Writing a compelling MBA Career Goals Essay

Writing a compelling MBA Career Goals Essay requires you to do more than just list the companies and titles you plan to add to your resume following the completion of your studies.

Your essay needs to demonstrate that you are passionate about the career you envision while convincing the MBA admissions committee that a larger sense of purpose directs your career goals.

Furthermore, admissions officers will judge your career action plan to determine if the dots connect between your skills and experiences and future aspirations.

In this article, we provide you with insights and tools you need to build a powerful MBA Career Goals Essay.

First, we’ll talk about why admissions committees ask you to write an essay about your career goals and share the characteristics of an outstanding answer. We will also help you to avoid the common mistakes applicants make when writing a Career Goals Essay.

We’ll even provide you with a set of building blocks for crafting a unique and powerful essay of your own.

In the final section of this article, we analyze a sample Career Goals Essay to illustrate the principles we taught you in action.

Why Do MBA Admissions Officers Ask About Your Goals?

The MBA Career Goals essay question regularly appears in one form or another on just about every MBA application. Many applicants wonder why MBA admissions officers are so interested in what they plan to do after graduating from business school. Others feel these types of questions are downright unfair. Isn’t business school a chance to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? And what’s the point of making plans when everyone knows those plans are going to change?

The reason admissions officers ask the Career Goals Essay question year after year is because the mission of a top MBA program is to train future leaders who will go on to make an impact on the world. In a sense, when you apply for an MBA, you’re also applying for the job you will take upon graduation, the job you will progress to five years after graduating, and even the executive job you dream about taking 10-15 years after that.

An acceptance letter to a top-tier MBA program is not a blue ribbon for past achievements. Admissions committees want to know what you aspire to become and want to achieve as a future leader. As it turns out, a strong Career Goals Essay is one of the best tools in your application to get the Admissions Committee excited about your potential and to communicate where and how you plan to make an impact on the world after completing your MBA education.

Business schools ask about your career goals in a variety of ways :

  • “What are your short-term and long-term career goals?”
  • “What are your professional objectives?”
  • “Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA.”
  • “What do you want to do—REALLY?”

When answering these kinds of essay questions, top marks are earned by having clearly defined post-MBA career plans that go well beyond climbing the corporate ladder and making lots of money. Admission officers want to know that you have a passion for the career you imagine and that your career goals are fueled by a sense of purpose.

What Makes For a Strong MBA Career Goals Essay?

Defining your career goals is central to your Application Strategy because a powerful Career Goals Essay will tell the admissions officers how you plan to become a leader of consequence once you graduate. The coherence of your Career Goals Essay serves as elegant proof of your potential.

You’ll also need to persuade admissions officers that your career aspirations are realistic. In other words, they must be convinced that you possess many of the skills, talents, and experiences that you will need to achieve your ambitions. Many candidates undermine their chances for acceptance by proposing a set of lofty career goals that don’t appear achievable when viewed in the context of their past experiences and strengths. Grand ambitions are fine, but you must be able to convince admissions officers that the dots connect from your past accomplishments to your future aims.

Next, remember that admissions officers believe that their job is to find and accept future business leaders who will make a positive difference in the world. The goal of this essay is not to outline your plans for climbing the corporate ladder. Think about how you can devote energy and your career to helping others in some way. This doesn’t mean you have to go to work for a not-for-profit – no matter what field you are interested in, you can identify ways that your career will make a positive difference in the world.

Even when the essay question doesn’t include words like vision and aspiration or doesn’t ask you why your career goals are meaningful, you should let admissions officers know your deeper motivations and that you have a sense of purpose.

Finally, the caveat to all of this advice is that admission officers read thousands of these essays and can tell the difference between aspirations with integrity and those that are simply engineered for effect. To put it bluntly, admissions board members have world-class B.S. detectors, so make sure your career goals pass the sniff test.

Your career goals, if properly developed and defined, can set you apart from other candidates competing for a spot at that school, and that’s precisely what you want them to do. Before you begin brainstorming, you will need to do extensive career planning work to assemble the content building blocks for your Career Goals Essay.

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What Makes for a Weak MBA Career Goals Essay?

