From Julia Campbell, Senior MBA Admissions Officer, Full-Time Texas MBA Program:

Sometimes more is better, like king-sized candy bars, vacation days, and itemized tax deductions. But sometimes more is NOT better, like saturated fat, bills, and dental work. The key is how you look at it.

Admissions officers are notorious for placing every element of your application on a Libra Scale and weighing the pros and cons, especially when it comes to work experience on your MBA application. On one side, there’s raw number of years (quantity), and on the other side is your job description (quality), among other considerations that teeter the scales.

Quantity

Wow! You are the CEO of a mid-size corporation. Oh, but it’s your first week on the job?…okay, well still that’s an amazing accomplishment and congrats on your career advancement so far, but perhaps you’d still admit that your knowledge and expertise in such a new leadership position wouldn’t be as developed as say someone who has been doing it for a few years, right? Being a CEO is good, but being a GREAT CEO is even better.

Same goes the other way, too. Have you been in the same exact job for 10 years? Wow! Congrats on keeping your resume neat and tidy and no doubt you are the go-to person for all the ins and outs of that role, but could it mean that perhaps you didn’t take as much initiative or demonstrate leadership qualities required to launch you to the next level?

Or, perhaps you’ve been a project manager for a year, but in that time you’ve produced measurable results, generated cost-saving strategies for your clients, improved processes and efficiency, demonstrated leadership, took on more responsibility outside your pay-grade and excelled throughout. That circumstance would make it easy for us to say to heck with quantity, quality is what counts here.

Quality

The other side of the Libra Scale is quality of work experience. A Chief Operating Officer title sounds pretty impressive, but were you a COO of a cat fashion show? Not to say that being a COO of a cat fashion show isn’t a real job (in fact that sounds pretty cool), but an impressive title with naught to back it up won’t move the needle in your favor when it comes to work experience.

On the flip side, something as ordinary as an “Account Manager” job title may sound a tad boring to the lay-person, but may actually be pretty exciting. Don’t let us make assumptions. Take every opportunity on your MBA application to illustrate just WHAT about your job made your experience rich and rewarding.

More on Fancy-Schmancy Titles

Answer me this: What is it with businessy-sounding job titles? It’s like the more words like Manager/Director/Lead/Chief/Executive/Senior is smushed into the title, the better. Not always so! Even if the job title is at face-value impressive, the scope of it is equally, if not MORE important. On your resume be sure to back up fancy job titles that contain those high-profile hierarchical buzz words with equitable descriptions that truly include initiative, accountability, project scope, expertise and oversight.

Dear Recent Graduates with ZERO Work Experience,

Fact: work experience is not technically an application requirement, rather it is strongly encouraged.  We are absolutely open to individuals applying to our program straight from undergrad. However, we strongly believe that 24 months of full-time post-baccalaureate work experience is key for building a strong Texas MBA application. Those admitted to the program with high quality work experience add value to the overall community, bring real-life expertise, and provide true diversity and depth to the classroom discussion environment.  Also, it may help to illustrate your peer set: The average applicant comes in with five years of experience, the full work experience range is anywhere from two to ten years of experience.

Having professional post-grad work experience allows candidates to have thought about their career goals in real-life terms. I wanted to be an Oceanographer when I was a kid. In adulthood, I discovered that have a fear of dark water = not a good match.  Experiential trial and error is a big part of building a successful career, and having the proof that reflects matching what you love with what you are good at will really help build the stage for a realistic set of future goals.

Therefore, undergraduate applicants who will have no work experience when they apply are inherently missing those things I mentioned above: contribution to the classroom and career experience.  So, while work experience is not technically a requirement to apply, it is for these reasons we really want to see full-time work experience around two or more years after graduation.

The takeaway on work experience: quality and quantity are not, by themselves, deciding factors. So, take full advantage of your resume descriptors, essays, and interview experience and be ready to describe the full scope of your work experience at every opportunity.

Good Luck!