4 Things To Do If You Can’t Define Your MBA Goals

Your post-MBA goals should be a guiding light in the application process.

Top MBA programs are looking for candidates who’ve got their heads on straight and have a clear idea of how a business degree will help shape their futures. It’s for this reason that the MBA goals essay is such an important element in the b-school application.

So what do you do if you don’t know what your post-MBA goals are? What should you do if, say, you are a career changer and know you want to acquire the skills that a business program will provide, but aren’t exactly sure which career direction you want to take post-graduation?  And finally, is it worth it to spend time exploring your post-MBA options (trying out different jobs or shadowing people in different professions) so that you can apply with a confident MBA goal, or is it better to try and jump right into a program, even if your goals are undefined?

Whoa. You have a lot of questions! Here are the answers: Yes, your post-MBA goals should be a guiding light in the application process, certainly the school selection part of it. And it’s not only worthwhile to spend time determining a post-MBA direction, it’s mandatory. You need to know why you want to devote time and money to an MBA before you apply. Undefined goals could transform your MBA investment into a painfully large expense.

Consider the following 4 tips to help you sort through the no-goal conundrum:

1. Think about what you like and dislike in your current and past jobs. Make a list of what you would like more of and what you would like less of.

2. Talk to people in positions you find attractive. Talk also to those who work in fields different from your own. Take friends out for coffee and conduct informal interviews or email a list of questions to people you know who have jobs that interest you.

3. Consider hiring a career counselor. (We can send a few names your way if you contact us – just mention that you read this post so we know how you got to us.)

4. Once you have narrowed down the number of possible goals or have some direction, look at the career listings of the larger employers in those areas. Read a few profiles of younger employees hired for those jobs, and see if you can network your way into talking to someone in the positions you find attractive.

In short, having no direction at all will make adcoms wonder why you’re putting the time, effort, and money into pursuing an MBA. They will also be very concerned that you will have difficulty finding an internship and ultimately a full-time position when you arrive on campus, floundering or mystified as to what you want to do. They don’t expect your goals to be carved in stone and they know you may develop new goals, but flexible is not the same as clueless. They want the former, not the latter.

Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.

Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

Why MBA, a free admissions guide
• Hone Your MBA Goals, a short video
What You Must Know Before Meeting Admissions Directors

What is a Goal? (And What is Not)

Learn more tips on how to clarify your goals.

Let’s start by talking about what ISN’T a goal. When an applicant says something along the lines of: “I’m interested in investment banking or consulting or marketing,” then I know there’s significant work to be done, because THIS is NOT a goal.

A strong, clear MBA goal should guide your admissions research and your choice of target schools. A goal is something you want to do (not just study), and for MBA admissions purposes it should relate to a specific function and ideally to an industry. For some applicants, geography is also an important element in their goal. Your goal should be based on your experience, not on television, not on what your parents/significant other or friends think you should do, and not simply on what will make you a lot of money.

I am not saying that you can’t change careers. After all, roughly 50% of MBA students are career changers. But you need to have a realistic vision of your future based on skills and character traits you have developed and based on experiences that you have had.

Let’s return to our initial point of what ISN’T an MBA goal. What’s the problem with stating that you want to go into marketing, for example? There are numerous dimensions and opportunities subsumed under the heading of “marketing,” including business development, market research, brand management, and channel management.

Do you see how general and unfocused you seem if you say your post-MBA goal is “marketing,” not to mention a goal of “marketing, investment banking, or consulting”?

On the other hand if you are a software consultant who has worked on software marketing projects or a software designer who has worked in product development and you now want to go into brand management in the software industry, your goal makes sense. It is focused. It is clear. It is an asset to you in the application process.

There is a Proverb that goes, “Without a vision, the people will perish.” The adcom readers will note the red flags when they see your lack of vision. Know where you’re going before you start packing your bags. And certainly before you start applying.

Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.
Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

Why MBA?
MBA 2016 – Ready, Set, Go!
MBA Goals 101

The Goals Essay: Writing Nitty-Gritty

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They key is to “read” not just the words but the tone of the question.

“Goals Essay – Writing Nitty-Gritty” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Why MBA? To download the entire free special report, click here.

Short- and long-term goals

Before you start drafting your goals essays, work out three levels of goals: short-term, intermediate, and long-term.  It helps to have this whole picture in your mind regardless of where you’ll “zoom in” for a particular essay.  Short-term is immediately post MBA to about two years later; intermediate is about two to five years post MBA; and long-term is the rest.  Usually essays ask for short- and long-term goals, but you’ll need intermediate as the bridge between them.

