How does your work experience uplift the scope of selection to a good B-school?
Prof. Kalyan C Chejarla
Management as a formal education course has its roots in many functional disciplines such as economics, finance, social sciences, psychology and behavioral sciences, quantitative methods, industrial engineering etc. The post-graduate program in management is offered in many different models with the duration of anywhere from 12 to 24 months.
One of the ongoing challenge management educationalists face is the right balance between rigor and relevance. Generally, methods and tools oriented course content are said to be rigorous and case-based course content co-taught with industry practitioners is said to be relevant. There is a continuous and ongoing evolution of both the methods and practices, making the task of achieving and maintaining the balance of rigor and relevance daunting. The course content and pedagogy of majority of business schools is influenced by the case-based approach popularized by Harvard Business School since the turn of 20th century.
Much of management education is about teaching decision-making. Decision-making is often confused with problem solving, leading to a myopic view of management. The boundaries, assumptions and the characteristics of the problem are well defined in a problem solving setting. In other words, problem-solving deals with a cut and dry laboratory model of a real life problem. Besides, problem solving does not necessarily deal with what and how of pre and post problem solving phases. These phases are important from the implementation perspective. On the other hand, decision-making has a larger perspective with innumerable nuances in each of its stages starting from problem identification all the way to decision implementation and internalization of lessons learnt. Thus, when one considers a sanitized problem, it may appear that identifying and implementing the optimal solution is easy enough, but many managers would vouch that most real-life decisions are satisfying rather than optimal. Fresh and bright graduates could quickly get proficient at problem solving once they learn the mechanics of the methods. However, one cannot say the same about instilling the same level of proficiency when they need to deal with larger decision-making, a core responsibility of a manager.
Further, it is well known that only a relatively fewer number of problem solving techniques / methods are sufficient to apply to a large number of situations. Managers with a holistic understanding of the situation can make a correct choice of tool to be used. Therefore, beyond certain codified knowledge, as one grows in an organization it is the combination of application of tools / methods and tacit knowledge of the organizational situation, which matters.
It is with this backdrop we need to look at the contribution of suitably experienced students bring to the overall program. An experienced individual (regardless of the domain, function or sector) would have been exposed to some phases of decision making in her organization, and therefore would be tuned to accept, adapt to and learn from reality from her surroundings. As one works in an organization with a larger purpose, one acquires both explicit knowledge (in the form of codified in problem solving algorithms) and tacit knowledge (which is not directly visible nor is it the same for different individuals). This tacit knowledge helps the students with experience intuitively appreciate the concerns, goals and objectives of the protagonist and other stakeholders in a case / business concept discussion in the classroom. The resulting discussion is richer, wider and deeper than what it would have been, if it was narrowly limited to the method and the solution to the sanitized problem. Therefore, good business schools always give priority to students with past experience, provided (a) one has met other academic, aptitude and communications criteria, and (b) the experience is presented in a positive light. i.e., student has purposefully planned a certain level of experience prior to business education instead of presenting job as a mere stop-gap arrangement before getting admission to a business school of choice.
There are however, some caveats. There are some scenarios where work-experience may be seen in negative light by the admission panels of business schools. These are:
- Change of too many organizations: If the applicant has changed more than one organization in a year for multiple years in a row i.e., if the number of jobs are more than number of years of experience, it is seen as the lack of stability or adaptability. This lack of adaptability could cause disharmony in group dynamics during the course of the program.
- Experience in own organization / Experience while studying / Work without pay / Internships: These types of experiences are not necessarily entirely discounted apriori. However, the applicant must demonstrate that the environment was professional, commitment was total and learning was encouraged in these types of experiences. Failing this, there may be a complete or partial discount of the applicant’s experience.
- Too much of work experience: More than 7 years of work-experience is generally a positive criteria for executive programs, where the focus is in training the students in general management so that their functional experience is enhanced. Business schools offering two year residential management programs consider applicants with 5 or less number of years of work-experience in a positive light, where the focus is achieving quality peer-learning and provide moldable resource to potential recruiters.
- Too niche work experience: Applicants with too niche experience in sectors such as merchant navy, education, or with individual contributor roles such as artist, trainer etc., will need to pay special attention to the points mentioned earlier in this paper and create interview pointers to demonstrate that there were suitable learning opportunities during their work-experience.
Lastly, one of the commonly cited reasons for joining MBA by applicant with prior experience is that they would like to change their career path / industry. MBA indeed provides such an avenue for the applicants, but one should be aware that the potential campus recruiters may not consider the entire experience as relevant, especially if the experience is in too niche a sector or for longer than 3 years. Applicants should be open-minded to accept the compromise initially to gain entry into the sector of their choice and prove their mettle at work in the long run.
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