Just about every MBA application includes a career goals essay question. The wording may differ slightly from application to application but the essay prompt sounds something like this:
What are your short-term and long-term career goals and how will our program prepare you to achieve those goals?
Many applicants feel that career goals essay questions are a little unfair. Isn’t business school a chance to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? They argue that the future is so uncertain. What’s the point of making career plans when everyone knows those plans are going to change?
Those arguments aren’t completely without merit, and admissions committees have heard them all before, so why do they still insist on asking candidates to write about their career goals?
They continue to ask career goals essay questions for three very good reasons. First, they believe that candidates who know where they want to go in the future 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 have a better chance of fulfilling their career aspirations. Third, and most importantly, admissions officers aren’t just trying to fill seats in a classroom; as we explained in the Understanding the MBA Application Process unit, they see themselves as recruiters of future business leaders. To fulfill this role, they must determine whether or not you are qualified for the career you intend to pursue.
To truly appreciate the importance of the career goals question, you need to understand that there are actually multiple questions embedded in that one question. When admissions officers ask, “What are your career goals?” they are really trying to learn much more; they are asking:
- Are you passionately interested in the field you plan to work in?
- Will your career make a positive impact on the world?
- Is your career plan sound?
It goes without saying that the answer to every single one of those questions needs to be a resounding yes. The exercises we will share with you in this unit are designed to help you make sure they are.
Before we get started, let’s take a quick look at how many of your competitors will answer the career goals essay question. In the first column of the table, you will see what they write. In the second column, we translate what admissions officers actually hear:
Table 6: Lost in Translation – Applicants vs. Admissions
Of course, we have exaggerated to make a point – the point that admissions officers are looking for talent, passion, and a sense of purpose in their applicants. If any of those elements are missing from your application, then you may be passed over for the candidates who possess them all. An effective career goals essay serves as an elegant proof that you understand where your strengths lie, you have a passion for making a positive difference in the world, and your talents and passions are directed by a sense of purpose and a coherent plan for achieving your aspirations.
Even if you have accomplished a great deal thus far in life, an acceptance letter for a top-tier MBA program is not a blue ribbon for past achievement. Your application must convince the admissions committee that you’re just getting started and that you plan to achieve even greater things in the future. Your career goals essay must communicate your plan for doing so.
If you define your career goals in the way we recommend in this MBA Prep Step™, you will have all of the Content Building Blocks for a powerful career goals answer. You will be prepared to convince admissions officers that you have the capabilities, passion, and purpose to achieve something significant in the future.
We will show you how to:
- 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.
- 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.
- Inventory Your Career Capabilities
You want to identify the skills, knowledge, and capabilities required to be successful in achieving your long-term career goals.
- Develop Your Career Action Plan
Given the capabilities you possess and those you need, you must develop a credible career action plan that summarizes the steps from where you are today to your ultimate Dream Job.
Figure 7: Steps to Defining Your Career Goals