Why work experience is important for Business School

People often underestimate the importance of work experience, especially when it comes to business school. While most business schools in the US simply state that work experience is preferred, they do not elaborate on how critical this experience is, to understand and relate to the topics in discussion, while maximizing the business school experience.

Using Work Experience from Sri Lanka to Your Advantage

Do not hesitate to engage in class discussions. The concept of expressing our opinions in the classroom and disagreeing with classmates or the professor is not something we are accustomed to. This does not mean you should get into a war of words trying to get your point across, but this is not the place to be a shrinking violet either.

Most business school programmes will draw reference to business in developing countries. This is your chance to talk about how business is conducted in developing countries, and shatter some stereotypes if need be.

Gaining Work Experience in the US While Doing the MBA
As business students it is critical that you can understand and relate to the way business is done in the US/state. Hence, it is very important to keep your ears and eyes open for nuances. The best way to do this is to get work experience within the US.

It is essential to have a discussion with the international programmes office and determine when you are able to start gaining work experience in the US. The rule is that a student may not be employed outside the campus until one academic year is complete; however, it is often possible to seek unpaid internships prior to this time as long as you meet the criteria outlined by US federal labor laws.
While experiences gained by working in Sri Lanka are helpful for classroom discussion and assist in the long term, many US employers discount such experience, especially if it is a company that is unfamiliar to their ears. It is also unlikely that these US companies will be calling past employers in Sri Lanka for references. Therefore it is critical to gain "a foot in the door" so that a US employer has someone within the US to refer to.

It is important to have a good idea of what kind of job you would like to have post-graduation (company/role/responsibilities etc). It is also important to develop a list of the skills that are required to get the job (people skills, writing skills, presentation skills, research skills etc). While it would be ideal to get your internship in the company/role you would like to work at/in, it is often possible to gain these skills even by working in companies that have nothing in common with the industry. I wanted to get research experience to help me in my long term plan to be a consultant, but I got this experience through a recruiting firm, working as a research assistant. I also wanted to get writing experience, which I got at a not-for-profit organization, working as an intern to the business development manager.

Working at a US organization is a little different to working at a Sri Lankan firm. By simply 'being at work' within a US firm, you can pick up on cultural nuances, communication (accent/ colloquial grammar/topical discussion points), interactions with co-workers and it also serves as a hotbed for networking opportunities.


The word "networking" is frequently used but not many people actually understand its true meaning or spirit. The process of networking should not begin just prior to a job search, and is much better started ahead. Start talking to different types of people, let them get to know you, get to know them and vice versa. They might be able to give you leads on specific jobs as they get to know your strengths, and they might be able to let you know of their contacts that might be of interest to you. They might be able to do a mock interview, and they might able to discuss current events and offer different perspectives. The options are endless. One of my past employers referred me to my current employer while another past employer helped me fine-tune my resume prior to sending it out.

It is very important to keep in touch with the people you network with. This does not mean you should be inundating these people with emails/calls on a weekly basis, and it does not mean that you should accumulate impressive stacks of business cards and only go through them when you are on the lookout for a job either. The ideal would be somewhere in-between where you might stay in touch with some more than others.

Universities usually offer good networking opportunities. The international alumni are a very good source of information, as they would have gone through similar experiences themselves. Professors (especially adjunct/visiting professors) are a great source of information and make good references as well.


People communicate in different ways in the US. Politics and cricket are popular topics of conversations in Sri Lanka. In the US, people seldom talk about politics until they are very familiar with each other and it would be very difficult to find someone who knew the intricacies of cricket! Just interacting with Americans would give you a feel for what constitutes appropriate or inappropriate topics for discussion.
While our Sri Lankan accent is not too difficult for Americans to understand, there are some words that are just not used in day-to-day conversation. Try asking for a serviette or a soft drink - you will be met with blank stares. Interacting with Americans should help you figure out what language/ grammar should be used in the US.

Working with different types/sizes of organizations

I have come across many people who have had great internships. I have also encountered people who have been disappointed by their internships. But every single one of them has said that the internship has helped him/her figure out what he/she wants to do and how to get about it.

It is also good to try and work in different sizes of organizations to get a feel for what would work best for you since the size of organization can really impact your experience. It would be easier to get noticed in a small or midsized organization (even during an internship) and get to know key personnel as well. On the other hand, among a number of other benefits, working at larger corporations would be more easily recognized. I initially thought that I would like to be a part of a large organization but after working at a number of different sized firms later realized that a midsized organization would suit me best.

Applying for an Internship Things to remember are:

" Look at a variety of sources to find out what options are out there: Some options are job search (i.e. and internship websites (i.e. ), ask professors if they have heard of openings. The university would also have a career management center which you could use as a resource.

" Do your research, figure out the deadline and apply on time: Applications for summer internships are usually due the previous fall and internship offers are usually made by the end of the year.
" Make your application stand out: A large number of people apply for internships in prestigious organizations, so make sure the application is the best you can offer. Don't wait for the last minute and send a hastily assembled application packet. Start early. Revise. Revise. Revise.

" Utilize the facilities offered by the career management center: This center usually conducts workshops on resume optimization, mock interviews, dressing for success, formal etiquette etc.

" Follow up: Most people forget to follow up after an interview. Remember to thank people who got you the interview as well as the interviewer.

Another way to get "work" experience is by looking around your university for opportunities to interact with external organizations. I was very interested in getting into consulting and spoke to a few professors, and current and past students, about my ambitions. During this process, I found that there were classes that actually involved consulting with external parties as well as a consulting group which took on a project each quarter. I was able to work with three organizations on very different types of projects during the course of the MBA, about which I was able to talk about in detail during internship interviews and subsequent job interviews as well. But remember that planning ahead is of prime importance, as classes such as these are usually only offered a few times a year and a number of people vie to participate in these classes.

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