What Work Experience Helps MBA Applicants?

Studying event management

You start hunting around for the right business school, and quickly discover that many MBAs require you to have some work experience, if you want to be accepted. You will be interviewed and assessed on your previous experience as part of the application process.

You’ve got some undergraduate study or a career under your belt, and you’ve decided it’s time to take the next step. You’re going to enrol in an MBA.

You start hunting around for the right business school, and quickly discover that many MBAs require you to have some work experience, if you want to be accepted. You will be interviewed and assessed on your previous experience as part of the application process.

How can you be sure that your experience is going to be enough (or of the right type) to get you in the door?

Why you need to have experience in order to study an MBA

As you begin your application process, remember that the requirement for you to have adequate experience is not just some mean trick to make your life more difficult!

An MBA is designed to build on and develop skill sets that you’ve already begun to hone. It’s taught in a way that requires you to link real-world experiences with theory. Plus, you’re often learning in groups, where you’re expected to share your knowledge and benefit from each other’s experience. So, you can see why your assessors want to know more about what you’ve been up to.

What kind of field or background should you be coming from?

The good news is that you don’t need to have worked solely in business (or in any particular type of business) to qualify for a Masters of Business Administration. An MBA is a flexible qualification that can be applied to a range of environments, and people of many different backgrounds enrol (successfully!) in this course.

You could have been working in a not-for profit, in the health sector, as a teacher, at a law firm, an art institution or a museum, the military, or in a family business, and you can still successfully apply for an MBA. It’s more about what you’ve done in your role, than what field you’ve worked in.

Did you excel and grow in your position? Did you display leadership, or prove your value by receiving a promotion?

Often, a business school will be trying to curate a diverse student cohort through the selection process. So if you’re coming from a fairly common field for MBA applications (such as financial services or strategy consulting), you may have to work a little harder to stand out.

How many years of work experience do you need?

Typically, a business school will expect you to have at least 2 years of full-time experience after your undergraduate degree before you apply. For more elite business schools, you’ll be expected to have 3-5 years of experience.

At Torrens, you will need 3 years minimum of experience to be accepted into the MBA program, whether you’re a domestic or international student.

However, remember that time is not the most important factor that your assessors will be considering. They’ll be focused more on quality than quantity. If you’ve performed really well across some challenging and diverse roles in 3 years, instead of 6, you’re still going to be competitive with someone who has a long career.

What types of roles are they looking for?

Although you can be accepted into an MBA from many different types of roles, there are definitely some types of roles, which can provide you with an opportunity to shine, more than others.

It’s going to be much easier to demonstrate your skills in leadership if you’ve been working as a brand manager for a clothing store, for example, than if you’ve been working on the shop floor selling clothes.

When you’re writing up your application and you begin describing your previous roles consider that they are looking for evidence of the following skill sets and personality traits:

  • innovation
  • problem-solving
  • creativity
  • teamwork
  • management
  • communication
  • leadership
  • strategic thinking
  • adoption of new technologies
  • ambition and upward mobility

In discussing and writing about your previous roles, focus on what you achieved in those roles that highlight some of these skill sets: did you persuade management to improve a system? Did you manage a team, no matter how small? Did you contribute to some improvement, or develop an innovation during your time in that role? Were you promoted, or was your contribution recognised somehow?

Do internships or volunteer roles matter?

Although assessors are looking at full time, professional roles, internships, and volunteer roles can certainly help to boost your application. Again, it comes down to what you achieved in your role.

If you were able to take on a role as a volunteer or intern that allowed you opportunities to shine and exercise some valuable skill sets, then that’s great. You should definitely discuss these roles, and tell the same kind of ‘success stories’ about what you achieved in these positions as you would about any paid position.

For example, if you volunteered part-time as the event coordinator for a human rights organisation, that’s something you should definitely be talking about, wages or not. If you were canvassing for donations on the street, that’s less relevant.

Remember, your assessors are aware that for many recent graduates, it’s hard to go straight into paid work without some prior experience. They’ll expect most applicants to have a few internships under their belt.

How much does experience matter compared to other factors?

Of course, the experience is just one criteria among several. You’re also expected to have a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent level of experience), and you will have to go through an interview process. But, the experience is important.

If you don’t fulfill the minimum requirements for experience, you won’t have much chance of making it into the course. Remember, you will be competing with other students who’ve got good grades, but who also come with more experience.

However, sometimes there is a back door. It’s worth making an inquiry at your institution, in case they have another system of admission.


At Torrens, you may still be able to undertake the MBA without fulfilling all requirements, if you first complete a Graduate Certificate of Business Administration or a Graduate Diploma of Business Administration.


If you’re curious about what’s on offer at Torrens, see here for more information about studying a Masters of Business Administration.

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