Monday, September 19, 2005

Experienced vs. Freshers – an MBA perspective

Here is an article, written by me and Nikhil during our 1st year at B-school, which never saw the light of the day. I would like to thank all those batchmates, whose inputs helped us compile this article. Here's hoping this article can be of some assistance to aspiring MBA students.

"Experienced vs. Freshers – an MBA perspective"

Ashita Mittal was placed during her final year in engineering college with a leading software firm. But she never wanted to be another brick in the wall. She wanted to differentiate herself from other graduates who start their career at the lowest rung of organizational hierarchy. MBA was a natural choice for her. On the other side is Shailesh Dhawla, who worked as a software engineer with a leading software consultancy firm for 3 years. He started his job with some ends in mind, like working with a known company, client and an on-site trip. When all of them happened, the next thing was the ladder. MBA seemed a better choice to re-skill himself and make the path up the ladder easier.

Two people, different reasons but a common destination: B-School. But what about the results each one gets after the degree? What about the amount of learning each one of them can accomplish during the course? What about their performance post-MBA or during summer internships? In most international B-schools like the Harvard or Wharton work-experience is a prerequisite for entrance into an MBA course; not so in India. Most B-schools in India have a balanced ratio of freshers and experienced students. Whether the model followed by Indian B-schools is correct or not is a question of concern, but a more fundamental question is whether the students themselves perceive differences based on their being experienced or not, as significant. We will try to answer this question in the following paragraphs.

Why MBA: Differentiate or Die
In India better career paths, better pay-scales and the glamour associated with an MBA degree are major reasons why students opt for education in Business Administration. However, probably the most popular reason for students to pursue any course is peer pressure. Many freshers may be prone to such influences.

Those with experience find that MBA is a preferred way of switching areas/industries. Also when the transition from junior or middle level to senior management is desired, the ability to grasp the big picture is necessary. One's thought process improves when he learns to see the big picture, the window to which is an MBA, which provides exposure to all functional areas in an organization.

Why is experience important: nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced - even a proverb till life has illustrated it
Students with experience have a perceptible advantage in terms of final placements at the end of MBA studies. They generally tend to be more disciplined and focused as they have higher stakes. They can easily relate practical problems and situations with theoretical solutions and are also in a better position to appreciate how distorted the theory is vis-à-vis practice. Their orientation is different with a larger end in mind. They are also better at handling people. They tend to have a better idea of what they want and hence have stronger work habits.

Finally they can contribute better in class discussions, and can experiment with other functional areas during the summer internship which is a risk a fresher can't afford.

Does that mean freshers are at a disadvantage: there is no adequate defense, except stupidity, against the impact of a new idea
The most important advantage that freshers have is an open mind. They have new ideas and a fresh perspective which is not biased towards any particular field or sector. They are not constrained by rules and hence can think and do things which experienced people might not. This also makes them have a higher risk taking capacity.

Fallout of this is that freshers are usually preferred for jobs which require creativity, enthusiasm & commitment. Freshers are also good at brainstorming since diversity element is higher for a fresher. They are usually more energetic which means that class dynamics improve due to presence of freshers. Last but not the least, freshers are seen to be academically stronger.

In summer placements, many companies tend to prefer freshers over people with work-experience, to join them for projects. Experienced students have a certain amount of prejudice in going about things, adopting past practices, and thus being rather stereotypical. On the other hand, freshers are more open to new ideas and are more likely to take bold, innovative steps in conducting their summer projects.

When MBA: chance favors only those who court her
People with various levels of work-experience go for an MBA. It is not unusual to find people having 1 year to 10 or more years of experience in the same batch. The question is- what level of work-ex is ideal for leveraging maximum advantage out of business education? General consensus is that 2-3 years of experience is good enough for a person to understand the dynamics of an organization, understand different functional areas and experience 2 levels of organizational hierarchy. People who have worked for more than 7-8 years tend to form rigid opinions about the workings of the organization, which may act as a mental blockade in learning new concepts. On the other side of the spectrum, people with 1 or less years of experience are almost as good as freshers as far as practical knowledge is concerned.

The catch -- higher the number of years of relevant job experience, better the chance of lateral placements.

