Too many times, as an admissions officer, I read applications from candidates who shared career goals that didn’t quite make sense. Whether there was no connection between their target position and what they had been doing or no explanation of how they would successfully pivot to their desired role, I was left wondering how much thought these candidates had put into their stated goals. I often concluded that their chosen goal was one they thought the admissions committee would want to hear. Those applications were at a disadvantage.
Be genuine when sharing your goals
A recent conversation with a candidate who has been working in the tech start-up space reinforced this concern. The applicant asked whether she should state that consulting was her post-MBA career goal since that is a path that many MBAs take. After a few minutes of conversation, I realized that the candidate thought she had a better chance of being admitted if she indicated an interest in consulting rather than sharing her actual goal of moving into a more senior role in tech. After all, at many top MBA programs, 30%-35% of students enter consulting roles following graduation, while fewer candidates land in the tech start-up space.
I get it. Applying to business school is a high-stakes endeavor, and candidates want to do all they can to be admitted. However, focusing on what you have in common with your competition is a flawed strategy. You’ll simply blend into the gray mass of applicants. You are better served by being authentic and telling your distinctive story in your business school application. Admissions committees seek to admit a diverse group of individuals who will benefit each other as members of their MBA class. Whether you are a “nontraditional” candidate or one with a more conventional background, highlight the unique perspective you can bring to the program to demonstrate how you will enrich your classmates’ MBA experience. Showcase your candidacy by authentically conveying your background, life experiences, and plans for your future.
Research and reflect to ensure authenticity
As you prepare to write the career goals essay, spend time reflecting on and assessing what motivates and inspires you and how both the MBA degree in general and this program in particular will help you achieve your goals. If you are making a career pivot, what transferable skills will you build on during the program? Especially if your goals are a bit outside the mainstream, it is vital that you convey the relevant expertise you have already developed as well as the skills and experiences you look to gain from the MBA that will make achieving your goal possible. Students at the school who have similar interests to yours can be a tremendous resource as you prepare your application. Connect with them; they will be happy to talk with you. What has been their experience in the program, both academically and in cocurricular activities? How might you take advantage of similar opportunities while you are in school? These answers can inform the story you present in your application and provide context.
Clearly explain goals that are a stretch
If your desired post-MBA role is a stretch for you, consider whether there is an interim step that would allow you to make progress toward this new career path. Additionally, if you have an established network you can tap into during your career search, share this information in your essay. Connect the dots for the admissions committee between what you have done professionally, what you want to do, and how you anticipate achieving your goals.
Offer multiple possibilities for authentic goals
Perhaps you see the possibility of following either of two alternative career paths. If so, you might want to share a two-pronged answer, such as the following:
“As I enter the MBA program, I aim to build on my experience at XYZ company and continue as a business development or sales manager in a tech start-up. I have also considered a path in technology consulting, which would allow me to use my academic background and provide me with a skill set that, even three to five years post-MBA, would be attractive to tech start-ups. Additionally, I know I will be exposed to many new things during the program, and I am excited to discover new possibilities.”
In addition to conveying two reasonable options for your post-MBA career goals, you will have demonstrated an openness to new opportunities.
Prepare now to be ready for fall recruiting
In early fall, which comes surprisingly quickly after you arrive on campus, the MBA recruiting process begins. Companies host information sessions to meet with students about internship opportunities. If you didn’t spent sufficient time during the application process truly considering the direction you want to take in your career, your job search could fall behind that of your classmates, given all the new things you must manage in your MBA program.
Here is another thing to remember: as you begin your MBA program, you will learn about career paths that might not have been on your radar. Your preparedness and flexibility will allow you to take advantage of new opportunities that could take you in a different direction than you had originally planned. The time you dedicate to researching and considering your career goals early in the application process is a valuable investment.
As the former executive director of admissions at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School and assistant dean of admissions at Georgetown’s McDonough School and the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz School, Kelly Wilson has 23 years’ experience overseeing admissions committees and has reviewed more than 38,000 applications for the MBA and master’s programs in management of information systems, computational finance, business analytics, and product management. Want Kelly to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!