How to Write a Successful MBA Career Goals Essay
The MBA application essay; it’s the most feared part of most applications. Whether you have to write 1,000 words or just 500, saying everything you need to say in a concise, intelligent, and appropriate manner isn’t easy. In fact, it can be incredibly frustrating. And while every school asks different essay questions, there’s one question you’re almost guaranteed to see, “What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA career coals and how will School X help you achieve these goals?”
The career goals essay is one of the most common and also most difficult essay questions. On the surface, it seems simple, but there’s a lot of work required if you want to wow the admissions committee (adcom). It all starts with the question.
Breaking Down the MBA Career Goals Essay
Before you can write your career goals essay, you have to break it down into digestible and answerable pieces. There are six pieces to the career goals essay that you’ll need to consider before you begin writing.
1. Where are you now?
Before you can talk about your goals, you have to know where you are now and so does the adcom. This means that your essay will need to concisely describe your current position so that you can better explain your goals.
2. What are you short-term goals?
Short-term and long-term goals are not the same. Short-term goals refer to your immediate plans after graduation. Is there a particular industry where you want to work? Do you have a job or promotion in mind? Where do you see yourself in the immediate months post-MBA?
3. What are your long-term goals?
Long-term goals take a little more thought. You might not be as specific about companies or job titles when talking about your long-term goals, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan. Think about where you want the MBA to take you in ten or twenty years.
4. Why will an MBA help?
Next, you need to discuss how an MBA will help you achieve both your short-term and long-term goals. You’ll need to discuss technical skills, analytical skills, focus areas, and more.
5. Why is the School vital?
You need to make your essay personal. Not just any MBA should work for your goals. You need to explain specifically why School X is vital to your success. Get as specific as possible.
6. Why now?
Finally, you need to discuss why NOW is the best time to get your MBA and pursue your goals. Make a case for why this year, this class, and this moment are vital to your life.
Writing the MBA Career Goals Essay
Now that you know all the components of the essay, it’s time to start writing. To successfully answer the question, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
You need to be as specific as possible when answering each of the six parts of the question. MBA adcoms want to see that you have a specific direction in mind and that you have valid reasons for your choices. If possible, you should be able to specify your preferred industry, job function, skills, ideal company, and more.
For example: Talk about how you want to move into a career in Finance and gain a job at Goldman Sachs. Then, talk about how the MBA will help you gain technical skills in Finance and Accounting as well as analytical skills in Corporate Strategy and Strategic Planning. Finally, discuss how the case competitions at School X, as well as the MBA Finance Club, will prepare you for this career field.
Adcoms want you to dream big, but they also want you to be realistic. There’s nothing impressive about an MBA career goals essay that describes a future path that is unreachable or illogical. Unrealistic goals will not serve to demonstrate that you’re ready for an MBA. Instead, you need to walk the fine line between thinking big and demonstrating that your career path has been well thought out and planned. Look up hiring trends, services, organizations, market status, and competitive concerns within your desired industry and companies.
For example: It’s okay to talk about your goals of managing a billion dollars, but you should indicate that this is a long-term goal, and you have a plan to reach it. Go step-by-step to illustrate that you know what it takes to reach your high aspirations by first talking about starting as a Finance Manager and slowly working your way up over twenty years.
Adcoms can smell BS. You have to convince them that you are genuine in your interest of not just the MBA but of earning an MBA from School X. Take time to do your research and dig deep for those specific offerings from the program that will best serve you and your goals. If you can name specific classes, on-campus impressions, or information you’ve learned from alumni to demonstrate your genuine desire for an MBA, you’ll be in a much better place.
For example: Set up an interview to talk with an adcom or alumni before you write your essay. Then, during that interview, ask questions that will give you the information you need to beef up your essay. If you can talk about how an alum took the same career path and succeeded, you not only demonstrate your interest but your keen intellect.
Finally, make sure you write an essay that is clear and easy to read. Don’t worry about crafting the next great American novel. Instead, focus on answering the question as simply as possible and including all the necessary pieces. This is not a creativity contest. Instead, create a simple outline that you can fill out to answer the six components of the essay.
For example: You should write out the six questions (career analysis, short-term goals, long-term goals, why MBA, why School, why now) and come up with your answers separately. Then, once you have the outline and all the pieces, compile them together into a cohesive story. Don’t try anything fancy.
regions: Atlanta/Baltimore/Boston/Chicago/Dallas/Houston/London/Los Angeles/New York City/Philadelphia/San Diego/San Francisco/Seattle/Toronto/Washington, DC
Make no mistake. Of all the essays you’ll write for your business school application, the goals essay is the most important.
It’s the one essay in which schools most explicitly ask you to answer the central question that underlies your entire application—why exactly do you need an MBA? Not surprisingly, it’s also the essay that schools give applicants the most space to answer (up to 1,000 words for some schools).
Yet despite its importance, when admissions officials are asked, “What’s the most common mistake applicants make?” failure to describe MBA-justifying goals is frequently the answer. In fact, poor execution on the goals essay has been said to account for more than half of all dings.