What results to expect after the degree: with every deed you are sowing a seed, though the harvest you may not see
A major advantage of a job post MBA is better quality of work and resulting job satisfaction. The jobs usually involve a business angle, where budgetary decisions have to be made, profitability is directly linked etc etc. In a nutshell – let other men do other things, managers must manage affairs of the company.

The rise in salaries is typically to the scale of 2-3 times for freshers, as compared to what he/she would have received in a job without MBA. For people with experience the immediate rise may be less steep, may be about 20-50 % but in the long run the career growth may provide a gain of 2-4 times.

Engineers – boon or bane: the more the world is specialized, the more it will be run by generalists.
With an increase in the output of engineering colleges and the rising numbers of engineers seeking an MBA, a new distinction (apart from freshers vs. experienced) has come up in B-schools i.e. Engineers vs. non-engineers. Most leading B-schools have an equitable mix of both categories of students.

There are some obvious advantages that engineers enjoy. Number crunching comes more easily and naturally to an engineer which is what much of management is all about. Also engineers are not technology-averse, hence in the IT enabled world of today it might be a bit easier for them to understand a lot of technical stuff that comes in with problems. This is all the more important when technology is inseparable part of doing business.

Engineers are also seen to have stronger work habits. This is because typically Indian engineering courses are quite rigorous than other courses. Also engineers are already exposed to quarter or semester based system during their graduation (unlike commerce or arts students) which is the system followed in all leading MBA courses. Engineers also have task orientation especially the do-ability or execution part of the problem.

However most engineers who pursue an MBA should be cautious to ward off the disadvantages they have due to the engineer-genes they carry. The most glaring problem is grappling issues relating to the commercial face of business. The transactions, the finance, are not too easy to grasp.

Again, the psychological or human (read HR) aspects might be appreciated far better by an arts graduate than an engineer. Usually engineers focus more towards the process and tend to take the people involved for granted; if this habit is not corrected it may prove to be a major problem in an organizational setting. As a corollary they do not seem to understand team dynamics; everything from teamwork to Organizational Behaviour may appear to be a dissonance. A typical attitude is ‘team work is more of social loafing’. It has also been observed that engineers have lesser creative bent of mind than non-engineers. Finally, though this is not a thumb rule, typical engineers may not be very good at communication skills, an advantage which people from arts/humanities background may enjoy.
In a nutshell: It is like driving a car at night. You never se further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip.

But then, who is better – freshers or experienced: people differ not only in their capability but also in their "WILL" to do it.
The answer is that this depends on what is the task at hand. If the task at hand is totally new to the person who has been given the responsibility of carrying it out, then ideally, there should not be any difference in the way it is done, provided the people (the fresher and the one with experience) are of equal caliber. Typically some problems encountered are, a fresher might feel overwhelmed and may not perform to his full potential; a person with work experience may approach some task on the nature of which he has partial information with some over confidence, and may not perform to his potential.

Again if the task is something that the person with experience has done before – the answer is obvious, ceteris paribus. In case of a completely new task though, a fresher has the advantage of having an open mind. People who have been in the work force may carry strong biases.
An experienced student is aware in terms of the surroundings and the way of working. He is also practical in at arriving results or actionable/ useful reports. But, creativity might be affected. Ultimately, everything boils down to the individual.

When asked whether freshers felt that they could have benefited more from an MBA if they had some experience, the answers were highly subjective – YES, if wanted to specialize in some particular field; NO, if wanted to do general management.

What next: you are today where thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where thoughts will take you.
The essence of the whole story is that whether you are a fresher or an experienced person, you must know your abilities and shortcoming alike, to be a successful manager.


chaos said...

did you write this when you were in 1st yr?? whatever... a good and descriptive analysis... hope it might help MBA aspirants too :D


Shubham said...

hi chaos,
ya.. we did write the article in the 1st year @ NITIE.. we tried to get it published in a few newspapers and magazines, but did not succeed.. while i was rummaging through some old files yesterday, i found this article.. and i thought i might as well publish it on my blog.. so that at least some people might read it.. :)
BTW.. i guess we had taken inputs from u too while writing this..