MBA Applicant: I have ten years of work experience – will I get in?

MBA Applicant: I have ten years of work experience – will I get in?

(This post is not about the ISB, but I am starting it with some insights from my experiences at the school)

If you belong to the Senior Executive Club (SEC), the ISB is a good choice! In any given year, between 50 and 100 students with more than eight years of experience join the ISB – some of these candidates have well over 10 years on their CV. Upon enrolling, they become members of the SEC club, which works with the school on a number of initiatives in learning & development, networking, and placements.  Right from the beginning, the school closely works with each member of the SEC on wide-ranging matters such as targeting lateral roles, career management, leadership training, academic planning, interview prep, and industry connect.  The ISB is a great place to be for candidates with more experience, but make no mistake, you will need specific strategies if you want to get in.

First of all, let me begin by saying that the ISB has no bias for older or younger applicants.  For quite some time, the ISB has advertised during its admissions info sessions that it likes those senior candidates who have potential to reach the CXO suite within 5 years of graduating.  In practicality, such a presentation is not as simple as it sounds.  Often a time, putting your best foot forward is more difficult when you need your goal the most.  And for many, this is a stage in which candidates are looking for a springboard to accelerate their careers.

Amongst the strategies that work, focus more on your depth of experience and highlight your professional expertize.  With many years of experience, softer skills are considered a given.  Emphasizing leadership experience and curricular involvement are unlikely to make you stand out, unless these experiences are truly great.  On the same lines, it may be a bad idea to state ‘career change’ in your short-term post-MBA goals. I have observed that in this group, candidates who fare well generally have a focused career path, goals that have evolved from past experience, high confidence, and conviction to handle their own careers.

The key takeaway from this post is to craft an application that doesn’t make you look needy – you have to present yourself as a scarce commodity who has plans, and who can reach the C-suite with or without the MBA.  Also, get the best GMAT score possible.  For senior executives, a high GMAT is very important.  Admissions committees like the reassurance they get from high scores because for experienced candidates, high scores give a certain ‘wow’ factor – the feeling that this candidate scored high despite being out of books for so long!

For candidates looking at the US Schools, avoid dwelling over statistics on average age. Instead, come up with good reasons for why you are targeting the specific school. While all the schools have students who are in their 30s, I have reason to believe that some schools are more open to older applicants.  Look at Duke, UCLA, INSEAD, IE Spain and IMD in Switzerland if you are a senior executive. The average age at IMD is way higher than that at other schools and many students here are well in their 30s.  It is also a close-knit program with a fantastic network. Another school to look at is IE Spain.  It has dual degree arrangements with Yale SOM and MIT Sloan – Not bad if you get two top degrees in two years, and all this while building a network across two continents.  At IE, you don’t even have to take the GMAT; although you will have to take IE’s own assessment in case you opt out of the standardized tests.  Also, you may want to look at 1-year programs at Kellogg, Emory and USC Marshall – these are great programs if you are on the other side of average age.

In the end, I would like to point out one observation – at most schools there are fewer people in the 30+ or 32+ category not because they don’t get in, but because they don’t apply.  I have conducted actual interviews year on year at ISB for applicants in the 8+ years category, and there is absolutely no bias in the way senior executives are evaluated. In my own experience as a student and as a staff member, I’ve really enjoyed interacting with SEC members; they have great experience, and have greatly added to my learning at ISB, even when I was working there. If there were more applicants in this group, it is likely that more would get in. The fact remains that at a certain stage in life, taking the plunge becomes more difficult if you have added responsibilities, and this is most likely the reason why there are fewer senior MBA students at top schools.

At, we are working with many students with more than 8 years of experience.  They have very interesting stories to tell, and we love working with them.  If you would like to discuss your profile, or simply learn more, do get in touch with us.


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