17 December 2015 14:12:12 IST

Why work experience is critical for an MBA now

While work experience is not mandatory in Indian B-schools, this is likely to change soon

In the last few years, an opinion has been gaining ground in India that work experience makes for a better MBA or a more useful academic experience.

Such a view is not without foundation. A higher education degree like an MBA, and a professional qualification at that, requires the end output — the MBA graduate — to go into the workplace and add considerably more value to the organisation she/he joins, than most others without similar professional qualifications.

Greater contribution

B-schools say that candidates with work experience contribute significantly to enhance the quality of learning at school, through their experience and the insights they bring. This is increasingly reflected in the mix of candidates being admitted into the country’s major B-schools.

Going by the above table, over two-thirds of the students in any major B-school have work experience. Given the inherent bias towards those with an engineering qualification, one can hazard a guess that the bulk of the new students would be engineers with work experience, that too in select industries like IT/BPO and manufacturing.

B-schools, therefore, have the challenge of ensuring diversity. But that is a different topic for another day.

Globally too, it is skewed in favour of those with work experience, which is a major criterion for getting admission into an MBA programme across the world.

Work ex and GMAT: Inversely proportional

An analysis on a career site throws up quite a startling fact. “A closer study of the average GMAT scores (http://www.studyabroad.careers360.com/gmat-scores-top-business-schools-usa) and average work experience of students in top B-schools across the world reveals a rather interesting analysis — that average work experience for MBA programmes is, by and large, inversely proportional to the average GMAT score required.

Here is a comparison between the two on percentile basis:

Most top American B-schools require four to five years of work experience; Europe requires four years and above. So too most top Asian B-schools, excluding India. In India, top B-schools like a minimum of two years work experience.

In such a scenario, a person without work experience may feel discouraged. There would be huge concerns about fitting in, being able to compete with the more experienced batchmates, a perceived inability to practically connect class theory to real life, and contributing meaningfully to overall batch learning.

The Indian scenario

In the Indian context, there are a number of students who prefer to complete their education in one go, right up to the post graduate level. Parents too want to help their children reach a level where they are meaningfully employed.

Plus, it is only the really committed ones who are able to get back to studies after working someplace; financial and other pressures act as a major barrier for those who want to pursue higher education.

So what can be done to enable a student with no work experience? Given the rather sorry state of undergraduate education in India, it is the B-schools which can plug the huge gaps through pedagogy, having faculty with work experience, greater industry interaction and engagement and exposure to real life, practical learning for the students.

Ground reality

Currently, our MBA curriculum in most universities is largely flawed, as it emphasises rote learning, rather than on applying concepts or on hands-on experience. There is no “different strokes for different folks” approach that takes into account the differing needs of students or industry. There is largely a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum. Most students don’t really get an in-depth understanding of any discipline.

Nor do most business schools make a conscious effort to bridge the gap between theory and practice. A study in 2012 by Aspiring Minds found that many of India’s over 3,000 B-schools don’t teach their students basic skills like communication — so essential for getting management jobs! And less than half the students tested had some knowledge of key industry terms and concepts related to their areas of specialisation.

Net result — most of our MBAs are “unemployable”.

The verdict

Given the overall scenario, from a student’s perspective therefore, it makes sense to gain at least two years work experience after their undergraduate course, decide on their future career goals and accordingly, choose a post-graduate course in the right institution.

If you still wish to go for an MBA right after your basic degree, then grab as many chances as you can during your undergrad course to do internships and get practical experience or training.

Finally, it may be better not to blindly go in for just any MBA. It is akin to doing a BA (English) in the vernacular; you’ll end up with a degree, but with no degree of real capability.