Let’s discuss some of the weaknesses in applicants’ MBA Career Goals Essays so you can avoid making mistakes in your essay that might hurt your chances of being admitted to a top business school:

  • Unfocused career vision
  • No sense of purpose: passion, meaning, and significance
  • Lack of evidence that the candidate understands his or her future industry
  • Dots don’t connect between prior skills/experiences and post-MBA career goals
  • Unconvincing motivations for pursuing an MBA

We’ll expand on these common pitfalls.

Unfocused career vision

When it comes to essay and interview questions about your career goals, the “I will figure out my goals once I’m in business school” answer isn’t sufficient. If you haven’t determined what your career goals are, then how can an admissions officer be sure an MBA is your best next step? More importantly, how can you?

The bottom line is that your candidacy will not compare favorably with the applicants who know where they want to go and can explain clearly how an MBA will help get them there. Admissions officers know that once you’re in business school, you’ll have more work to do than there are hours in the day; there’s not much time available for self-reflection and career planning. In fact, within weeks of arriving on campus for your first year, you’ll be polishing your resume up and submitting it to recruiters for summer internships. If you don’t have a vision for your career, you may not benefit from the MBA experience in the same way as other candidates who do have a defined and focused career vision.

No sense of purpose: passion, meaning, and significance

MBA programs were founded on the belief that business leaders can and do play an influential role in contributing to society’s prosperity. Schools are looking for future leaders who aren’t just in it for themselves. Admissions officers are proud that their job is to find and accept future business leaders who will make a positive difference in the world. If your career goals are a thinly veiled plan for making loads of money, then your candidacy is in trouble.

Lack of evidence that the candidate understands his or her future industry

Once your long-term career goals are in focus, you should further educate yourself on the industry in which you plan to work. Admissions officers are understandably skeptical when an applicant claims to want to work in a particular field like venture capital, sustainable energy, or social enterprise but doesn’t seem to know much, if anything, about those industries.

Dots don’t connect between prior skills / experiences and post-MBA career goals

Many candidates undermine their chances for acceptance by proposing a set of lofty career goals that don’t appear realistic when viewed in the context of their past experiences and strengths. An admissions officer will examine your resume through the lens of future corporate recruiters. Suppose your Career Goals Essay says that you want to work in strategy consulting post-MBA. In that case, admissions officers will evaluate whether your current resume, combined with the skills and knowledge you would acquire in their program, would appeal to a recruiter at a strategy consulting firm. If the dots don’t connect for the MBA admissions committee, your application will be less competitive.

Unconvincing motivations for pursuing an MBA

Your career goals directly relate to your motivations for pursuing an MBA. Therefore, defining those career goals is critical to explaining why you want an MBA. Unconvincing motivations for pursuing an MBA can be another big weakness in your candidacy. If the only answer you can come up with for “why you want an MBA” is “I’m working at a private equity firm, and everyone here goes for an MBA,” then you need to do more thinking about your motivations and reasons for applying to business school. If you haven’t built a solid case for this huge investment of time and money, then admissions committees would be justified in wondering what kind of business leader you’re going to be in the future.

Now that you understand the characteristics of a successful MBA Career Goals Essay and some pitfalls to avoid, we will share some content building blocks to help you design and write a winning essay.

Content Building Blocks for the MBA Career Goals Essay

Now we’ll tie the preceding insights together into a set of building blocks and provide you with a Career Goals Essay example, so you feel fully prepared to write a convincing essay of your own.

The four content building blocks for an excellent Career Goals Essay are:

  1. Career Purpose
  2. Career Meaning
  3. Your Long-Term Career Goal, and;
  4. Your Career Action Plan

Your first step is to develop a statement of career purpose. The building block question is, “What is the purpose of your career — who will it serve, and how will it benefit others?” A statement of career purpose doesn’t exist on an organization chart. It’s not the job; it’s what you hope to achieve in the world in a larger sense.

The next content building block is career meaning. Ask yourself, “Why is the career I envision meaningful to me?” Admissions officers believe that great ambitions are achieved when an individual’s goals are fueled by their interests and passions. Even if the application doesn’t ask the question directly, you should tell the admissions committee why these career goals matter to you.