Short-term goals are the most specific, for obvious reasons – they’re closer in time and they’re also the direct link to the MBA program.  As you describe successive steps, use less and less detail in each, because the further out you project, the less certain things are.  Don’t go beyond what’s practical, e.g., describing in detail what you’ll be doing in twenty years.  Adapt each phase to reality too.  If your targeted industry (say, healthcare) is in great flux, that point should be reflected in your goals.

Responding to specific goals questions

Different sets of essay questions will emphasize different aspects of the goals; they’ll require different lengths and have different tones.   Some are open; other are focused and directed.  They key is to “read” not just the words but the tone of the question.  Anecdotally, I’ve noticed a trend toward short, focused goals essay questions; there are fewer 1,000 word goals essays, fewer essays asking for your “vision.”  Most want the facts, straight.

Read the question carefully, and emphasize in your essay what the question emphasizes (e.g., short-term or long-term equal or do they just mention post-MBA goal?).  In other words, be guided by the question.  That doesn’t mean you can’t bring in other elements, but they should support your main points.

Often the question asks why you want an MBA or want to attend the particular program.  Link these points directly to your goals.  If you can weave in your school visit and/or interactions with students and alumni, great!

Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.

Goals on Steroids

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Make your reader your cheerleader!

“Goals on Steroids” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Why MBA? To download the entire free special report, click here.

First, I must thank Linda Abraham for this wonderful phrase.  I had previously used the blander designation, “goals plus.”

By following the advice in the previous post you can create goals that are clear, credible, and convincing, but they won’t necessarily be exciting.  They won’t make the adcom reader think as she reads, “Wow, it would be great if he could do that!”  And this latter reaction is really what the goals essay should aim for. As all my clients have probably heard me say, you want to make your reader your cheerleader.

To generate such a response, deliver goals plus – show how goals developed from experience, and describe motivation and vision for goals.

  • Experience means when, where, and how your goals developed.
  • Motivation is the pivot point when something gained traction with you; when you became engaged and captivated in some way so that you want to pursue a given path.
  • Vision is the broader impact of achieving the goal, beyond your own immediate efforts.

These three elements are separate words but in actuality will likely be intertwined.  Here is a brief example, slightly modified from an HBS goals essay I wrote for a hypothetical applicant in Consultants’ Guide:

Last year, when I was in Taiwan advising a global financial services company on consolidating its Asia strategy, I found myself thinking what a shame it was that my relationship with the client proved responsive rather than proactive.  With my knowledge of the region’s changing demographic and logistical realities, I could have recommended strategic opportunities a year ago to prevent the client from getting bogged down in redundant acquisitions and incompatible markets.  Following that experience, I envisioned a new consulting paradigm resembling primary care medicine, based on a long-term, prevention focused relationship between the consultant and client.

Adding experience, motivation and vision turns the goals from static to dynamic.  There are three other advantages of “goals plus”:

  1. The experiential basis enhances credibility.
  2. They create a story, which is more engaging and memorable than pure exposition.
  3. Your goals inherently differentiate you, because it’s your story, it’s naturally unique.

Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.

Exactly What Are Goals?

Click here to download your complete copy of Why MBA!

A third key component for many people is geography, if it is integral to the goal.

“Exactly What Are Goals?” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Why MBA? To download the entire free special report, click here.

“I want to move from the buy side to the sell side.”

“I want to shift from technology consulting to investment banking.”

Not goals.

An engineer once really said to me, “I want to go into either finance or consulting.”  Not goals.

A goal isn’t something you want, it’s something you do, something you want to achieve, an impact you want to have, and the process of getting there.  Therefore, it needs to be specific.  Start with two key components:

1. Industry

2. Function

A third key component for many people is geography, if it is integral to the goal (e.g., developing solar energy in northern Africa).

Then add the “do” part – what the work will actually consist of, and what you hope to accomplish.

Here are some examples that incorporate the above elements:

•  I plan to return to operations but work at a higher, decision making level, such as Senior Operations Manager in an East Asian semiconductor firm or a related industry.  In this role I would, for example, oversee $XXX operations, a global high-tech supply chain, and manage a diverse range of technical and business professionals.

•  Currently I’m a BPR consultant; I plan to shift to strategy consulting at a top global firm such as Bain or McKinsey, ideally focusing on clients in the pharma/biomedical space, and help them setup operations in Eastern Europe.

To wrap up this section, I’ll add a couple of cautions about this phase of the process, developing core goals:

1.   Your short-term goals are naturally a stepping stone, and hence people often focus solely on what they will learn, understand; experience they will gain; people they will meet.  Short-term goals should also include the elements noted above – what you want to do and accomplish, contribute.

2.   Ensure that your goals really require the MBA education.  Of course any learning is helpful for almost any endeavor; but the adcoms want to see that you really need the resources they offer, which they view as precious and not to be squandered.  (And they’re right!)

Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted.com.