work experience in the eyes of MBA admissions committees. That said, it is still generally looked upon very favorably as a testament to your character and commitment. Past volunteer efforts should absolutely be included in the resume you submit as part of your application, and feel free to bring up your volunteer work in an interview setting if you feel it’s pertinent to a question you have been asked.

Augment Your Experience With Expertise at William & Mary

The Online MBA program at William & Mary trains professionals from all fields and backgrounds in the essential decision-making mindset of a Renaissance Manager. Master design thinking with W&M’s renowned faculty of business experts and prepare to step into a dynamic and rewarding leadership role.