I'm very happy to be writing my first post that is a reply to a reader's question! Actually, my next posts will all be answering questions.
So, I was asked "From your experience with the application system, do you think having research experience is helpful? I have research experience and published papers in science and engineering so it is not business related."
Please remember that everything I'm writing is based on my limited experience. But I hope I can help. With that in mind, my opinion is that research experience is extremely helpful. For top schools, I believe it is virtually a requirement.
When a school is evaluating your PhD application, they are usually trying to assess the applicant's potential to become a researcher. And one of the best ways for you to do that is to show that you are already on the path of becoming a researcher, that you've done research before and produced results.
If applicants do not have research experience, they can say they have potential. But when they have experience, they have proof or at least some evidence. Of course it's very rare for an applicant to have extensive research experience. So, a little experience may be enough to put you ahead in competition.
One of the documents you will send to schools when applying is your resume. Your resume will look stronger with research experience.
Many schools will ask you to send a sample of your research (a paper, for example). Your application will look stronger with a paper attached, when compared to those without experience.
If you have research experience, you probably can get Letters of Recommendation from professors who can attest to your capacity to do research. Without research experience, the recommendations you get will be probably a lot weaker.
With research experience, it's going to be easier to answer "What is research to you?". I was asked something along those lines during my interview.
Research experience will also help you to find the best schools, programs, and faculty for your research. One without such experience will probably have a hard time trying to find which papers are relevant for your research interests, who wrote those papers, and from which schools they are.
An applicant who has research experience is also expected to have a lot more experience reading an academic paper, and discussing it. When a professor interviews you, you are many times expected to have some knowledge of the paper published by that professor. An interview can be a much better experience when you can talk to the professor about previous work.
So, having research experience may reap several benefits during the application process. Of course someone without such experience may compensate in other ways and still be able to prove research potential. But it's much more difficult.
In my case, I do not have a paper published yet. I wrote a paper based on my Master's thesis, and I'm trying to publish it somewhere. I presented that paper at the most important business science event in Brazil, in the Marketing category.
Even if your experience is science and engineering papers, it should still me a lot more than most applicants have achieved when applying to a PhD.