Evaluating — and Improving — Your Work Experience Before Applying to Business School: PART 1

There are three primary aspects to an MBA candidacy:

  1. The academic
  2. The personal
  3. The professional

By the time most people are ready to apply to b-school, their academic profile is set in stone. If your undergraduate GPA and GMAT scores are above the median of admits to your targeted school, then you have a much greater chance at success.

If your personal profile showcases leadership, international exposure, language skills, etc., you'll seem like a strong candidate in the eyes of the admissions committees.

But what about your professional profile? How can you tell if your work experience is a strength or a weakness?

And, if it seems like a weakness, what can you do about it before applying to b-school? Having advised over 3,500 applicants who have targeted the world's leading MBA programs, the MBA Exchange has a solid handle on assessing and improving work experience.

In evaluating your professional background, there are four dimensions to consider:

Duration: how long have you been employed full-time?

Most admitted applicants at top-tier schools have at least 2-5 years of work experience. Less experience raises doubts about real-world exposure that you’d share with classmates. Having even more experience can "raise the bar" in terms of what the admissions committee expects from such an applicant.

Role: what do you do and with whom do you interact?

The scope of responsibilities and level at which you operate are both important. An analyst who is stuck in a workstation all day, crunching numbers, and dealing only with entry-level associates is going to be a far less attractive candidate than a fast-track executive who serves in a more strategic capacity, shows greater independence and accountability, and interacts directly with managers and/or clients.

Impact: what are your tangible, quantified, results?

Job responsibilities and activities are not enough to impress b-schools. Measuring and presenting the positive differences that you, as an individual, make for your team, your company, and/or your customers, is essential. By showing the admissions committee the bottom line value that you deliver, you will score big points for your candidacy.

Prestige: where do you work and will that impress the business school?

Some companies’ recognition give their employees an undeniable edge when applying for an MBA. There are well-known "feeders": top managing consulting firms, investment banks, and technology companies, whose employees are admitted more often than individuals who work for unknown employers. Anyone who believes otherwise is ignoring historic reality.

Read Part Two of of this article to get Dan Bauer’s advice on how to strengthen your professional weaknesses before you apply to business school.