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?

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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.

Why Write A Blog Post Series on MBA Goals?

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Inappropriate goals, ineffectively presented goals, and impractical goals can get otherwise well qualified applicants dinged from top MBA programs.

“Why Write A Blog Post Series on Goals?” is excerpted from the Accepted.com special report, Why MBA? To download the entire free special report, click here.

A few years ago, in the good old days when Wharton still offered feedback to rejected applicants, I talked with a potential client who happened to be reapplying to Wharton.  I asked him whether he’d obtained feedback on his application, and he said yes.   Well? “Actually they said they really liked my application.  They said I was well qualified, and I would be a good fit for the school.”  Pause.  “The problem was my goals.  Venture capital.  They said it wasn’t a feasible goal for me.”

Like many people, this person dreamed of going into VC – he surely could do it, given the chance, and it would be wonderful for him – just that his chances of getting a VC job post-MBA were about zero.  The adcom knew that, and he should have known it too.

Inappropriate goals, ineffectively presented goals, and impractical goals can get otherwise well qualified applicants dinged from top MBA programs.  This story is not an isolated case.  I have heard similar ones every year for thirteen-plus years.

How do you avoid this scenario?  Effort.  Thought. Research.  Many people start their MBA application process with their goals sort of sketched out in their head.  But sketched out won’t cut it, and if you focus only on what you’d like personally without figuring out how you’re going to make it happen, you might not realize that there are a few obstacles, as the person in the above story belatedly discovered.  It’s not that you should never present complex or difficult goals in an MBA essay, but rather that if you do you should acknowledge that fact and have some concrete sense of how to achieve them.  If the above applicant had said in his original essay that he knew how hard it would be for him to land a VC job and here’s how he was planning to go about it, and if it still didn’t work out, here’s what he’d do instead that would also take him to his long-term goals, he might have been admitted, considering how positively the adcom viewed the rest of his application.

So what exactly are well-articulated, credible, engaging – and ideally exciting – goals, and how do you craft them in the goals essay?  The next four posts in this blog series will walk you through that process step by step.

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.

What You Must Know Before Meeting Admissions Directors

Need advice on clarifying your MBA goals?

Keep your goal front and center in your mind.

Goals are not an afterthought in MBA admissions. They are front and center in the minds of many admissions directors. Put them front and center in your mind as you prepare to apply. Coming to MBA events with a clear goal will make you a much more appealing candidate to business schools.

What’s An MBA 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 industry. For some applicants, geography is also an important element in their goal. Your goal should be based on your experience, not television, not what your parents/significant other or friends think you should do, and not simply what will make you a lot of money.

I am not saying that you can’t change careers. You clearly can because roughly 50% of MBA students are career changers, and many estimates place that number much higher. But you need to have a realistic vision of your future based on skills and character traits you have developed and experience that you have had.

Defining Your MBA Goal

Clear, well-defined goals are as much a requirement of MBA admissions as GMAT, GPA, and work experience. Define your goal in terms of the function you want to perform and the industry in which you want to perform it.

To define your objectives for b-school:

1. Look inward: What do you enjoy and where do you excel?
2. Examine what you have done off the job and see if there are lessons in your non-professional life for your professional life.
3. Clarify and mine interests and past experiences.

Then look outward:

1. Examine professional paths that will take advantage of your strengths and give you more of what you find satisfying.
2. Research the schools to find those that support your professional goals and provide an educational environment where you can thrive.

Establish specific goals you want to achieve within a given program and a career direction for your post MBA years.

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