How important is work experience in applying for business school?

Cropped image of a young man working on his laptop in a coffee shop

Business school students come from a range of professional backgrounds, at ESMT we actively strive to find students from outside traditional industries like consulting or finance. Recent classes have included people from the emergency services, political sciences, design, and even a chef. However, a common question we meet from candidates is “how important is work experience when applying for business school”. We spoke to Head of Admissions at ESMT, Stephanie Kluth, to find out.  

Depending on the school to which you are applying, the work experience requirement may be an important one. 

While some schools do not require work experience, most do. 

When applying, prospects should understand what kind of work experience is required and the minimum number of required years. 

Work experience usually refers to professional experience obtained after graduation while holding a part-time or full-time position. 

Some schools also consider pre-graduation experience as well as internships and volunteer work. Family business or entrepreneurial experience are also much welcomed. 

I think that having a qualified work experience threshold of a minimum of three years (depending on the nature of your qualifications) is essential. This enables candidates to understand what is taught in the classroom and apply it to her or his background and knowledge.  

Pre-MBA work experience also contributes to your post-MBA career development. 

Schools seek to assure that you achieve the transition to which you aspire. 

Some candidates invest in an MBA to change their career and find a position matching their personal objectives. 

Since recruiters do not only consider the additional skills gained through an MBA degree, but also the experience brought in from before, it is much harder to convince an employer to consider a candidate who has no kind of professional experience. 

Background also plays an essential role. MBA programs are not only directed at people who have worked in management or business. 

Most programs are committed to preparing professionals for a meaningful contribution in the area of leadership, regardless of their field. 

They were designed for candidates who stand on a strong professional leg, be it in engineering, science, business, finance, architecture, law, health care, public service, military, journalism, and the list goes on, and now feel ready to move to broader business-wide leadership responsibility.  

The quality of work experience is key. There is no one-size-fits-all background. 

Admissions managers take a closer look at the nature of your work and the evolution of your responsibilities. 

Factors like leadership capacity, teamwork, emotional intelligence, and international outlook play a major role in this assessment. 

An ‘ideal’ candidate has been in charge of a team, has worked internationally, and has been responsible for processes or budgets. 


Stephanie Kluth is the Head of Admissions for degree programs at ESMT Berlin, and has been working in the higher education sector for over 15 years.  

This article on the work experience you need before an MBA was originally published on BusinessBecause.