Once your career’s purpose and meaning are defined, you can progress to building a succinct statement of your long-term career goals. Your long-term career goal may indeed be found on an organization chart — you should include the job you want and the kind of organization you want to be leading in 15 years – CEO, founder, managing director of a non-profit, etc. What is your dream job?

“What’s the path to your dream job?” — The final building block is your career action plan – it includes the jobs and organizations you plan to work for along the way toward your long-term career goal. For each position on your path, you can briefly explain how the role fits into your overall plan and moves you a step closer to your long-term career goal by providing additional skills, essential knowledge, and a more robust network.

To wrap up this lesson, let’s take a look at a Career Goals Essay sample so you can see these principles and our content building blocks in action.

MBA Career Goals Essay Sample

Our example applicant “Adam” is an investment banker who wants to return to the private equity world post-MBA.

As you’ll see, by using the content building blocks, he goes beyond answering the “what question” – as in WHAT are your career goals – and answers the “why question” – setting himself up to write a Career Goals Essay that will score top marks.

Adam was born in Ukraine, and his career goal is to help people in that part of the world by spurring economic development. He plans to share how troubled he was by the hardships he saw while on a recent visit to Kyiv, during which his career goals came into focus.

Adam makes his career goals more unique than simply saying he wants to start a private equity fund – the fund he wants to create will invest in the former Soviet Union, providing much-needed economic development in the region. Adam plans to work for an established fund in the CIS region before eventually starting his own fund. His dream job is to serve as an economic advisor to governments in that part of the world.

Having completed his building blocks exercise, Adam has the content he needs to satisfy the career goals question criteria. His answer will be comprehensive and memorable and will set him apart from other candidates who also have their sights set on a future in private equity.

Below you will find an excerpt of the essay that resulted when these content building blocks were assembled. Review the sample essay carefully, and then you will be ready to get to work outlining, drafting, and rewriting your own essay until you and your advisors feel you have an outstanding Career Goals Essay for your application.

(CAREER MEANING) I was born in Kyiv in Ukraine, and my family and I immigrated to the US when I was eight years old. Most of my family still lives in and around Kyiv. Last year, while visiting with my uncle’s family, I was struck by the hardships people in this part of the world still live with daily. The promise of the market economy and capitalist ideas has not yet been realized.

(CAREER PURPOSE) By the end of the trip, my career goals were clearly in focus. I want to play a leadership role in economic development in the CIS, first as a private equity investor, and eventually, an economic advisor to the government in Ukraine.

(CAREER ACTION PLAN) Directly out of business school, I want to move to Russia and work with an established private equity group such as Baring Vostok (“BV”). I’ve worked for almost two years in private equity in the US, and working for a firm in Moscow like BV for five to seven years would give me regional private equity experience and ties to capital in Russia and the CIS.

(LONG-TERM CAREER GOAL) Long-term, I want to start my own fund in the former Soviet Union, ideally based in Kyiv. I believe there’s plenty of opportunities. My Uncle’s manufacturing company in Kyiv is actually a good example; he needs growth capital, but his business’s risk profile is wrong for a bank and better suited for a private equity fund.

(CONCLUSION) New energy and optimism, not to mention capital, is critically needed in that part of the world. I want to be an investor who provides all three.

Final Thoughts

Sharing your excitement about your future career path with admissions officers via your MBA Career Goals Essay is an essential step toward earning an acceptance letter from a top MBA program. The coherence and clarity of your essay can convey your desire to be a leader of consequence once you finish your MBA studies.

Ultimately, the goal of an MBA Career Goals Essay is to convince admissions officers that you will go on to use your MBA education to make a positive difference in the world. The lessons we’ve shared in this article can help you to write a high-quality essay. The effort you devote to writing an excellent MBA Career Goals essay will almost certainly help increase your chances of being accepted by one of the world’s top business schools.

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Please enter your email below to gain 30 days of free access to our MBA Essay Writing course. Learn about the five most frequently asked MBA application essay questions and access our brainstorming tools and sample essays.

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