Dream Big: Your MBA Career Goals

Just about every MBA application includes an essay question asking about your post-MBA career goals in one form or another.

  • What are your post-MBA career goals?”
  • What career path will follow after your MBA?”
  • What is your career objective and why do you need an MBA?”

As an applicant, you might wonder why MBA admissions committees expect you to be able to answer questions about your career plans in an MBA application. “Isn’t business school the place to figure out what I want to be when I grow up?” you ask.

There are a few reasons you need to think differently if you want to succeed in the MBA application process.

First, MBA admissions officers believe that candidates who have a clear career goal statement will be able to make the most of their time in an MBA program.

Second, they believe that candidates who have a career action plan are more likely to realize their career aspirations.

Third, and most importantly, admissions officers aren’t just trying to fill seats in an MBA classroom; they see themselves as creators of future business leaders.

For all these reasons, MBA admissions officers are looking for MBA students who know how to dream big!

When admissions officers ask, “What are your career goals?” they are really asking:

  • Are you taking steps to prepare for your future career?
  • Are you passionate about the field you plan to work in?
  • Will you make a positive impact on the world in the future?

The point is that your career goals are a vital component of your MBA admissions strategy. Admissions officers are searching for applicants with talent, passion, and a sense of purpose. If any of those elements are missing from your application, then you may be passed over for candidates who possess them all. Your MBA application must convince the admissions committee that you are a high-achiever who is just getting started and that you have a plan to reach even greater heights in your future career.

Before you can write a Career Goals Essay, you must first have a clear career goals statement and be able to express why your career objectives are meaningful to you. By investigating the intersection between your strengths, passion, and purpose, you will be able to clearly define your career goals and make a stronger case for admission to a top MBA program.

You can break down the process of defining your career goals into four steps:

  1. Discover Your Career Purpose. Your Career Purpose is what you hope to achieve in the world in a larger sense. Admissions committees are looking for candidates who know what matters to them and who have a sense of where they want to go in their careers.
  2. Identify Your Dream Job. Your Dream Job is a long-term career goal and describes the job, title, and industry that will best position you to achieve your Career Purpose. Now is the time to “dream big”!
  3. Inventory Your Career Capabilities. Identify the skills, knowledge, and capabilities required to be successful in achieving your long-term career goals.
  4. Develop Your Career Action Plan. Given the capabilities you possess and those you need to develop, you will be able to design a career action plan to get you from where you are today in your career all the way to your Dream Job.

In this article, we’ll walk you through each step in the process of defining your career goal and share some examples of how past MBA Prep School clients have used our approach to create exciting plans for their future.

Discover Your Career Purpose

Defining career goals that will meet an admissions officer’s expectations at one of the top-ranked business schools begins with having a clear sense of Career Purpose. In our experience, discovering one’s Career Purpose is the step most applicants struggle with most.
To help you discover yours, we’ve created a step-by-step exercise.

Your Career Purpose is what you hope to achieve in the world in a big picture sense. Universities founded MBA programs believing that business leaders can play an influential role in contributing to society’s prosperity. It follows that business school admissions committees are looking for future leaders who know what matters to them, want to make an impact in the world, and are excited about fulfilling this role.

Your Career Purpose has nothing to do with climbing the corporate ladder or making loads of money – it has to do with service to others. So your Statement of Career Purpose must answer three critical questions about your future career:

  1. Who will you help?
  2. How will you help?
  3. Where will you help?

For some lucky few, their Career Purpose became clear to them early in life. Others never quite figure it out; they move from job to job, never stopping long enough to ask themselves what they were truly born to do.

The haphazard approach to building a career may work just fine for some, but if you’re applying to a top-tier MBA program, it won’t work for you. You are expected to have a convincing story about what you believe you were born to do. If your Career Purpose has yet to reveal itself to you – it’s time to go looking!

We’ve found that the discovery process for most people begins in one of three places:

  1. An industry or field that fascinates them;
  2. A group of people they want to help; or
  3. A cause that matters to them.

Let’s take a look at how three MBA Prep School clients developed their Statements of Career Purpose.

Industry/Field as a Starting Point

In our experience, the most common starting point for beginning a search for a Career Purpose is within an industry or field that fascinates you. It might be the field you are currently working in or simply one you have always wanted to enter.

With “industry” as the starting point, answer the following questions:

  • What industry/field are you passionate about working in?
  • If you were a leader in that field, what is a significant problem you would want to tackle?
  • What motivates you? Why does this problem matter to you personally?
  • What leadership role can you play given your unique set of capabilities, skills, and knowledge?

