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The Advantages of Life (and Live) Lessons
More than academic excellence, MBA admissions committees value the qualities of leadership, teamwork and perseverance in their prospective students. They also want their applicants to be able to show initiative, be self-motivated and at the same time, exhibit the ability to motivate others. MBA programs look for students with above average analytical ability, an ability to think on their feet, an aptitude for problem-solving, excellent communication skills and proven social and networking skills.
Take a look at the questions at what the world’s best business schools ask on their MBA applications. You will find questions about what you consider your biggest accomplishments; the time you felt really good about yourself; the time you failed; the time you saved the day; the time someone asked you to do something unethical etc. Almost every one of those admission forms asks you to describe such incidents and you are sure to be asked similar questions during the admissions interviews. If you analyze your answers from the point of view of the admissions committees and deconstruct them into the qualities they display, you’ll get a list of the qualities I’ve mentioned in the first paragraph. Quod erat demonstrandum: point proved.
How does past accomplishments prepare you for an MBA? With life experience and exposure, your thought process matures, your emotional quotient grows as does your capability for utilizing multiple intelligences, you’re naturally better at social networking and conversing with people from various backgrounds and professions. As you go about your daily business, life teaches you how to deal with ethical dilemmas and how to face and get over embarrassment and failure. These invaluable lessons cannot be taught by teachers in class lectures.
Let’s say a teacher did tell you in class about different levels of motivators, or how to learn from your failures, or how grapevine clusters work. In actual fact, these would just be words and theories your mind cannot totally “get" until you’ve really had to motivate a real live person, or been the fodder for the workplace gossip mill or in fact failed and learnt a life lesson from that failure.
Research shows that more than half of all MBA recruiters prefer candidates with work experience before joining an MBA program and only 8% are willing to consider less than a year’s experience in fresh MBA graduates.1
According to Henry Mintzberg, management blends a lot of craft (which comes from experience) with a fair bit of art (your natural talents or insights) and a little science (research and analysis). “(Management) is not a science or a profession, it’s a practice."2
Most recruiters seem to agree with Mintzberg’s view and would ideally like a package of both experience and an MBA degree because they feel that past experience, when combined with the MBA education received thereafter, makes “managers" and not just “MBA’s."3
Whatever you do, says Mintzberg, don’t confuse the MBA with a license to manage. “If people want to be managers, there’s a better route to it: get into an industry, know it, prove yourself, get promoted into a managerial position—and then, go to a program that uses managerial experience explicitly—not other people’s cases, but your own experience."4
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In sum, your past experiences in life and in the workplace:
- are naturally likely to foster the qualities of a good manager within you
- will give you the real-life foundation and the theoretical and practical input from your MBA classes will make much more sense. Thus, you will get more value out of the program
- will help make you more aware of your strengths and weaknesses, abilities and interests in the real sense. You will have a better idea of what suits you and what you are suited to. You will thus make better decisions with regards to specializations etc.
- are sure to improve your analytical and problem-solving skills and make the theoretical material easier to learn. For example, when you do case studies, you will be better able to identify with the situations and characters as they will be more real to you if you’ve worked for a while
- will ensure that you contribute much more to the classes and the peer learning and add to the classroom dialectic
- will make the jargon and buzz-words of management education easier to handle because you will have actual experience of hearing them used and perhaps even using them yourself in the real world of work
- will definitely make you a much more attractive package to recruiters after your MBA program
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1. from the QS World MBA Tour, a survey of over 500 employers in 30 countries via www.topmba.com
3. I've punned on the title of Henry Mintzberg’s controversial and highly successful book Managers, not MBAs: a hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development, Berrett-Koehler: 2004; ISBN 1576752755
4. http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/302/; op.cit.