Why your work experience matters in an MBA classroom

Canadian-born student Melissa Berkshire entered the MBA program at the Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, with five years of work experience under her belt. She spoke to MBAGRADSCHOOLS about how much work experience is beneficial in an MBA program, why she decided to study at the Smith School of Business, and how the school’s Career Advancement Center helped her land a job in consulting.

In short

Finding the sweet spot: How much work experience do you need for an MBA?

Melissa decided it was time to pursue an MBA after feeling like she “hit a ceiling” in her career growth. Prior to joining the MBA, she worked at a group of home and community care companies. “It had been a fantastic place to spend the first five years of my career. I got a variety of different experiences there. But I was starting to see the limits of where I was going to be able to grow,” Melissa recounts. (01:02)

In the Full-Time MBA program at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, some candidates have a minimum of two years’ work experience. For Melissa, had a little over five years of experience, the benefits became clear quite quickly.

First, Melissa was able to apply the leadership skills she had built in her previous role to the team-based projects in her MBA. “Having that leadership and managerial experience really helped,” she tells us. “I was able to step into that leadership role and be able to organize our [team’s] work and figure out how we should take things forward.” (09:17)

Second, Melissa found that having work experience gave her a better sense of what she wanted to do post-MBA. “A one-year MBA is quite [intense] and I think when you have a pretty solid idea of where you want to go afterward, you can really maximize your time in the program,” she says. “I was able to spend less time when I was here trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and instead spend that time networking, building relationships, learning more about the different firms and their culture, and figuring out what my next step was going to look like, which I think the work experience really helped with.” (09:54)

Melissa’s 3 reasons to do an MBA at Smith School of Business

There were three main reasons why Melissa chose an MBA at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University.

First, the small class size and team-based program. In the Smith MBA, each team consists of 6-7 students, carefully assembled to maximize diversity of gender, work and academic experience, and cultural background. “The team-based program really accelerates how you build relationships,” Melissa explains. (02:35)

Second, the number of women in the Smith MBA. Compared to other schools, the enrolment of women in the Smith MBA is higher than average. The Smith MBA Class of 2021 is made up of 44% women. The Smith School of Business was also the first Canadian business school to join the Forté Foundation, a group of major corporations, top business schools, and non-profit organizations dedicated to empowering women in business education and business leadership roles. “I’m fortunate enough to be a Forté Fellow, which opens up a broad variety of connections among women in business,” Melissa tells us. (03:06)

Third, the very supportive career services. “I’m happy to say that I’ve landed a job for post-graduation in consulting, which was my target coming out of the program,” Melissa says. (03:26)

How Melissa landed a job in consulting with the help of Smith’s stellar career services

In her previous role at a group of home and community care companies, Melissa led strategic initiatives and projects in areas like technology implementation and marketing and branding. She loved solving problems, but she wanted to apply her skills on a larger scale.

Melissa realized that consulting might be an interesting career path, so she decided to pursue the MBA consulting track.

Thanks to her specialization in consulting as well as the Smith School of Business’ extensive career services, Melissa already has a job in strategy consulting lined up post-graduation.

“I can’t say enough good things about the Career Advancement Center at Smith,” Melissa says. “There’s a whole team of coaches who support you…[The center does] a really great job of bringing employers in [and] scheduling different networking events.” (03:55)

On the consulting track, Melissa participated in a case program, which was “about 18 hours of extra learning that was specifically focused to work case-based learning, so you’re preparing for case interviews and really readying yourself for that consulting track.” (04:45)

The proof is in the pudding: 98% of Smith’s MBA Class of 2021 accepted a job offer within three months of graduation. Employers include BCG, Johnson & Johnson, Walmart, Google, HelloFresh, Cisco, and Microsoft.

Thanks to the Smith School of Business MBA, its team-based learning approach, and comprehensive career services, Melissa is undoubtedly prepared for a successful career in consulting.

As Melissa shows, joining an MBA program with prior work experience can help you leverage your existing professional skills to succeed further (and faster). It can also optimize your time in the program, as you may have a better idea of your post-MBA aspirations. To ensure your future success, it is paramount to apply, understand, and plan for the future in collaboration with the career services team.

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