Younger MBAs - Is Experience Really Necessary and is Age Just a Number?
| August 20,2010 12:32 pm IST
The average age of MBA applicants has fallen to 25.5 years, from 26.
8 years in 2004, according to a recent QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey. With 69% of MBA applicants between the ages of 20 and 28 this year, compared to 58% in 2004, the message is out, loud and clear - MBA applicants are getting younger.
So what does this mean for the average business-school applicant? The traditional 3-plus years of work experience, while still highly valued by most business school admissions officers, may be subject to greater flexibility than in the past. Linda Meehan, Admissions Director at Columbia Business School, announced during the QS World MBA Tour in 2006 that Columbia is actively seeking to recruit fresh graduates into her class of 2007 - academic high-fliers who would otherwise be lost to the business school world once they enter fast track careers in banking or elsewhere. Columbia, according to Meehan, will also target a greater number of candidates with less than three years of work experience.
Harvard Business School has also started to recruit younger students to their MBA programme. They target students within 3 years of graduating from university or college. The average age of the Harvard MBA student was 27 years of age, but has fallen to 26 years of age as the school has recently admitted a number of 22 year-olds. But can they still get good jobs following graduation?
According to Jana Kierstead, Director of MBA Career Services at Harvard Business School, of those who entered within 3 years of finishing university or college, 94% had job offers at graduation. The average for the whole 2006 intake was 96%. So, the evidence at Harvard is that a lot of younger MBAs seem to have little trouble competing with more experienced candidates. According to Kierstead, these younger students received salaries just as competitive as their more experienced classmates, and equally across all industries. But of course, we're talking about Harvard, or Columbia, or Wharton.
Your choice of business school and preferred area of career expertise are two factors which may help or hinder your chances of becoming a young MBA. If you have top academic grades. you stand a chance of gaining acceptance to a top US business school in 2007, but European schools have not moved in the same direction. The average age of 28.5 for MBAs at top European business schools has remained stable. Francesca Roveda at SDA Bocconi comments that the school has no intention of reducing its age requirements for candidates. Janet Shaner at IMD also emphasised the point during a QS World MBA Tour panel discussion in October: "We see no benefit in reducing the average age of our MBA intake, either for the school or for our recruiters," a view shared by her European counterparts.
Which schools are right? What types of candidates do recruiters really want?
According to QS TopMBA.com Recruiter Research, the most popular MBA experience range was 1-4 years amongst MBA recruiters in the USA and 4-8 years experience amongst MBA recruiters in Europe.
It seems there are structural differences in the profile of MBAs sought by employers on each side of the Atlantic.
Many women are finding age requirements may hold them back from achieving their educational and career goals, as they may prefer to have a family at a younger age, yet after completing their studies. Twenty-three year-old Silvia Petkova, a current MBA student at City University, had less than one year post-Bachelor's employment under her belt before commencing business school, in order to utilise 'MBA skills' to build her family's current business. Silvia, like many ambitious women, decided to complete her MBA at an early age in order to get a head-start on her career, before she decides to have a family and take time off.
The answer may also depend not only on the individual, but on his/her choice of sector. As investment banks boom once again, they are seeking younger and younger MBAs to meet their rapidly growing employment targets. Sales and Marketing is another field which is willing to look at younger MBAs, particularly in the USA, where the qualification is very much an entry requirement for the sector.
By contrast, consultancy is one field known for demanding significant prior work experience. Damir Latte, Recruitment Consultant at Global Workplace (specialist in Management Consultancy) says, "Candidates for consultancy roles ideally need 3 to 5 years relevant work experience. For those with none or very little relevant experience, consultancy positions are out of the question; however, if they are good they could be considered for analyst roles."
All in all, while some industries may have stricter guidelines in terms of years of work experience required, it may no longer be your past but your potential which counts - particularly in a buoyant job market. Strong team-playing and analytical skills, and the drive to succeed in a tough business climate may surpass age boundaries.