From the answers to these questions, you can answer the ultimate question: What is your Career Purpose?

Case Study: Lucy’s Career Purpose

Our client Lucy was already a gifted researcher, strategic thinker, and writer. Although she worked in investment banking as an analyst, she was also a film and TV fanatic who was extremely passionate about the entertainment industry.

To discover her Career Purpose, Lucy’s next step was to look for an opportunity to play a leadership role in the entertainment field. She spoke to several people and, true to her gifts as a researcher, did tons of research on the media and entertainment industry. She discovered that the transition to digital technology was an area ripe with confusion and opportunity. She concluded that her gifts seemed well suited to becoming a guru who helped entertainment companies undergo that transformation.

Lucy’s Career Purpose: To help shape the future of digital entertainment.

People You Want to Help as a Starting Point

Starting with “people in need,” the questions for discovering a Career Purpose are quite similar to starting with an industry that fascinates you:

  • Which community of people are you passionate about helping?
  • What is a significant problem faced by these people that you would want to tackle?
  • What motivates you? Why does this problem matter to you personally?
  • What leadership role can you play given your unique set of capabilities, skills, and knowledge?

Case Study: Jason’s Career Purpose

Jason is an Australian who moved to the United States five years ago because he wanted to work in a high-tech startup, and there weren’t enough job opportunities in Sydney. He knew many other talented Australians who had done the same and was troubled by the “brain drain” from Australia.

He decided that he should help Australia address this issue, creating economic opportunities and reversing this long-standing “brain drain” trend. Jason envisioned becoming one of the founders of a “Silicon Beach” in Sydney that would rival Silicon Valley one day!

Post-MBA, Jason felt that the best way to achieve his purpose and become an industry leader would be through establishing partnerships between business leadership and the Australian federal and regional government to create a viable venture capital ecosystem in Australia.

Jason’s Statement of Career Purpose: To help Australian entrepreneurs by being one of the catalysts in developing an Australian venture capital ecosystem in Sydney, Australia.

Cause as a Starting Point

If your starting point for discovering your Career Purpose is “a cause you care about,” you’ll need to answer these four questions:

  • Which cause are you passionate about fighting for?
  • What is a significant problem or issue addressed by this cause that you would want to tackle?
  • What motivates you? Why does this problem matter to you personally?
  • What leadership role can you play given your unique set of capabilities, skills, and knowledge?

Case Study: Doug’s Career Purpose

Doug’s Career Purpose statement sprang from a cause he cared deeply about. Doug was a military combat veteran with multiple tours of duty in Iraq and believed that the best way to prevent future conflict with the Gulf region was to end America’s addiction to foreign oil. It was important to him that his career would break this addiction, giving nations one less reason to go to war.

Doug had helped start one of the first biodiesel plants in the United States’ Northeast region and learned how hard it was for promising clean-tech ventures to raise capital. His Career Purpose became to reduce his country’s addiction to foreign oil by ensuring that clean-tech ventures received the capital they needed to grow and prosper.

Doug’s Career Purpose: To combat the United States’ reliance on foreign oil through clean-tech.

Exercise: Discover Your Career Purpose

When it comes to discovering your Career Purpose, there are many paths to the same destination. In the case studies, we showed you three paths MBA Prep School students have found most helpful:

  • Starting with a field or industry that fascinates you – like Lucy;
  • Starting with a group of people with whom you feel a kinship or some kind of affinity and want to help – like Jason; or
  • Starting with a cause that matters to you – like Doug.

What you should notice about all three case studies is how different they are from each other. Each candidate started from a different place, but they followed a similar process to discover their Career Purpose. This is a process you can use to discover your Career Purpose.

Your first step in the Career Purpose Discovery exercise is to choose a starting point that makes sense to you. How do you decide?

If you don’t have an industry you’re fascinated by, a group of people you want to help, or a cause that matters to you, then you have some thinking to do. There are libraries filled with books on the kind of soul-searching you need to do to find your ideal starting point.

This work will require a period of thinking and self-reflection on your part – you might end up working through one, two, or even all three of these starting points before settling on your final one. Next, you’ll learn how to translate your Career Purpose into a “Dream Job.”

Talk to an Admissions Expert

Do you know what admissions officers are looking for and how to stand out from other applicants?

Talk with one of our MBA admissions experts to design a winning application strategy!

Identify Your Dream Job

Your Dream Job describes the setting and role you believe will best enable you to achieve your Career Purpose. To be clear, we aren’t referring to the job you want after graduating from business school. At this stage, use your imagination and look many years into the future.

