Work experience and MBA – the key factor that seems to trouble an aspirants’ mind. “I am a fresher with zero work experience. Should I appear for CAT?“, “I have ‘n’ years of work experience. Does it mean the IIMs will reject my candidature for MBA, notwithstanding a great score in CAT 2020?” Now that the official CAT 2020 notification is out, the questions only seem to multiply.
The same ‘work experience and MBA’ question in different forms
Some of the variants of the questions related to work experience are:
- How do the IIMs rate work experience?
- How much does work experience count for?
- All other things being equal, will the IIMs always prefer experienced grads?
- How much more should fresh graduates score in order to stand a chance?
First things first, the disclaimer
Like many of the research reports, let me start with a disclaimer. I DO NOT claim to have any inside knowledge on how the IIMs process applicants.
Most of what I have to say is based on anecdotal evidence on what is the fair share of candidates with work experience the IIMs expect to take in, and how much this aspect stacks up for or against your prospects.
Having said that, let us dive deep and get certain things out of our way.
1) There is no objective normalization process to account for work experience
The IIMs most likely do not have a scoring system for awarding points for work experience. It is my belief that the selection committee goes in with an idea of how they want the batch to be structured and conducts interviews with this backdrop.
For example, an IIM might decide to structure a batch with a composition that could look like:
- Around 60 to 80 fresh graduates
- Approximately 60 to 80 graduates with one or two years of work experience
- Between 50 and 60 graduates with more work experience than that.
Based on this, they might call 300 freshers, 300 candidates with one or two years of work experience, and 200 very experienced candidates for the interview.
So it is abundantly clear that once the initial plans for the batch structure are made, the groups are more or less competing within each other.
This implies there is no way someone can make a statement like, “If you have four years of work experience, you can get in with a score that is 1 percentile point lower than someone with zero years of work experience”.
It is quite likely that the mean and median score of shortlisted fresh graduates is higher than that of heavily experienced candidates. That is what I mean by saying that experience counts for something.
2) Does one or two years of work experience count for much?
The short answer is, not really. People with less than 24 months of work experience constitute a high proportion of any batch, and any experience less than 24 months rarely counts for much.
These candidates are unlikely to have picked up any great understanding of either their industry or organizational dynamics to make a huge impact.
Note that they are “unlikely”, meaning there could be people who are outliers as well.
3) Does the type of work experience count?
Another crude variant of this question goes along the lines of “I work in XYZ company that pays me XYZ per annum. It cannot be regarded as a top tier company. Would that deter my chances?”
In order to get towards an answer to this, let us see what the B-schools look for exactly in their candidates.
All B-schools price diversity (some more so than others), so a different profile always counts for something. Hence, a lawyer/ doctor always has an edge over a software professional in our country. There is little doubt about that aspect.
However, this does not mean you will be rejected outright just because you are too “mainstream”. Once you are called for an interview, it is a level playing field. How you make the best use of that opportunity matters more than anything.
4) Will the IIMs shift towards more candidates with work experience?
This almost goes along well with the answer to the previous question. There is some value attached to the work experience of a candidate. But that does not mean we can expect a batch to consist entirely of candidates with work experience only.
In addition to the number of years (quantity) of work experience you have had, the IIMs will also be interested in the kind of work you have done (quality). This might account for an edge in the interviews.
5) Will the IIMs shun fresh graduates?
The answer to this can range from “Extremely unlikely” to “nearly impossible”. No matter which position an institute holds, it will be keen on attracting the best talent available. So, if one IIM shifts towards picking only experienced candidates, then it will effectively lose out on fresh talent.
As a talent pool, the fresh graduates compete favourably against other groups.
Among the top ten rank holders of any graduating class, one would usually find more than 70% of candidates with zero to two years of work experience. Perhaps up to 40% of them would be fresh graduates.
There is limited statistical evidence to suggest that fresh graduates do not get value from an MBA. Moreover, a large number of companies prefer to recruit fresh graduates for internships and prefer to select fresh graduates for entry-level positions.
So, if any one IIM (or a bunch of them) chooses to change its profile, it will end up losing out on talent. Unless there is a concerted effort from the top 20 B-schools in India to this end, the dynamics cannot change overnight. I think India will slowly shift towards taking in more experienced candidates into their B-Schools. But this shift will be slow and more or less synchronized across institutes.
6) Will personal interview and Group Discussion be more difficult for fresh graduates?
Truth be told, Y. E. S.
Fresh graduates will be at a considerable disadvantage because
- They will have less to talk about themselves.
- Fresh graduates are likely to have less personal experiences to count on and refer to.
- They will likely have had few opportunities to make presentations to anyone and are generally a little raw.
This effectively means that, experienced candidates are naturally better-equipped to handle one-on-one sessions and group discussions. This is why fresh graduates should spend more time preparing themselves for GD-PI and should focus on presenting their case well.
Everything said and done, all these things matter only when you score well in CAT. A great CAT score is the one and only ticket to even be called for an interview. And, that is the best bet every CAT 2020 aspirant should hold on to.
The diversity, work experience, quality and amount of work and everything else should not deter you from giving your best shot at CAT 2020. After all, that is the only variable in your control.
If you are a fresh graduate, do not let this talk of experienced candidates standing a huge advantage get to you. You are effectively competing against fellow fresh graduates for the seats. In any case, you have likely done better than an average experienced candidate in the CAT exam and that should count for something.
If you have one or two years of work experience, this is not a game-changer. So, make sure you have enough talking points about your job.
If you have more than two years of work experience, you are not doomed. You have your own set of advantages, provided there is an interview call.
But the first point before all this happens is CAT 2020. Make sure you have that in mind, and go all guns blazing, as the clock ticks!
Stay safe, and best wishes for CAT 2020.
Rajesh Balasubramanian takes the CAT every year and is a 4-time CAT 100 percentiler. He likes few things more than teaching Math and insists to this day that he is a better teacher than exam-taker.