What type of work experience do I need before I apply to B-School?

I’m about one year out of school, a very fine public university, and graduated with a 3.6 GPA in political science.  As an undergrad, I was much more focused on a possible career in academia than in business, but now that I’ve had time to investigate the options further, I’m sure I want to pursue an MBA and a business career with an international focus (preferably involving Asia).

So my question for you is: what do you generally recommend I do to get on track toward that goal?

You’ve written before about the importance of having stand out experiences. I’ve lived in China (4 months as a student) and Malaysia (2 months as an intern with a conglomerate), and I may be joining the Peace Corps within the next year, so perhaps I have that area covered already. (?)

But what type of work experience do you think I need prior to applying to the top flight programs? It seems that it would be difficult to go the conventional route you’ve mentioned in other posts (I-banking or consulting) since I’m already out of university and am no longer exposed to their campus recruiting events.

Is this a familiar story? is there hope? Or has the ship already sailed?


The Harvard MBA says:

BJ, the good news is that you already have an unusual set of experiences.  But you’re also right that if your only work experience is a single 2-month internship, it will be harder for you to get into business school.

As I’m fond of saying, MBA students are products, not customers.  The school benefits from your achievements as an alum, not from your time at the school.  Therefore, business schools want to admit students that have proven they can succeed in business after graduation.  Your current set of experiences doesn’t offer a lot of evidence to support or contradict that goal.

Given your international focus, I’d recommend that you find some way to get a job in Asia.  Since most of these employers don’t recruit on campus anyways, you’re not losing out by starting your search post-graduation.

Start networking with people you know, contacts from the company where you did your internship, and with alumni of your university.  You don’t need a high-prestige job as the special assistant to the CEO of a billion-dollar company; any reasonable business experience will do.  The fact that it’s occurring in Asia will make you more attractive to schools.

The general rule of thumb is to have 2 years of experience before you apply, but you might be able to get away with 1.  If you’re willing to go through the application process twice, you may want to apply after your first year on the job to accelerate the process.

Good luck with your career plans!

What can I do in the next 3 years to increase my chances of getting accepted

“Pretend it’s the year 2013 and you are in charge of admissions for Harvard’s Business School. Let’s say we’re in the middle of the Great Depression II. What would your ideal candidate have to offer for you to grant him admission?

I say this as someone who would very much like to enroll in that year. At that point, I would be above the average admission age of 27 and above the average work experience of 4.5 years.

I gained by Bachelor’s at a prestigious university with honors, so I would also be above the average of 3.63 GPA.

What are the sort of things I can do in the next 3 years that will significantly increase my chances of getting accepted for a Harvard MBA?”

The Harvard MBA says:

First off, I hope we’re not in the Great Depression II in 2013.  You think the past few years was bad?  During the Great Depression, we had 25% unemployment!

The key to improving your chances of getting accepted are, as with any sales endeavor, to think like your “customer.”

When HBS accepts a student into the MBA program, it’s not signing up a customer.  Rather, it is investing one of its precious 880 annual admissions slots in you.  The school has plenty of money; it’s admissions slots are fixed, and therefore even more valuable.

If you think of yourself as an investment, you’ll develop much better insights into what makes you attractive.  External markers like age, work experience, and GPA are symptoms, not causes.  These characteristics are only useful inasmuch they help the school predict which MBA students will become successful alumni.

Different business schools take different approaches.  HBS is focused on selecting leaders who make an impact.  HBS could certainly afford to only accept students with a 3.9 GPA and above, but it chooses to value certain things more than raw college performance.  More applicants achieve a perfect GMAT score each year than could possibly be admitted to HBS.

The best way to judge if someone is likely to be a leader who makes an impact is to examine whether or not he or she has made an impact prior to business school.  The ideal candidate would combine the standard markers (work success, high college GPA and GMAT score) with clear indications of leadership potential and character.  In theory, this could be achieved through successful entrepreneurship, but the reality is that most successful entrepreneurs can’t afford to go to business school–the opportunity cost is too high.  I’m sure HBS would love to have Zuck as an alum, but I doubt he’s resigning as Facebook CEO to go to school (we’ll have to settle for Sheryl Sandberg ’95 instead).

In practice, therefore, the best way to prove your leadership potential is to start a new and impactful initiative at your company, or to found or turn around an organization that makes an impact.  Launching a new business unit for your company, or starting a program that educates 100,000 underprivileged kids, for example.

The best way to do this, of course, is to leverage your existing passions and accomplishments.  Seek out positions of leadership, and if they don’t exist, create them.

Most of the people in this world are passive; they may be intelligent and capable, but they only apply themselves to the opportunities that present themselves as neatly wrapped packages (“achievements”).  You can distinguish yourself far more easily by *doing* than by *achieving*.