By design, your Career Purpose relates to solving a large-scale problem as a future leader. Because there are many different ways to attack a significant problem, many “dream jobs” might enable you to fulfill your Career Purpose.

For example, suppose your Career Purpose is to protect and preserve the environment. In that case, you could choose to work for a CPG company and instill a culture of conservation in a heretofore culture of “use it and toss it.” Alternatively, you could go to work for an electric car manufacturer and accelerate the worldwide adoption of the electric car. Or you might raise a Private Equity Fund that invests exclusively in clean technology. In all cases, you would be fulfilling the same Career Purpose but doing so in a markedly different way.

In the other elements of creating your MBA admissions strategy, we help you to identify your Points of Difference and Leadership Capabilities. The work you do in those exercises can also guide you in defining your career goals.

How do you project into the future and identify your Dream Job? The most important thing is to find a job that will draw upon the talents you most enjoy using. Nature has wired us to enjoy using our talents – it feels good. Therefore, we recommend using your strengths to guide you and aim for a Dream Job that capitalizes on those strengths.

Case Study: Lucy’s Dream Job

Remember Lucy, the investment banking analyst who decided that her Career Purpose would be to help shape the future of digital entertainment?

To take the next step in defining her career goals, she thought about the strengths she possessed and where she might be able to make the greatest impact in the future of digital entertainment. For example, some of Lucy’s strengths include:

  • Mastering New Subjects
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Inspiring Others with Words

Based upon these strengths, she projected many years into the future and decided that her Dream Job was to lead a Streaming Entertainment Media Company someday. This job would place her at the forefront of the evolving digital media landscape and demand the kinds of strengths she possessed.

Was this the only direction Lucy could go in to fulfill her Career Purpose? Of course not! She could have set her sights on leading the digital media practice of a strategy consulting firm, becoming a director of equity research for an investment bank’s media and entertainment industry group, or founding a streaming media market research firm. Nevertheless, by taking all the variables and options into account, Lucy decided that the CEO job seemed like the best way for her to fulfill her career purpose by capitalizing on her unique combination of talents, interests, and strengths.

Exercise: Brainstorm Your Dream Jobs

Now it’s your turn! Armed with your Career Purpose statement and the strengths identified in your MBA admissions strategy work, you can start brainstorming possible Dream Jobs. Once your Dream Job is clear to you, it’s time to identify the “Career Capabilities” you will need to be successful and develop a Career Action Plan for gaining those skills.

Inventory Your Career Capabilities

Career Capabilities are the collection of talents, skills, knowledge, leadership abilities, and relationships that will fuel your success in the field and occupation you have set your sights on. In this section, you will learn the best way to research and identify necessary Career Capabilities and how to inventory those you possess versus those you need to acquire to succeed in your Dream Job.

You can certainly learn a great deal about what’s demanded of leaders in the field you dream of working in through books and internet research. Still, we think the most valuable insights on Career Capabilities come from talking with people who are already on a similar path to the one you envision for yourself. Let’s look at how you might go about collecting this valuable information.

Your assignment is to conduct informational interviews with at least three people who are a few years ahead of you on the path you envision for yourself. Under ideal circumstances, the people you interview will be MBA alumni who are about five years post-MBA. It’s unlikely that you will find people who have exactly the same Career Purpose and Dream Job as you have. Instead, aim to identify interviewees whose path has similarities to the one you want to follow. For example, if your career goal is to catalyze a cultural shift at a Chinese CPG company, talking to an up-and-coming CPG product manager or a young VP at a smaller Asian firm will suffice.

After you have conducted your informational interviews, you will consolidate the Career Capabilities that your interview subjects pointed to as prerequisites for success in the career you envision into a single list. In the final step, you will complete a gap analysis, inventorying your Career Capabilities portfolio to determine which assets you will need to add to your portfolio in business school and beyond. Let’s look at an example of how you can use the information you gather from your informational interview interviews.

Case Study: Jason’s Capabilities Inventory

Jason, who wanted to be one of the pioneers of a Venture Capital ecosystem in Australia, aspired to be a VC partner in Sydney. He interviewed a partner in a U.S. venture capital firm, a partner in an Australian venture capital firm, and a well-respected Australian business professor at Stanford who is a thought leader in the VC field.

After completing his informational interviews, Jason categorized the capabilities his interviewees’ told him he’d need in his post-MBA job as an associate in a VC firm into three areas: Leadership, Knowledge, and Skills.

The Leadership Capabilities he would need include:

  • Analytical Decision Making;
  • Inspiring/Influencing with Words; and
  • Innovating, Creating, and Trend Spotting.

