What’s More Important to Business Schools: The Company You Work For or What You Actually Do?

Successful ApplicantFor most Admissions teams at top business schools, an applicant’s work experience is a major area of assessment, but there still remain a lot of questions around how programs evaluate the varying factors that make up one’s work experience. One of the key questions many candidates have when it comes to work experience is what do admissions teams value more: the reputation of the company you work for, or the quality of what you actually do?

Let’s explore why each aspect of this question is important, and ultimately, how admissions teams value or weight your work experience:

Big-Name Firm
Many of the top business schools are certainly “brand conscious” and tend to admit folks who have worked at large “blue chip” companies. However, I would say that this fact exists primarily due to the recruiting process of those firms.

The type of talent that can secure employment at these companies are often similar to the ones that can secure admission at top-tier MBA programs. From attending prestigious undergraduate programs to achieving high standardized test scores and maintaining high levels of ambition, there tend to be more similarities than differences between big-name firm employees and top MBA candidates.

Context of Work
One could argue that “impact” is the most important characteristic when evaluating work experience, however it can certainly be more difficult to get scope your accomplishments across when the Admissions Committee is unfamiliar with your firm.

Another challenge that often occurs here is when an applicant is unable to properly translate their great work experience and impact to the firm. With big-name firms, generally, no translation is needed as the reputation of the company precedes all, but when communicating the context of your work at a smaller firm, it is critical to clearly articulate all of your good deeds.

When considering the choice between firm reputation and impact of work, those without a blue chip pedigree should not be worried. The benefits of working at a larger company do not put you at a significant disadvantage – this just means you need to be proactive and aggressive in highlighting the higher value of your work and the nature of your firm. Your recommenders can also help you by explicitly and repeatedly emphasizing through their examples that you are not doing typical work. If you do these things, you will minimize the disadvantage of your firm’s lack of brand name.

Business schools would rather see you doing meaningful work at a small-name firm then doing nothing at a well-known brand. Now of course, the ideal situation would be to work at a blue chip company and still have great work experiences but it is perfectly fine if that’s not the case. The important thing is to make it very clear of the impact you made and how valued you are at your company.

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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You read more articles by him here.