I've heard from people saying that while applying for PhD, you need to have past experience in researching something and should have international publications. I was like more concentrated towards practical experience and have't had any publications. If I am aspiring to do PhD and want to apply, it would be impossible if such a criteria exists!
Is it mandatory to have published papers while applying for PhD?
However, if you have any research experience (working in a lab, research you've done for classes, undergraduate thesis, capstone project, etc.), you should highlight that on your application, both in your personal statement and on your resume / CV. More importantly, your letters of recommendation should discuss your potential for research. Your recommendation writers should know this, but it would be worthwhile to highlight this in any material you provide to them when you ask them for recommendations, and when you discuss it with them. Trust me, the more information you can give your letter writers, the better their letters will be. I explicitly ask students what their goals are when I'm writing letters of recommendation so I can tailor them appropriately, and you should make sure your letter writers understand that you're applying for a PhD and what your research goals are.
I was like more concentrated towards practical experience and have't had any publications.
If by "practical experience" you mean that you worked on an unsolved problem, then that counts as research. If you simply re-applied knowledge in order to learn how to become proficient in that field (e.g., you programmed a microcontroller to turn lights on and off via voice commands), then the research angle is harder to spin. But, do the best you can to highlight on your applications why you believe you have the preparation to do quality research.
I agree with Chris Gregg here, and I would like to detail my personal situation, as it might be relevant here.
I am about to get my Master's degree in CS and will start my first year of PhD in October with only a four-month experience in R&D (and not really research per se) during an exchange program and with no publication. In my opinion, there are three points that played in my favour while applying :
- Four-month experience is still experience, and you should highlight it in your resume and cover letters. In my case, this experience was at the roots of my choice to get a PhD; reading articles, getting to learn of tons of great ideas on a single subject, then trying to develop your own idea and finally publishing it are the reasons why I have decided to get a PhD. But more importantly, thanks to this experience, I got to know what it was like to work in the industry (through internships) and to work in research, and it allowed me to justify my choice more easily.
- You have to narrow down the subjects that interest you, as a PhD is a long-term engagement. During my applications, I have specifically targeted the Human-Computer Interactions domain (HCI) and have been lucky enough to find a subject on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) that is related to HCI and to learning sciences (which is great because I want to be a teacher, eventually).
- Choose wisely your recommendation writers. They have to testify your ability to work in research and academia. I have been accepted for a subject only because the contact knew a PI who wrote a letter.
So the answer to your question is no, but prior experience in research and clear future career goals have to be emphasized in your applications in order to get not only what you want, but also what suits you.
I think a general answer to your question is "no, it's not essential (but it won't hurt!)".
It's important to bear in mind that this will be more true for some disciplines than others. In a lab science, for instance, it is fairly common for undergraduates to show up on the publications of group leaders on whose projects they have worked during some kind of internship. This is in stark contrast to a discipline such as economics, in which most students do not have any publications even at the time of completion of their PhD! Try to find out what the norms are in your discipline of choice.