For example, one of my friends from business school was incredibly intelligent.  He had the grades and test scores, and worked for McKinsey after his undergrad years.  But what really set him apart was something he *did*.  He was fascinated by finance, and sought out every opportunity to connect with folks within and outside McKinsey to learn about the topic.  He did this so well that he ended up writing a book on capital theory with a McKinsey partner who needed a smart partner.

If you were an admissions officer, and you were presented with two candidates, both of whom went to good schools and worked for McKinsey, which would you rather choose–the conventional high achiever, or the guy who wrote a book and was considered one of the world’s leading experts in his field at the age of 24?

Achievement is attractive by unconventional.  Doing something remarkable is the best way to get accepted.

Can a 52-year-old woman date a 26-year-old man and actually have a fulfilling relationship?

Can a 52 year old woman date a 26 year old man and actually have a fulfilling relationship? How would I know if he really likes me?

The Harvard MBA says:

Love takes many forms; who am I to criticize any working relationship between two consenting adults?  After all, I covered the first annual Cougar Convention as a reporter.

I’m sure that there are many 50-something women who have fulfilling relationships with 20-something men, though that’s certainly rarer than relationships between people of the same age.

I will say that there are some key items you need to work out if you want this to be a long-term relationship.  First and foremost, you need to make sure that the expectations for the relationship are the same.  Hopefully you both want the same thing.  One key factor is whether or not he wants children.  While it’s possible for a 52-year-old woman to give birth, the odds are definitely against it.  If he wants children, that would place definite limits on the relationship.

Second, you need to make sure that both of you are ready to deal with the consequences of your relationship.  Your friends and family might not be that understanding of the relationship; the same holds true for his friends and loved ones (perhaps even more so–if you’re older than his mom, this will definitely come up).  Are you two willing to put up with anything from idle gossip to active disapproval?

Figuring out if he really likes you is the easy part.  If he’s willing to spend time with you outside the bedroom, he likes you.  Men, especially young men, are unlikely to seek the company of women just for their personalities.

Let me know how it goes with your cub!

How does a successful, beautiful lawyer meet an educated, successful, normal man?

Where and how in the hell do I meet a great, educated and successful man– who is normal too?  Me: Lawyer, successful, busy, and yes, beautiful.

P.S. No platitudes.  Answer as though this were your semester final exam; introduction, supporting points with examples.  You will be graded.


The Harvard MBA says:

Bonita, I can empathize with your situation.  One of the reasons it seems so hard is that over the past few decades, the rise in women’s professional and educational attainment (a good thing in general) has made it very difficult for high-achieving women to meet male peers–simply because those peers aren’t there.

I’ve written a piece for one of my other blogs where I detail the fall of men.  One of the telling statistics is that for every 100 college-educated 23-year-old men in America, there 164 college-educated 23-year-old women.  Another is that single young men earn 8% less than their female counterparts–a sharp contrast with the historical income advantage that men held.

In other words, the number of men who can match your education and professional success is depressingly low, and many of those men are probably already married or gay.

But even if the odds are against you, that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in your goal of meeting an educated, successful, normal man.  The source for my advice will be the classic book, “Why Men Marry Some Women And Not Others“.  (While you haven’t specified marriage as your object, I suspect that your criteria indicate that marriage is your goal)

  • Women with a large number of female friends are more likely to marry than women with a large number of male friends
    • Men don’t go out of their way to introduce their female friends to other men
  • If you reach 30 and want to get married, you have to make finding a husband a primary goal. Once your friends start getting married, they are less likely to have an active social life with you. Don’t be the last one off the bus!
  • The larger the number of single men and women you work with, the better your chances of marrying
  • Women with unrealistic expectations often remain single
    • Much of the time, these expectations are imposed by others, who think that the men she brings home aren’t “good enough for her.”
    • Give men a second chance—20% of brides to be said that they didn’t like their husband when they first met him.
  • Women who make an effort to seek out the company of single men are more likely to marry
    • Women who marry date more frequently than those who don’t, even it’s Mr. Wrong.
    • Women who marry are three times as likely to participate in masculine activities in which they had no real interest.
    • Women who marry are twice as likely to have made lifestyle sacrifices (changing jobs or moving) to meet eligible men.
  • Women who have active social lives are more likely to marry
    • Women who go out twice a week, even just to dine with other women or do volunteer work, are 3x as likely to marry than those who don’t go out.
    • Going out three times a week boosts your chances even further.
    • However, going out more than 5 nights a week decreases your chances.

