The Importance of Defining Your MBA Goal
You should never view your goals as an afterthought when it comes to your MBA application. Admissions members view MBA goals as leading-role performers, so you certainly shouldn’t push them to a supporting role as you prepare to apply to MBA programs.
What is an MBA goal?
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.
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! Your goal should focus on something you want to achieve or do (and not just something you’re interested in studying). For the sake of defining your MBA goal, be sure that you relate your desired achievements or actions to a specific function within a specific industry. You may need to call into play certain external factors such as geography, and certainly you need to take into account your personal experience, talents, passions, and skills; but what you should not do is consider TV personalities (I want to be like X character), short-lived fads, or the desires of your parents/friends/significant other. Your goals also shouldn’t be completely money-driven.
This is not to say that you can’t change careers – in fact, about 50% of MBA students are career changers – so as long as you present your goals in a credible, realistic way (connecting your experience, talents, passions, and skills to a future in a new industry), then there’s no reason to be shy about your aspirations in a new field.
Defining your MBA goal
To define your MBA goal, first look inward and address each of these three points:
- Consider what you enjoy and in what areas you excel.
Are you a people person or would you rather work behind the scenes? If you’ve been selling lemonade since you were six, your goal may be to be the top salesperson in a Fortune 500 company. Do you have an interest in medicine as well as business? Working in the biomedical field may be just the thing for you. Think about what will make you excited in five or ten years.
- Explore lessons learned from your off-the-job achievements to learn more about your professional life.
What do you love to do in your free time? Do you enjoy travel? Is there a special organization that you volunteer for? Examine what you take away from these experiences. Look at contributions you’ve made to that organization. Have you found new ways to fundraise for them, or implemented better ways to keep records? Take some time to think about what you’re passionate about. Your MBA goal can be found there.
- Clarify and mine your interests and past experiences.
You’ve explored what you enjoy and where you excel. You’ve looked at where you spend your free time and what you’re passionate about. Use this information and come up with your MBA goal. It may be what you’ve thought all along, or it may be something totally new. Maybe the corporate position you always thought you wanted isn’t what you want after all.
Now look outward and consider these three items:
- Examine professional paths that will take advantage of your strengths and give you more of what you find satisfying.
Explore which positions will help fulfill you professionally as well as personally. You will excel much easier in a job that fulfills you. No one wants to look back in 10 or 15 years and realize that they hated their professional life. Now is the time to crystallize your goal and look toward a successful, satisfying future.
- Only consider MBA programs that support your career goals and provide an exciting, compelling educational environment for you.
You’ll be making a commitment of 1-2 years and spending a significant amount of money to get your MBA. Be sure that the place you’ll be spending this time and money is the place that will give you the educational foundation for the career that you want, but also will be a place where you physically want to be. Are you a “city” person, or do you thrive being in close proximity to the great outdoors? If you’re a city person, a more rural environment isn’t the place for you. Do you do better in a group setting, or are you an independent learner? These are just a few of the questions you should answer when looking at MBA programs. The educational aspect is important, but you will learn much more in an environment where you feel comfortable.
- Establish specific short-term and long-term goals you want to achieve during your education and in your post-MBA years.
You should think in terms of short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. Your short-term goal could be completing your MBA in the next two years. When establishing your intermediate and long-term goals you should consider what your ideal position would be, and in what industry you see yourself. These goals are not etched in stone and can change as you transition from one stage to the next. Try to be specific in terms of job titles and companies you would like to work for.
5 MBA goal mistakes to avoid
Now that you know the components that make up a strong goal, let’s turn to some common mistakes – avoid these at all costs or your goal will suffer!
MBA Goal Mistake #1: Having a goal that is too vague
Saying you want to go into “consulting, investment banking, or product management” shows that you don’t really know what you want to do.
If you don’t have reasonably defined direction, an MBA admissions team will think you are not sufficiently focused on what you want to do with the degree, or might just be going after the degree for a resume credential. Adcoms are very suspicious in this type of situation, as they only want to admit people who will be fully committed to the experience while in the program, not just going through the motions. The career management team would similarly not look favorably upon someone who came in and started taking interview slots for everything under the sun – consulting, operations, finance, and brand management, for example. Recruiters will be similarly unimpressed with your lack of ability to tell them why you are interested in the type of job you are interviewing for. So all around, a bad situation, and one that rightly leads to rejection.
Consider the following 4 tips to help you sort through the no-goal conundrum:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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
MBA Goal Mistake #2: Having a goal that is too specific
On the flip side, you don’t want to have a goal that is too specific, either! If you say you want to work at one particular company in one particular job, an admissions committee will be concerned about admitting you because they think you might blame the school if you are unable to achieve that too narrow goal. You want to have a good direction for your goal, “work in strategy consulting at a company like McKinsey or Bain,” for example, but not so precise that it may well be unattainable.
MBA Goal Mistake #3: Having a goal that is not well-aligned with the strengths of the school
While most top business schools have solid representation in all of the basic areas of business, some have greater strengths in particular areas. If you focus your goal in an area that is not a particular strength of the school (let’s say data analytics at a program that doesn’t have a strong program in data analytics, as that is a newer subject area), the school will think you haven’t done enough proper research on the school (never something you want an admissions committee to think!) and/or they will have concern the school will not be equipped to help you achieve your goal, which would lead to your overall dissatisfaction of the program.
MBA Goal Mistake #4: Having a goal that an MBA program can’t help you achieve
Are you interested in a career in astrophysics and might eventually need management skills? Then an MBA program is not the right option for you at this time. If your short- and medium-term goals will most likely lead you to a technical job, it makes sense to either move straight into that field or do so with a master’s degree in that area first. At some point further in your career when you may need management skills, a part-time or EMBA program might be the perfect option for you, but getting business management skills first just doesn’t make sense, as you won’t have the opportunity to apply them until further down the line, and they might get rusty in the interim.
MBA Goal Mistake #5: For international students: Having a goal that might present visa issues
This is a thorny subject, but H1B visas can be very difficult to come by, and something recruiters coming on campus may have difficulty accommodating. As an international student, it makes sense to lay out your goals to show that you would be satisfied achieving them in your home country/region. If it is your dream of working at Goldman Sachs in NYC, by all means work to achieve that once you are in the program (recognizing that it could be a long shot), but don’t lay that out as your goal beforehand, as admissions committees will once again be concerned about their ability to help you achieve it.
Why adcoms keep an eye out for these mistakes
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
At the end of the day, a school’s goal is to have as many satisfied graduates as possible, which is achieved through a positive experience while in the program, and successful career placement at the end. Make sure you do your part up front to convince the admissions committee that there is an excellent chance you will be satisfied with your career outcome when you graduate by putting together solid goals!
What’s your goal?
A strong, clear MBA goal should guide your admissions research and your choice of target schools. Expressing your goals clearly in your essays will help show adcoms why you belong in their programs. Defining your goal is an important first step in the MBA admissions process, and we can help. Learn more about our MBA Admissions Services here.
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• The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Competitive MBA Applicant, a free guide
• Focus on Fit, a podcast episode
• 6 Tips for Creating Your Compelling MBA Goals Essay