The Dichotomy of Work Experience before MBA

Walk into the introductory session of any class in any B-school, and a quintessential question that you would hear would be – “How many of you here have had the experience of working in an organization before?”. It must be duly noted that the afore-mentioned issue does not only arise in such classes, but quietly keeps tapping on our shoulders ever since we start thinking about pursuing an MBA degree. Separate points for work experience in the many entrance examinations and that too distributed non-uniformly across the duration of it – the entire mathematics that goes behind it is simply mind-boggling! But the importance of this coveted parameter can be truly judged once life in a B-school is underway.

The bone of contention here is really to debate whether prior work experience adds substantial value in a B-school. Being one of the few who joined an MBA programme ‘fresh’ out of college, I shall sincerely try and present as much of an unbiased view of the situation as possible. If we conduct a pilot survey of the students who have joined B-schools from some industry and ask them their reason for doing so, a sizeable chunk would come out saying that they felt that without an MBA their growth in the company and consequently, their career trajectory was attaining saturation. A fair point which can be better worded by saying that it was their understanding of corporate dynamics and business nuances which motivated them to go for an MBA.

This can be extended to the participation of these people in the classroom discussions which are facilitated by the professor. The pedagogical style in most B-school follow the case-study approach where either real life or fictitious cases are used to explain business concepts. It is here that the ‘experienced’ bunch finds their happy hunting grounds! Each person brings in instances and/or incidents from their respective ex-organization into the discussion which they feel are relevant to the case in context. There is no inkling of any doubt that they raise the quality of the discussion going on. But a flipside which often surfaces is that it becomes a tussle of ‘your-company-vs-mine’ and the concept that the professor intended to illustrate, gets somewhat lost in translation.

But what really serves as a boost is the quality of peer learning which happens when people with diversity in terms of professional background, come together. Generally, an MBA class is populated with students with a science or a technological background. Not much can come out in terms of business discussion if the clutter were not broken by the experienced lot. Their insights and more importantly, their approaches can be gleaned by the newbies and can serve as footholds if the lectures become too difficult to comprehend. Also, since industry veterans have already worked in teams and might also have led a few in their organizations, they are automatically expected to gel well in their respective project groups that get formed during the MBA journey.

Now let me talk about another important aspect where prior work experience assumes a major role – and that is, placements. Due to the paucity of space, I shall only talk about jobs in the Marketing domain and the other sectors can be fodder for a debate some other time! Be it Summer Internship interviews or Final Placements, a common question that most experienced people have to face is – “So you have already worked for X years. Do you think that you would be able to fit well in a Marketing role?”. This question is actually a disguised trigger for all the strategic and tactical knowledge earned thus far, to come into play. The onus is on the candidate to explain and convince the recruiter that having worked previously has not moulded his mind to follow a fixed or a set approach, and that creativity and open-mindedness is still his forte. On the contrary, whatever he has learned so far can be a wonderful complement to what the organization expects of him. To the benefit of the company, he would not require too much hand-holding either at least as far as adhering to common corporate etiquette was concerned.

Hence, it can be concluded that having worked somewhere prior to joining a B-school can be both a boon and a bane, depending on the context which comes up. But truth be told, it is never a hindrance to achieving a person’s goals and objectives. Yes, one thing that might bother an experienced individual is that a student who had enrolled in the programme fresh out of an undergraduate institution and is few years younger to him, is able to walk away along with him with the same job and the same compensation package in the same company. But if he can tune his ego down, passionately follow what he believes in, and focus on the ends – age would just be a number in his career.

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