The book also offers some advice specifically for women over 40, but I think the advice applies to all women:

  • The best places to meet eligible men are clubs and groups based on common interests. Join organization that have single men as members.
    • 21% of engaged women over 40 said that they had met their fiancée at an athletic club
    • Sports clubs that focus on activities that attract singles (trips, bicycling) are best
    • Next best are tennis, and golf.
    • Third come professional or social organizations that are overwhelmingly male, like engineering associations or collectors of sports memorabilia.
    • Fourth come organizations that have a singles scene, or sponsor events that give singles a chance to socialize with other club members.
    • Dances, picnics, and charity golf or tennis tournaments are also a good place to meet men.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Will getting my Masters in Software Engineering hurt my chances of getting into B-school?

I am a female from Nepal, almost 30 yrs old. I have a undergrad in Computer Science from a small liberal arts school. Post undergrad, I worked at a not-for-profit organization and a higher ed organization. I was exploring MBA programs and went to visit HBS, and totally fell in love with the energy in the classroom and the school. I interacted with students and thought they were impressive. At the time I felt that I would one day pursue an MBA and was simply doing my homework early. As a Computer Science major I have always sought to gain a masters in a technical field. I stumbled upon your posts and thought you’d be the perfect person to ask about my dilemma. Do you think that getting a more technical masters degree in Software Engineering will hurt my chances of becoming a more ‘raw’ applicant to schools like HBS? I just got accepted into a very good Masters in Software Engineering program but I am in a dilemma about its payoff since I want to pursue an MBA within the next couple of years. I think BOTH an MBA and a MS would be a perfect combination for me for my long term career plans but I am unsure if I should do MBA first?

The Harvard MBA says:

First of all, congratulations on getting accepted into your Masters program.  That in itself is a good thing.

In terms of your question, if you’re going to get both your MSCS and your MBA, it’s better to get the MSCS first, then the MBA.  The reason is that top-tier MBA programs have outstanding recruiting programs to help you find a great first job.  It’s much easier to get a job coming straight out of b-school than it is at any other time in your life.  If you were to get your MBA first, then your MSCS, you’d be wasting that opportunity.

When you’re done with your MSCS, you’ll still only be 30 or 31, which is well within the normal range of ages for attending business school!

What job gets you laid the most?

What job gets you laid the most?

The Harvard MBA says:

There are a number of careers that seem particularly suited to providing men with ample opportunities for sex.  Just off the top of my head, these include professional athlete, rock star, movie star, billionaire, fireman, pimp, and U.S. Senator.

However, these answers aren’t that useful, because most of us lack the talent to pursue any of these careers.  In terms of mainstream careers, the equation is probably Money + Glamor + Access.  For example, strip club manager gives you great access, but probably doesn’t help you too much with money or glamor.

The best bet is probably to pursue a career in finance.  It’s the most reliable way of getting rich, and most of your colleagues will be fat, balding men, which may help you look more attractive simply by way of contrast.  It also comes with a much lower chance of being shot than being a pimp.  And if you end up in jail, it’s probably a much nicer jail.

A dark horse career to consider comes by way of Mike Rowe, of Discovery’s “Dirty Jobs.”  Mike’s first job was as an opera singer in a local opera company.  He intended to stay in the job for 6 months, simply as a back door to a Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) card.  He ended up staying a number of years, once he discovered the following:

1) Despite the jokes we tell about fat ladies singing, local opera companies are dominated by attractive young women

2) The few men who sing opera locally are usually either married or gay

As the only young, single, heterosexual male around, Mike reports that he did very well.  Enough to convince him to stay in the opera company for 6 years.

In other words, keep an open mind.  If everyone thinks a job will help them get laid, the employer will be swamped with applicants, and you’ll have a harder time achieving success–both on the job, and in the bedroom.  If you can channel your inner Mike Rowe and find a job which is off the beaten path (and off the path to beating off), you may find yourself in a good position–or positions.  And if you do find this magical career, be sure to report back, so that you can share the wealth with the Ask The Harvard MBA community.

I come from a family of engineers, but want a career in business. Is it okay to start small?

I’ve just completed my Bachelor’s in Engineering but I never wanted to pursue a career in it. I’ve always been interested in marketing and sales or management related jobs.

Since I come from a family of engineers it was naturally expected of me to take up engineering. No room for argument. Anyways now that I have completed my degree, I’ve embarked on the tough journey of finding non-engineering-related jobs for myself. After many attempts  I have finally landed one as a project management trainee in a small company. My parents are not very happy but I am tired of sitting at home, unemployed. I want to pursue an MBA at a prestigious college in the US but not immediately since I don’t have much experience.

My job is in the financial capital of my country and it is a place of immense opportunities. This job will open many doors for me since most of the fortune 500 companies and other stalwarts are based there. It seems like I know the answer to my dilemma but I need someone to tell me if it is wrong or right to start small.


The Harvard MBA Says:

While engineering is a wonderful profession (I highly recommend engineering majors to those who choose to attend college), the most important thing is to find a profession that fits with your strengths and passions.

