Your Work Experience Good Enough?

In the last “episode” of Essentials Of An Awesome App, we asked the question, “Do you have enough extra-curricular or volunteer experience?” Today we’re going to stick to the “do you have enough” vein, but this time shift our attention to work experience.

There are two ways to measure work experience—quantitatively and qualitatively. For the purpose of the MBA application, you’ll want to focus more on your qualitative experience. The question you need to answer is not “how many jobs have you held?” but “what have you accomplished?”

In this post we’ll discuss the following two scenarios: inadequate work experience and frequent job switching.

Case #1: You have below average work experience.

While we’ve just explained that quality is more important than quantity, that shouldn’t suggest that quantity is a non-issue. On the contrary, most top MBA programs are looking for applicants who have been in the workforce for at least two years, and sometimes as many as five or six years. If you have less than two years of work experience, you’ll need to ask yourself whether now is really the best time to apply. For most applicants in this situation, we’d probably recommend that they wait a year or two until they’ve got more work experience (quantitative and qualitative) under their belts. However, if you target the right schools and vividly demonstrate the following five factors in your MBA application essays, resume, and recommendations, then you may still have a shot at getting into a top business school:

  1. Affirmative, practical reasons for applying at this specific time.
  1. Outstanding professional growth.
  2. Exceptional impact, leadership, achievement.
  3. Maturity.
  4. Ability to contribute socially and academically to the program.

Now let’s say you do have the right number of years of work experience, but the quality of your experience is less than impressive. What should you do in this case? In this scenario you’ve got three options: You can quickly work to cram in more job responsibilities at your current job (like assuming more of a leadership role, taking on new projects, seeking promotion, etc.); you can push off applying until the following year and spend this upcoming year improving your work ethic and bulking up your work responsibilities; or you can show 1-5 above, apply with the experience you have, and hope for the best while optimizing the rest of your application.

Case #2: Your resume reflects frequent job switching.

You’ve had some good jobs—that’s not the problem. The problem is that you’ve had too many of them, very close to each other. You’re afraid that your job switching past may make the adcoms write you off as a commitment-phobe. Of course, you know that’s not the case. But how do you convince the adcoms that each time you left a position, you had good reason for doing so? Even if you choose to use a functional resume format, there’s no way adcoms won’t notice your frequent job habit.

Defenses like: “I got bored,” or “It just wasn’t for me,” or “I hated my boss,” won’t really help your case. You’ll need to explain your fast-paced job changing action with a bit more detail.

Valid reasons for switching jobs:

  • You received an offer providing a promotion, more responsibility, and greater opportunities for growth—the best reason for a job change. If possible quantify the new job’s increased responsibility and potential for impact.
  • You moved – For most jobs, moving out of state or to another country will require you to get a new job. If you’ve moved around a lot (and this is common amongst recent college graduates), your resume is going to reflect some job jumping.
  • Your schedule changed – Needing to switch from part-time to full-time could mean needing to find a new job. Taking courses or tending to a sick parent or child are valid explanations for making such a switch.
  • You had trouble finding a good match – You’ll have to present your case carefully here if you want to appear hard-working and accommodating, rather than wishy-washy or overly picky. Explaining how a job wasn’t challenging enough or that you were seeking a more long-term position could help you show that your job switching should not reflect a lack of commitment.
  • You were laid off – It’s not too hard to blame a questionable resume on the poor economy. Maybe you had a great job, but were laid off and forced to take any old job so you could pay the bills…but then found another great job. That’s a lot of switching with some pretty compelling reasons.

As is always the case when you’ve got one questionable component to your application, make sure that if you find yourself in a position where you need to explain your resume, that the other elements in your application are as near to stellar as possible.

By Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of, the leading MBA admissions consultancy, and co-author of the new book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.  Linda has been helping MBA applicants gain acceptance to top MBA programs since 1994.

Our Series on the Essentials of an Awesome MBA Application

Part I: The GMAT

Part II: Grade Point Average

Part III: Extracurricular Experience