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Why 'work-ex' is must for MBAs

By Barkha Shah & Malavika Mariswami
August 10, 2005 12:37 IST
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You don't understand risk till you actually take one, and if you don't understand risk, you're training to be a Bureaucrat of Business Administration, not a Master.

Ouch! That hurts -- if you're doing an MBA without any work experience ('work-ex' in campus lingo), as most Indian B-school students are. Work experience is not a hard and fast part of the admission criteria for most institutes, and an MBA is the 'done thing' nowadays straight out of college.

Opting for a quick post-college MBA finds plenty of justification on B-school campuses in India. "I joined SP Jain immediately after graduating in engineering," says Madhav Nayak, a first-year marketing student at SP Jain Institute, Mumbai, "and I have never considered it a disadvantage. In fact, being a fresher has advantages like being able to cope with the rigorous academics that one is subjected to." Besides, in his experience, the relevance of others' work-ex is often in doubt.

"Work experience is not a prerequisite," agrees Shradha Damani, a second-year student of marketing at Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai. She has no work-ex either, and sees this as no handicap. "People who have it may have the initial edge," she concedes, "but with a little bit of initiative and extra work, others too can perform well."

Urvashi Upadhyay, who is doing her MBA from the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) Business School, is not convinced of the need for work experience either.

"Before joining ICFAI, I was working with a chartered accountancy firm called RC Gupta & Company," she says, "And though it helped me to some extent, it has not really given me an edge over others studying at this school."

Shilpi Kanoria, another first-year student at SP Jain, echoes Damani's views, adding, "Attitude is one of the most important factors that separates the ordinary from the good."

Not just that. The work ex types, the way Kanoria sees them, are actually at a disadvantage. "They invariably find it difficult to get into the formal study mode, a problem alien to a fresher," she observes, "The people with work experience are also quite narrow minded in accepting something which they feel cannot be applicable in their work environment."

So there -- go take a job after college, and risk getting your mind blocked right at the start of a career. Might as well save your brains for the stress and strain of a mind-expanding experience called an MBA, and then go out to deal with the real world, right?

Maybe not. Sanjeev Kumar, a batchmate of Kanoria's at SJ Jain, doesn't agree. "I have eight years of work experience with ACC, and I feel that work experience helps us correlate the management principles that we learn." Moreover, understanding the practice of management is the only way to leverage the theory.

Miten Jain, a second-year finance student at WIM with a years' experience at HDFC Bank, nods in agreement. "Work experience is a necessity before an MBA course. I can relate better to the banking verticals that we have as part of the course now."

Ameet Zaveri, also at ICFAI Business School, values work experience for the "perspective on the corporate world" that it grants. Having worked with Kotak Securities for three years, he is clear that "it does give you a direction", but does not see any logic in making it mandatory. His argument: why lose smart students who have a conceptual grasp of business even without experience?

Conceptual understanding is rarely the same as a real-life understanding, according to Shankar Prasad, a student at Hyderabad's Indian School of Business (ISB). A couple of years is the least it takes to be able to make proper practical sense of the curriculum, feels Prasad, who worked at Hindustan Lever before joining ISB.

"Each concept that you are exposed to at a B-school finds application somewhere or the other."

And what about the bit about relevance of work ex? Surely, every job does not acquaint you with the ins and outs of taking risks in search of returns.

Well, that depends on the flexibility of the mind. For instance, ISB also has a former Air Force pilot as a student. And that's also about making risk-return calculations in the heat of the action. Or so you could argue. At least it is not about the dreary maintenance of the status quo -- the role assumed for bureaucracy in most snide references (such as the one at the top of this piece).

So, what does the pilot have to say? "You are missing out on something important if you are doing your MBA without having any work experience, says Vivaik Bharadwaj, who spent 13 years in the Indian Air Force. "Here at ISB," he continues, "when I meet people from different professional backgrounds, it enhances my learning--as I learn different viewpoints to an issue."

In a general sense, that probably makes the real difference to one's ability to meet one's targeted objectives, whatever the exposure one has had to work, business or risk.

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Barkha Shah & Malavika Mariswami
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