A minute for your feedback please

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Do experienced candidates really deserve preference in today's 2yr MBA scenario?

Whenever there are debates about the utility of a MBA, the question comes up of work experience. Theorists like Mintzberg argue that MBA should  be offered to candidates with atleast 3-4yrs work experience, and that too part time, allowing the candidate to apply learning directly on the job. While global MBA programs already offer such an option, the focus of this post is the value that experienced candidates bring to the table vis-a-vis freshers in 2yr MBA programs. In 1yr MBA programs, admissions are anyway restricted to candidates with atleast 5yrs+ experience(ISB) or 8-9yrs(IIM-A)

The conventional arguments for giving preference to experienced candidates vis-a-vis freshers is
  1. Unlike freshers, they would(hopefully) have more goal clarity about WHY they want to do a MBA. But the counter to this would be that they are taking the easy way out of career stagnation, or simply that even they are attracted more by 'filthy lucre' than the genuine desire to change streams. 
  2. Having worked in an organization before, their perspectives on the 'softer aspects' like group dynamics, organization politics, change management etc will rub off on their group mates, and also help in giving a non financial perspective to class discussions and case analysis. The counter argument is that those who have been part of ANY organization(including clubs, associations) will bring the same value.
  3. Their sector expertise(gained by working in XYZ field) will add value to class discussions. This of course, would apply to those with a minimum threshold of work experience-I think 1-2yrs just does not cut it. This could also lead to 'cross fertilization' of ideas when people from different backgrounds and expertise interact. They could work on consulting projects etc and add value
  4. They will take away more value from the MBA program because they can relate it easily to their previous experience. This may not hold for very experienced candidates whose mindset may be fixed. So institutes like IIM Bangalore have the maximum work exp weights for candidates with 3yrs experience, after which the score for work exp keeps reducing. Also, this point focus more on the life experience of the candidate(which goes WAY beyond work exp alone). 
The only strong point remaining is the sector expertise part. To that, the technological advances negating the work exp advantages are
  1. HowStuffWorks is a site which explains the technical details of processes in simple to understand language. So for that operations case describing steel making, you no longer need a chemical engineer to describe it to the class. Just open the site and look at the animations/videos.
  2. YouTube has a plethora of videos for both technical aspects and marketing aspects as well. 
  3. There are amply biographies/non fiction books(like Eli Goldratt's books) which give a flavour of the practitioners work. Of course, value accrues only to those who take out that time to read. 
  4. Where faculty have that industry background/awareness, then the necessity of students having it is reduced.
I agree that ceteris-paribus, experienced candidates may still add more value to the class than freshers. But in this tech savvy world, this is much harder to substantiate.


  1. Could not agree more. So work ex is over-rated, unless:
    1) the field is difficult to understand via youtube/ textbooks on your own.
    E.g. work ex of a trader certainly adds value to those who interact with him.
    2) OB courses - where organizational structure / HR policies are discussed - no amount of club/ event experience of freshers can compensate for this.

  2. You could even argue that the value added by an IIM-A PGP degree itself is hard to substantiate in today's tech savy world.

  3. @Miheer-Agreed
    @NonDesiIndian- The proof of the pudding is in the eating..so the results(placements/reputations/alumni/rankings) do substantiate it. And if you read my post carefully, this does not make a reference to IIMA's PGP program in particular, but to the 2yr MBA generally. That said, it does add value because you can either take a plethora of 1 week courses or you can go for the 2yr program. But thats not the topic of this post.

  4. @Miheer/AnandH
    A Harvard class' average age is 27, and IIM-A's is around 22-23. I think the focus we place on different aspects of learning from an MBA-program is fundamentally different due to that. Work-exp people get more value due to the their life experiences, not due to the nature of their previous work.

    A "tech-savvy world" can only help reduce information-asymmetry. An MBA program is never meant to give you "knowledge" in the conventional sense. An MBA-program, anywhere in the world, is a value-add.

    The only question is - is there anything ELSE I can do for 2 years which will be a higher value-add? That depends on the individual.

  5. @Anandh: the value add of work-ex depends on the type of industry and specifically the nature of work. It's the fault of the Indian education system that churns out disappointed software engineers who turn to MBA as a last option.
    that said, If the work profiles are diverse enough you would clearly see the effect of the work ex. This is probably why foreign b schools lay such stress on the work profile of the class.

  6. Hey Anandh: i have a long reply for your article .So i dedicated an entire post in my blog.. http://kiddo-iima.blogspot.com/2011/03/do-experienced-candidates-really.html

  7. Strongly disagree...The importance of work experience can only be bought to the table by someone who has been there and done that.

    A little more rigorous research from your end would have got you the correct answers to your questions.

    The arguments you have made are rooted in flimsy logic and emotional grounds.

  8. @Anindya-you have not refuted a single point. And merely stating that only 'someone who has been there and done that' can opine on workexp is incorrect. This post is based majorly on my observations of work exp guys in my batch. While I do appreciate several of their contributions, the overall theme of this post still stands. And a more robust response would be better rather than calling 'flimsy' or 'emotional'.