Lateral Placements and Some Strategies for those with Work Experience in Business Schools

In recent years, the number of students with work experience has gone up in the business schools around the world. while the business schools in the US and Europe have always had work experience as a prerequisite for enrollment, Asian business schools have tended to take in more students fresh out of graduate courses. while the reasons for this range from a lack of adequate pool of professionals willing to enroll in business schools to the fact that many Asian business schools were structured around the pedagogical concepts of training fresh graduates. Whereas it is our view that business schools must preferably enroll students with work experience, as the resulting application of theory to the real world experience would actualize true management education, we are not against the practice of enrolling fresh graduates. With this context, it is now time to discuss how the laterals or the management students with work experience can target premium placements in business schools.

For starters, they need to realize that many consultancies and investment banks prefer work experience but only if it is four years or less. Their contention is that students with more than three years experience cannot be molded according to their requirements as more than four years of work experience makes them jaded and prone to a setline of thinking. Therefore, laterals with more experience must choose the type of firms that they want to be placed in an astute manner. They can do this by selecting those firms that are similar to consultancies and investment banks but differ from them in the emphasis they place on work experience. Examples of these firms can include strategic management firms and technology consultancies that have a particular liking towards students with technology experience and a management degree. Further, laterals with more experience can consider joining niche firms like infrastructure lending institutions and credit rating agencies apart from commercial banks and commercial arms of investment banks. The point here is that most of these firms need specialized domain knowledge and niche experience and hence, laterals would fit the requirements and the needed profile for these firms.

The other aspect about lateral placements is that in business schools that enroll only those with work experience, these laterals have a better chance than their peers in business schools that have a mix of students from all backgrounds. For instance, the ISB or the Indian School of Business takes students only if they have work experience and makes exceptions only in rare cases. This is the case with many US and European business schools as well. In these schools, it is better for laterals to be specialists than generalists rather than be the jack-of-all-trades and master of none. In other words, the laterals have to leverage their work experience to the maximum extent possible so that synergies can be actualized between their work experience and their education. This also is a good opportunity for them to capitalize on their niche experience, which is usually in finance, or technology that puts them at an advantage over their peers with general work experience. Of course, in recent years, the majority of the laterals in business schools have specialized experience meaning that the competition has toughened for the premium placements. This is more the reason for laterals to focus on what they want and not try for everything that comes their way.

In brief, it is better for the laterals to pick their specialization upfront and focus their energies on being placed in the job of their choice rather than aiming too high and falling in the process. Though this does not imply that we discourage ambition, the point remains that laterals can land premium jobs even in this case. Indeed, as the experiences of many high profile management experts shows, laterals who are focused have a better chance of premium jobs than those who are skewed in their priorities.


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