It sounds like while engineering is in your blood, you really gravitate towards the world of business.  Given that fact, I think taking a job in business is exactly the right thing to do.  How are you supposed to know whether you’re correct in your choice in professions without experience?  If you went on and did your MBA without working first, you might find that you didn’t actually enjoy business, and would really have wasted quite a bit of time and effort.

If you want to make it easier on your family, you should point out that until you’ve tried your hand at business, you’ll always wonder, and you’ll end up being a half-hearted engineer.  Hold out the hope that if you discover you don’t like business, you’ll settle down and put that engineering degree to good use.

Right now, both you and your family are arguing about your future without any evidence.  Go work, gather the evidence, and it will make the argument easier and a correct decision more likely.

Why do Asian people love real estate so much?

Why do Asian people love real estate so much?

The Harvard MBA says:

An excellent question! I can’t speak for Asians in their own countries, but I can talk about Asian landlords here in America.  For example, in my neck of the woods (Palo Alto, CA) it seems like the majority of landlords are Chinese.

I suspect that several factors are in play. First, because many Asian countries are crowded, I suspect that Asian immigrants to America have a predisposition to valuing property.

Second, real estate investing requires capital, patience, and frugality–traits that fit well with the admired virtues in many Asian cultures.

Third, being a successful landlord does not depend on language skills or existing connections, making it particularly attractive to immigrants.

Finally, real estate is a very tax-advantaged investment, which makes it attractive to many thrifty Asians.

In summary, real estate is a tax-advantaged investment that doesn’t require language skills, and rewards capital, patience, and frugality.  In other words, it is as attractive to Asians as the Toyota Avalon (Lexus quality at Toyota price)!

Another day, I’ll write about the Chinese Landlord Principle, and how you can turn it to your advantage.

Bonus Asian-American humor: High Expectations Asian Father

My friends say an MBA after the age of 30 won’t do me any good. Are they right?

I am 29-year-old successful telecommunications professional currently working as manager in a multinational telecom concern.

I am planning to apply to HBS through the Fulbright Scholarship Program. If inducted, I would be able to study anywhere within the US (provided I get the admission).

This plan would mean an admission into HBS (if i ever get close to it) or for that matter any other decent business school at an age of 31 and that I would have completed my MBA by the age of 33.

Many of my friends are advising me against this plan. They say that an MBA degree after the age of 30 won’t do me good.

I need your experienced take on this subject.


The Harvard MBA says:


I’ll keep it short and sweet, rather than doing  a whole discounted cash flow analysis:

I have plenty of friends who did their MBA after the age of 30.  It had a major impact on their career, and I know they don’t regret it one bit.

Given the continuing increase in human lifespan, the difference between getting your MBA at 29 and 33 is negligible.  It’s like saying that if you can’t get a driver’s license before the age of 19, you shouldn’t bother.

Another option, perhaps lower-risk, is to do an online MBA.  That way you don’t have to give up your job or relocate.  The rewards in terms of networking and connections won’t be as great, but it may be a better risk-reward ratio for your needs.

Your friends may be well-meaning, but in this case, you should reject their advice.

I’m a professional athlete? What are my chances of getting into HBS?

I’m in the process of applying to HBS. I grew up in Russia, emigrated to Toronto, Canada when I was 15.

I graduated from Purdue business school with 3.6 (while being a student-athlete); had internships as a research analyst in Washington and in sales and trading in New York. And currently working part-time with a Sports Agency in Russia in the marketing department… Last year I played professional basketball in France, and signed another contract in Spain for this year. What are my chances of getting in?

While I know that I can bring something very unique to class, am I too out there with perhaps not enough experience or experience that is irrelevant (pro athlete?)  :) Let me know what you think please! Save me the 300 dollar application fee :)


The Harvard MBA says:

Not only is this the first question I’ve received from a professional athlete (a trend that I hope continues–I’ll be happy to jump you to the front of the line, Kobe Bryant!), Natalia also used some very clever tactics to reach out to me (which I will not disclose for fear of triggering a series of copycats).  It just goes to show you that you can stand out by taking a novel approach.

The good news for you, Natalia, is that you have a lot of things going for you.  You’re international, a professional athlete, someone who has worked overseas, and a woman.  In addition, you’ve already proven your ability to handle the academic side of business school by doing well at Purdue, and with your traditional business roles in research and sales & trading.

Provided you can get a decent GMAT score and get some good recommendations, I’d say your $300 will be well spent.

As a side note for everyone else, that is one of the keys to gaining admission–you need to stand out, but you also need to show that you’ll be able to handle the routine work.  If you have an amazing and unusual background, make sure you do something conventional (management consulting, I-banking) to show that you can handle the mundane.  And if you have a mundane background, for goodness sakes, do something to stand out from the crowd.  There are many more people who get an 800 on the GMAT each year than can gain admission to HBS; high test scores and GPAs are necessary but not sufficient.