The goals essay is key because—surprise—adcoms want to know what motivates you to go to all the trouble, expense, and opportunity cost of earning an MBA. No matter how staggering your qualiﬁcations, if you don’t provide a clear reason for needing an MBA, your application stands an excellent chance of losing out to those that do. Business schools use the goals essay to do a reality check on your maturity and career savvy. Do you really have a career plan that extends beyond your next promotion?
If you do, is the MBA really an essential tool for advancing toward that goal (maybe you just need more work experience or perhaps a master’s in a specialized functional skill)? Schools know all too well that many applicants seek MBAs for the “wrong” reasons—as a desperate measure to escape a lousy job or looming pink slip or to gain a promotion or bigger salary—not because the MBA really prepares them to do something they could not do without it. A goals essay that implies you need the MBA for purely instrumental reasons or that has the aura of credential-collecting will be viewed dimly. Demanding well-deﬁned goals is business schools’ way of policing the focus and legitimacy of their applicants’ aspirations.
But there are other, less obvious reasons for exerting extra effort on your goals essays. First, the goals essay is almost always the ﬁrst essay question in each school’s essay set, and ﬁrst impressions do matter. Anything less than a compelling initial essay will put you in a hole that your subsequent essays, no matter how brilliantly executed, may never dig you out of. Start strong.
Second, admissions officers have a weakness for applicants who are, in the well-traveled term, “passionate”—burning with the right Promethean fire to pursue their dreams. It’s only human to respond to enthusiasm. And projecting a well-defined reason for the MBA makes your enthusiasm much more credible and personal. “I need an MBA to advance my career and deepen my skills” won’t generate much excitement, but a detailed, elaborated paragraph in place of this sentence could. If you can’t define your goals well, you will also be unable to define why a particular school is the best fit for you. The crucial link between your goals and the school resources that support them will be missing.
LOOKING FOR A READ ON YOUR MIND AND THOUGHT PROCESSES.
Third, schools use goals essays to make an indirect read on the quality of your mind and thought processes. Do you think seriously about the problems in your company or industry? Are you a realistic person or a vague or ﬂaky dreamer? Can you craft a compelling case in prose that links your past, your goals, and the school you’re applying to? Finally, the goals essay gives you the least freedom of any business school essay for “creative” responses. This is because (1) you usually need to cover so much ground (career progress, short-and long-term goals, why an MBA, why our school) and (2) your goals themselves need to be grounded and savvy.
For all that, a secondary purpose of the goals essay is to learn about you as a person—that is, the distinctive experiences, values, and traits that make you unique. In other words, it’s quite possible to submit a goals essay that is too factual, impersonal, or boring—that succeeds in answering all the school’s goals questions but fails to introduce you as a person the reader would want to know better.
PUT YOURSELF ON THE COUCH.
Use the following questions to interrogate explore the goals that now motivate you to earn an MBA. If they survive intact, congratulate yourself—you’ve done your homework:
1. Is your post-MBA career the same thing you would do if you were independently wealthy? Is it the same thing you currently do as a hobby?
2. Recall the evolution of your interest in your post-MBA industry. How did you learn about it? Imagine that the person or experience that made you aware of this career were radically somehow different—would that change affect your interest in this goal?
3. Are the aspects of your current job that you enjoy more likely to be found in your post-MBA career? Are the aspects of your current job that you’re best at more likely to be found in your post-MBA career? Think about the most unpleasant task in your current position. How likely is your post-MBA position to regularly present you with this or similar tasks?
4. To what extent will your post-MBA career make it easier or more difﬁcult for you to enjoy the things you consider essential to your happiness outside of work?
5. To what extent are your post-MBA goals associated with a speciﬁc lifestyle or geographical location? If your post-MBA career were not associated with that lifestyle or location would you still be attracted to it?
6. Have you conﬁrmed that your short-term goals are logical stepping-stones to your long-term goals? How many of the informational interviews or due diligence conversations you’ve had about your post-MBA career conﬁrmed your plan for transitioning from your short- to your long-term goals?
7. How satisﬁed are you that you have sufﬁciently done due diligence on your post-MBA goal? If you drew up a list of the impressions and responsibilities of this ﬁeld as described by your informational interviewers, would a consistent picture emerge?
8. If everyone you respected told you that your post-MBA goals were ludicrous or unworthy, would you still want to pursue them?
9. If anyone you trust has questioned your post-MBA goals, have you systematically addressed each of their concerns to their or your own satisfaction?
10. What is your Plan B if your post-MBA goals are not, for whatever reason, achievable? What is your Plan B for achieving your post-MBA goals if your primary path toward them becomes blocked or unavailable?
Paul Bodine is the author of “Great Applications for Business School“ and an MBA admissions consultant based in San Diego. This is the third in a series of excerpts from Paul’s newly revised edition of ”Great Applications,” which is on our bookshelf as essential reading for all MBA applicants. The first three articles: “MBA Essays: 10 Crucial Things You Should Never Do,” “MBA Essays: Making a Lasting Impression” and “MBA Essays: Data Mining Your Life” The fifth excerpt will appear next week. You also can follow Paul on Twitter and Facebook.