A forward-looking undergraduate from the Netherlands recently asked me how best to position himself for an MBA several years from now. “My major is economics,” he posted on GMAT Club. “I expect to graduate this summer and in September I will enroll in a master of finance program here in Holland. After obtaining my master’s degree I would like to pursue an MBA in the United States. My biggest concern is work experience. Because I went to college right after high-school and summer internships are very rare in Holland I have no relevant work experience and I understand that applicants to business schools in the US have about 5 years of work experience. What I would like to know is: what kind of functions will give me the greatest chance of being admitted to an MBA program and what is the best way of finding them?”
Though I commend him for thinking so strategically about his career and MBA, I tried to correct his notion that business schools favor certain functions. “U.S. business schools like to build a diverse class, so there aren’t really privileged or preferred job functions. That said, you should aim for functions that (a) give you leadership opportunities, (b) expose you to as much of the organization’s business as you can get, and (c) offer opportunities to work with international or diverse teams. Then just ‘perform’ as best you can. By gaining leadership exposure and by establishing that you are succeeding in your track ahead of the typical pace, you will be establishing yourself as a prime MBA candidate.”
I went on to emphasize the important role that extracurricular leadership can play in giving early-career applicants the kind of leadership depth that will enable them to stand out from the applicant crowd. “Of course, early in your career you don’t have as much choice in terms of roles and leadership opportunities. So also consider committing yourself to an extracurricular or community passion where you can demonstrate leadership. In terms of where to look, use whatever resources your school’s career office provides, ask your professors for help, use your own network and peers, and reach out to build new networks i.e., through professional associations etc. Also develop a short list of the firms you most want to work with and find ways to build networks at these organizations (e.g., LinkedIn etc.).”
The short version: Are there preferred job functions that will optimize your MBA admission odds? No, specific job functions matter far less than (a) showing ‘fast-track’ performance and (b) leadership.