In an MBA program and through self-study he would need to build deeper knowledge in:

  • Entrepreneurial Finance;
  • Negotiations/Deal Making; and
  • Entrepreneurial Strategy & Marketing.

Finally, the Skills needed for a VC job post-MBA include:

  • Financial Modeling & Due Diligence;
  • Deal Making Experience; and
  • Business Plan/Company Assessment.

Jason next compared the required Career Capabilities with his existing skills and knowledge to identify which he “had” versus those he “needed” to acquire in business school and his future career on the way to his VC Dream Job. For example, although he had acquired knowledge of finance, strategy, and marketing in college and as a management consultant, it hadn’t been from an entrepreneurial perspective, so he needed to acquire knowledge in these areas.

He had developed financial modeling skills and some negotiations experience, but he had not been involved in deal-making or assessing new ventures’ business plans.

Finally, Jason felt confident in his ability to make analytical decisions as a leader, but he did not feel as confident when it came to innovation and trend spotting.

In addition to identifying the necessary Career Capabilities for achieving his career goals, Jason collected his interview subjects’ opinions on the best career path to reaching his ultimate career goals.

Exercise: Inventory Your Career Capabilities

Your mission now is to seek out three individuals whose career paths sign with your Career Purpose and schedule your informational interviews. To help you prepare for these conversations, here is a list of questions that you can use to solicit valuable information about the Career Capabilities you will need to succeed:

  • Which of your strengths has contributed the most to your success so far in your career?
  • What experiences or milestones have been most important to your career advancement thus far?
  • What skills have you relied on most at each stage of your career?
  • What strengths will likely drive your success over the next five years?
  • What skills, knowledge, experiences, and relationships will be most important for me to acquire to reach my dream job?
  • What career path would you recommend I follow to reach my dream job?
  • Which MBA programs are best for people with my career aspirations? What are the interesting trends, threats, and opportunities you see in your current career field or industry?
  • Where is leadership most needed?

Once you have a clear idea of what assets you will need to succeed in your Dream Job, you will inventory which ones you already possess and which ones you will need to acquire in business school and after graduating. We call that your Career Action Plan.

Develop Your Career Action Plan

The final step in the career goals definition process is to outline a credible Career Action Plan that summarizes the steps from where you are today to your ultimate Dream Job. Your plan will describe to admissions officers how you will acquire the Career Capabilities to reach your ultimate goal.

Your career action plan needs to delineate four key milestones.

  1. Post-MBA
  2. MBA +5 years
  3. MBA +10 years
  4. Dream Job

Case Study: Jason’s Career Action Plan

Jason identified four key milestones along the way to becoming an Australian VC partner. Post-MBA, he planned to seek a position as an Associate in a Silicon Valley VC fund. Five years after graduating, he aimed to be a Principal in the Firm. Ten years post-MBA, leveraging his experience and contacts, he wanted to either open an office for his firm in Australia or leave the firm and take on a Partner-level role at an Australian VC fund.

Ultimately, Jason’s vision is larger than just becoming a VC partner. As you may remember from his Statement of Career Purpose, he aspires not only to found his own VC fund but also to play a significant role in the cultivation of a vibrant VC ecosystem in Australia. The path he has charted will provide the credibility, connections, and experience necessary to succeed in his chosen career goals.

Hopefully, you can see how Jason’s career path would build the credibility, connections, and experience necessary to succeed in his chosen career goals. Similarly, you can see how his geographic location changes over time, starting in the United States but ultimately ending with a move back to Australia.

Exercise: Develop Your Career Action Plan

Synthesizing all the work you’ve done in the prior exercises, outline a credible career action plan that makes sense for you. While we suggest using the timeframes of Post-MBA, MBA +5 years, MBA +10 years, and your Dream Job, feel free to modify the timeframes if necessary.

While developing your Career Action Plan, draw on the input you’ve received during your informational interviews. You should also complete Internet research and talk with other people who have succeeded on similar career paths to the one you have in mind. If you’ve developed a good rapport with your informational interview subjects, ask them if they will sanity-check your Career Action Plan and suggest how you can fine-tune it. Developing your Career Action Plan takes time; you’ll likely iterate through a few versions of your plan before settling on your final path.

Final Thoughts

The moment that your Career Purpose, Dream Job, and Career Action Plan become clear to you will be pretty exciting. You will be ready to answer the admissions committee’s question: “What are your career goals?” But the real power of this exercise is that you will have created a blueprint for your future and defined your long-range plan for making a positive difference in the world.

Talk to an Admissions Expert

Do you know what admissions officers are looking for and how to stand out from other applicants?

Talk with one of our MBA admissions experts to design a winning application strategy!