Some applicants may be very clear about either the industry in which they want to work or the function or job title they’d like to have, but not always both. For example, you may be certain that you want to grow into a marketing executive role but are much less clear about what product or service you’d like to help market. There’s an enormous difference in what you will need to know if you choose healthcare marketing versus technology marketing, or entertainment marketing versus automotive marketing, or real estate marketing versus social enterprise marketing. These all fall under the large umbrella of marketing; however, the differences among those industries and the knowledge and skills needed to work within them could lead you to choose among different MBA programs.
Taking the example further, does your career goal in marketing include business development, market research, brand management, or channel management? Focusing more sharply on the nuances of your chosen industry or chosen job function can and should affect your school selection.
This doesn’t mean your career trajectory has to be completely linear. For example, let’s say you are a software consultant who has worked on software marketing projects or a software designer who has worked in product development. Now you want to go into brand management in the software industry. This goal still makes sense. It is focused and clear. This sort of clarity is a vital asset to you in the application process.
Clarifying your goals to identify MBA programs with the right “fit”
As you chart your post-MBA goals, write down the answers to the following questions. This exercise will help you in your own process of clarifying your goals and helping you pinpoint the most suitable schools for you.
- What aspects of your work experience have given you the most satisfaction?
- Where do you envision your greatest potential to grow professionally?
- What is your driving motivation to pursue this goal?
- What character traits do you possess that will be an asset in a given role or industry?
- When did you first discover an opportunity or need in your desired industry or function?
- What is your long-term vision for your career at this point, and how will your short-term goal logically lead to the realization of your long-term career vision?
Understanding the role short-term and long-term goals play in your application
Your goals will certainly evolve over time, and when you apply to MBA programs you may be genuinely torn between two equally compelling short-term goals. But by the time you sit down to write your goals essay, you need to draw a direct line from where you have been in your career and where you want to go.
Later on in the application process, you are likely to be asked to discuss both short-term and long-term career goals, so it’s useful to think about the distinction between those now. To help you visualize what that path will look like, ask yourself the following questions:
- What would your ideal position be at each of these stages?
- What specific goals or milestones would you like to achieve at each stage?
- What impact would you hope to have on the people you work with and in your chosen field?
- What type of company or companies would you work for along the way?
Are your goals realistic?
Do your research so that you can be certain that your goals are achievable. If you are not already well-versed in what is happening in your target industry, research hiring trends, services, organization, market status, products, and competitive concerns in your field and in the kind of companies you would like to work for, then seek informational interviews with people in the positions you aspire to as well as with recruiters in your target field. These efforts will also help you write intelligently about your chosen field and show that you understand its current needs, challenges, and opportunities. And they will help you see where you can make your mark.
What about career changers?
If you are a career changer, then how do you chart your course? The truth is that well over half of all MBA students are career changers, and some schools estimate the figure is closer to 80 or 90 percent if “career changer” is defined as a change in either industry or function. So you will have a lot of company in the applicant pool. Although a majority of MBA applicants are changing careers, you still must present the case that you are sufficiently informed about your new field and role to make it seem a credible, authentic choice for you. Again, research is critical, including interviewing people who already work in the field. Think about what skills you already possess that will be an asset in your new field.
For example, let’s say you come from a not-for-profit background and want to go into business consulting. Your skills may already include excellent fundraising and organizational and people-management skills, which can transfer – with help – to business consulting. Applicants from the military often have many traits that are highly desirable in the business world, such as leadership and operations management, even if they have not worked in a business setting.
Invest the time and energy to define your goals for an MBA education and beyond. Look inward to discover what you enjoy and where you excel. Then look outward to consider likely professional paths that will maximize your strengths and maximize your chances for professional fulfillment. Distinguish between short-term and long-term goals and how you will map your course from where you have been to where you want to go. Research the educational approach, curriculum flexibility, specialty tracks, recruitment possibilities, location, financial aid, and even extracurricular clubs and student life at your target schools.
Clear, well-defined goals are as much a requirement in successful MBA admissions as GMAT, GPA, and work experience. They are front and center in the minds of admissions readers. Put goals front and center in your mind as you prepare to apply.
“How to Clarify Your Goals for Your MBA – And Beyond” is excerpted from MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools, by Linda Abraham and Judy Gruen.
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