Does Work Experience Help in IIMs’ Common Admission Process? Alumni Answer

IIMA

While each of the 20 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) differs in the specifics of its selection criteria, there is much ambiguity regarding the weightage allotted to candidates’ work experience in their Common Admission Process (CAP). Here's what we know.

The Indian Institute of Ahmedabad (IIM-A), on December 8, released the official answer key for the Common Admission Test (CAT) 2021, attempted last month by as many as 1.92 lakh candidates across the country.

These MBA aspirants, who are also allowed to access their recorded responses till 5 pm on December 11, have been assessing their probable CAT percentiles even as the prestigious management institute is expected to declare the final results by the second week of January next year.

While each of the 20 IIMs differs in the specifics of its selection criteria, there is much ambiguity regarding the weightage allotted to candidates’ work experience in the Common Admission Process (CAP).

Is it mandatory? Does it help? Is there any such thing as too much work experience? Quora users and other experts discuss:

According to Quora user Rohan Jain, an MBA graduate from IIM-A, the significance of work experience can be summarised in three categories — admission process, understanding lectures at IIMs and its placements.

“Many IIMs give extra points to candidates with work experience. Sometimes, this is mentioned explicitly in the admission criteria, and sometimes, it is not. Those who have some prior work experience can grasp some of the concepts and courses better than the freshers,” he wrote. “They can better relate the theoretical concepts taught to real-life [experience]. However, I have also observed that freshers can work harder because they are more used to academic life. For all practical purposes related to placements, people with work experience of fewer than two years are almost treated similarly to freshers.”

Another user Renith Regi said that freshers who are admitted to IIMs are usually not allowed to attend its lateral placement process. “The objective of lateral placement is to place students with extensive work experience at levels commensurate with their relevant experience. Typically, nearly half the graduating class has work experience of over one-and-a-half years. A separate lateral placement period outside of the regular placement week has been designated for the placement of these candidates,” he wrote.

“Companies, in the past, have found it advantageous to use the lateral placement period to recruit candidates for middle management positions before the placement week commences. Freshers are however preferred by many companies for their leadership programmes,” he added.

A video by StudyBuzz, an online MBA preparation portal run by Delhi-based Saurabh Kothari, who has received IIM-interview calls seven times, also opines that experienced candidates have a strategic advantage over freshers.

“When the interviewers ask, ‘why MBA?’, a candidate with two years work experience can draft a good answer by discussing managerial issues they faced, and how completing an MBA would help them climb the corporate ladder by way of a better placement,” it states.

Sharing statistics on 2018 trends, the narrator adds that the then IIM-A batch had a class composition comprising 25 per cent freshers, 17 per cent candidates with one year of work experience, 29 per cent with one to two years of work experience, 15 per cent with two to three years of experience, and 14 per cent who had been employed for over three years.

“Hence, candidates with zero to two years of work experience formed about 60-70 per cent of the batch. Others with four to ten years of experience may be asked by interviewers to consider an executive MBA programme instead, or qualify for a GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) for a foreign university. It is not mandatory to have work experience, but gives you a sense of purpose and helps with the interview process. However, many freshers receive interview calls if their overall profiles are good,” the video states.

Besides work experience, if any, the IIM composite score is based on the combination of a candidate’s CAT score, WAT and GD-PI scores, Class 10 and 12 marks, undergraduate and postgraduate marks, and other factors of ‘gender’ and ‘academic’ diversity.

“Freshers have a disadvantage of interviewers assuming that they want to do an MBA because of peer pressure. But such candidates can compensate for their lack of work experience by demonstrating their corporate exposure during internships, professional and live projects, or any training received during certificate courses. These factors may have convinced interviewers that the freshers in the IIM-A 2018 batch were at par with candidates with prior work experience,” adds the narrator.

“If not, they need to fetch a high CAT score and work on their profiles. IIMs, or any MBA institute for that matter, will always choose candidates who’ve had diverse exposure and are familiar with managerial skills, which can be developed only through co-curricular activities. So, take up an internship or join an NGO, but make the effort to ensure that your profile looks good,” the video states.

Is it ever too late to join an IIM?

“There is no straight answer, and I would say it depends on what you are looking for after joining an IIM,” wrote IIM-Kozhikode graduate Mandeep Kumar. “If you have four years of experience in operations, marketing, IT, or any other sector which is relevant to the kind of jobs offered at IIMs, then it’s not too late. This gives you an edge over others as it is more relevant to the recruiter.”

Another IIM alumna, Madhulika wrote, ”Not at all, assuming you’re looking at [some of] the top 10 business schools [in India]. You’ll find, certainly in the top four IIMs, at least half the batch with work experience. Download the placement brochures (not report) and you’ll find the profiles. I know quite a few with over five years of experience. If it works for you, go for it. Just work out the ROI (return on investment) and ensure [you go to] a good business school.”

“Don’t think that a three-year experience is a limiting factor, or that it takes out value from the MBA programme,” said Rajesh Balasubramanian who runs 2IIM, a Chennai-based CAT coaching institute. “It will not affect your chances of getting in or your placements. You will not feel like an outlier in the programme; you may suffer a bit during summer internships, but that’s a small price to pay. GMAT is also a viable option and you should keep that open.”

Notably, IIM-Lucknow also offers a management programme for working professionals looking to pursue higher education alongside their jobs.

“Work experience can never substitute for a good [CAT] percentile and vice versa,” noted Quora user Neeraj Kumar. “In a normal scenario, evaluators look for a mix in a batch, having people from diverse backgrounds, work experiences and academic disciplines.”

“In recent years, as per my knowledge, a substantial number join IIMs as freshers. All in all, the only criteria is to crack CAT with awesome percentiles and convince the interview panel as to why you deserve a seat in the prestigious institutes! Moreover, marketing and analytics firms need freshers [during placements]. [They] can apply for companies where there is no experience criteria, which is not the case when any ABC candidate, having a previous experience, is labelled with their [prior] area of experience. Prepare well and bell the CAT. Just fasten your seat belt and let time decide your fate,” he advised.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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