Applying to an MBA program is an in-depth process that asks each applicant to thoroughly review his or her experiences—academic, professional, and personal—and share those with the admissions team. The MBA program application process, in particular, looks at prior work experience when evaluating which students will most benefit from a master’s of business administration degree in today’s fast-changing, and ever-demanding, business environment.
Read on to learn how your work experiences benefit you during the MBA application process and beyond.
Why do MBA admissions officers care about work experience?
If you’ve looked at a few different programs’ application requirements, you’ve noticed a common thread: MBA programs require a resume to apply. Why do MBA admissions officers evaluate an applicant’s previous work experience when deciding who to admit?
Simply put, MBA programs admit students who have proven, through prior work experience, they can handle the rigors of MBA degree coursework. Additionally, a program’s alumni are expected to perform well in business. Work experience gained before program entry is a great indicator as to whether or not an applicant has the potential to excel in both respects.
When reviewing candidates’ work experiences, MBA admissions officials are keeping a keen eye out for professional instances of growth, discipline, and leadership.1 MBA officers also tend to look for the quality of an applicant’s work over the sheer quantity of the jobs and positions held.
MBA resumes should list all of your professional experiences and provide details about any years you spent in supervisory, managerial, and/or leadership roles. A comprehensive resume that emphasizes the quality of your work experiences—and not just the quantity of those experiences—helps accurately portray your complete work history to admissions committees.
Candidates who can show their ability to master their MBA course materials as well as demonstrate what they’ve done to make an impact in the business world, through a well-crafted resume, are likely to catch the approving eye and attention of busy MBA admissions officers.
How much work experience should you have when you apply for an MBA?
Good news! The types of jobs a prospective student has held and the quality of those roles is far more important to the program admissions committee than the start and end dates of those roles.
In some instances, MBA candidates with only a handful of years of professional experiences gained in roles that show meaningful responsibility and authority within their respective companies are a better fit for a competitive MBA program when compared to candidates with full resumes and a plethora of jobs but who also lack but show little professional growth in terms of responsibilities.
There are helpful statistical averages to review concerning the number of years of work and age MBA applicants bring to certain MBA programs. According to U.S. News & World Report, the following average years of prior work experience and average age can be linked to the following MBA concentrations:
- Full-time MBA: 4.1 years of work experience, 26.5 years old
- Part-Time MBA: 6.7 years of work experience, 30 years old
- Executive MBA: 13.5 years of work experience, 37 years old1
As noted above, different MBA programs commonly cater to students of different ages and, therefore, different amounts of professional experience. For example, full-time MBA students are likely to be younger, have graduated more recently from undergraduate institutions, and are less likely to have much professional experience on average. On the flip side of the work experience coin, executive MBA students, who trend older, are more likely to have many years of post-undergraduate work experience to cite on a resume and subsequent MBA application.
In summary, most traditional MBA programs are looking for three to five years of work experience for applicants, as a starting point. However, depending on the trajectory of your career at the time you apply, you may have more or less work experience to cite than the average—and still, be an optimal candidate for admission. Candidates who would like to continue working, keep career momentum and maintain an upward professional trajectory while they obtain their MBAs are ideal applicants for a respected online MBA program with important ties to the world of business.
What type of work experience do MBA admissions officers look for?
Generally speaking, MBA admissions officers want to see candidates who have been working on an upward path. They’ll be looking for work experiences that support growth, learning, and opportunities for greater leadership roles in your work history.
Additionally, today’s MBA admissions officers are not looking to admit only one particular type of candidate who checks all of the proverbial work history “boxes” of leadership, growth, and skill-building at a set job of their preference.
Candidate work experience diversity is considered wonderfully beneficial to a modern MBA program and admissions officers are seeking to fill incoming cohorts with well-rounded students who bring a myriad of skills and experiences to the MBA education table. For today’s MBA candidates, the more experiences, the better!
Your job, as an MBA candidate, is to effectively portray your distinct work experience as having provided you with the following:
- Professional progression and upward movement in your career
- Longevity and endurance in the workplace
- Business leadership acumen and ability
- Beneficial, lasting impact for your employer, customer, industry, etc.
Best ways to highlight your work experience for an MBA
It’s best to make full use of the standard opportunities in the MBA application process to showcase previous work experience.
Resumes only do the work of showing what you’ve achieved. That being said, remember to keep your resume clear and concise, noting the experiences that prove your business leadership qualifications.
In your essay, share how your work achievements helped you grow and how they made an impact at your company. Articulate how your experiences are informing your decisions to pursue an MBA. Display how earning your MBA degree, backed by your experience, to date, will help you advance your overall career.
If an interview is required, be sure to discuss the work experiences holistically, fleshing out anything important that’s not covered in your resume or essay. Give life to your listed accomplishments and provide context as well. Include any notable challenges you’ve overcome and victories you’ve enjoyed that make you a stronger candidate for admission.
MBA work experience: beyond the application
Having work experience not only helps you apply to graduate school, it also helps you as you undertake the rigorous MBA coursework and then look to land a post-graduation job.
Many MBA courses ask students to employ prior knowledge and work experiences to contribute value to class discussions and successfully complete lessons and group (or cohort) project work. As MBA Director Professor Nick Dahan points out, "An MBA education is not like a Bachelor's education where students learn mostly from their instructor, regardless of the student's past experiences. In an MBA program, students learn not only from their instructor but also from their classmates who all bring and share their professional experiences, providing a richness of industry and functional insights. And as a student, your own professional experiences help you make sense of the program material in every class."
Once you’ve obtained your MBA degree from an online program like CSUMB Online MBA, hiring managers will take into account the work experiences you’ve gained during your MBA studies when considering if you can fill the role.
With an online MBA program, you have the flexibility to maintain positive career momentum while you earn your degree. Build your professional resume, MBA-affiliated network, and business leadership skills as you learn responsible business practices and valuable leadership skills. You also have the unique opportunity to apply classroom learning to the real-world workplace.
Transform your future
Create the career and the life you want with the Responsible Business Online MBA from California State University, Monterey Bay. Keep advancing your career work as you earn your MBA with our 100% online curriculum which focuses on the increasing role and importance of responsible business.