Business school candidates (depending on career stage) will often look to advanced graduate degrees for one of three reasons: (a) to accelerate in their current career, (b) to make a career switch, or (c) to start a business. Whatever the reason, it’s important that the adcom know exactly what it is that you want to do post-programme so they can understand whether their school can support those aims. After all, they want to see students who will achieve both academic and professional success, and ultimately become successful alumni. So it’s crucial that, as an applicant, you’re providing a clear understanding of your career goals, and how the programme will help you achieve them. Failure to do so, regardless of your stats or profile, could lead to an unfavourable application outcome. During my time as Admissions Director for Early Career Programmes at London Business School, I saw this regularly, and I recall one particular case where vague or nonexistent goals led straight to rejection.
Case study: Matthew and his unconvincing post-MBA goal
Matthew looked good on paper – above average GMAT, good undergraduate marks in a liberal arts degree from one of the top universities in his home country, and experience at his family’s logistics company. Matthew stated in his application that he was interested in pursuing consulting, with a focus on the top tier strategy consultancies for the fairly standard reasons of wanting a role with a steep learning curve and the opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of sectors. While his rationale didn’t seem particularly developed nor his motivation clear, he was invited to interview to probe this reasoning in more detail.
The interview is a chance to convince – to convince of your calibre, to convince of your fit, to convince of your drive, and to convince you have what it takes to succeed. Matthew failed to convince on these latter two points.
During the interview, Matthew was unable to demonstrate any real understanding of his intended goal of consulting. When probed, he could not articulate why he felt this was a realistic path taking into consideration his experience, skills, and longer-term aims, nor could he accurately discuss the role of a consultant.
While his lack of consulting knowledge was a concern, it didn’t necessarily mean the end of the road for Matthew; he would have learned about the industry during his time in the programme, both through career support and through networking with students and alumni with relevant experience.
What was a concern was the fact that he did not seem motivated to conduct any research to help him understand what would be an important next step in his career journey.
Through further probing at the interview it became clear that, in addition to a lack of drive, he didn’t appear to have any plan B or C. It was MBB or nothing. The interviewer tried to impart advice that could help in his situation – alternate short-term goals that could lead to consulting in the future, other companies, different roles that would give him the work diversity and challenge he was seeking. This advice fell on deaf ears, much to the interviewer’s disappointment. By the end of the interview, it became clear that Matthew’s career goals were not steeped in reality.
At the same time, being grounded should not preclude aspiration or dreams. Your goals should be ambitious. They should allow you to stretch yourself, and hopefully provide you with a (positive) professional challenge. Given your mature, demonstrated understanding of your existing skills, educations, strengths, weaknesses, and experience, business studies can help you attain the skills, knowledge, network, and support to make your ambitions a reality. Reality, being the key word here.
Unfortunately, this now was the end of the road for Matthew. The concern for myself and the rest of the adcom at this point became the candidate’s apparent lack of self-awareness and ability to listen, behaviours that would be concerning should he become a student.
4 factors in realistic b-school goals
So, what can you do to avoid Mathew’s fate?
- Don’t let your profile give you a false sense of confidence. Having a great GMAT and strong brands on your CV is a good start, but they are not a free pass to admission.
- Show you’re motivated to act on your career journey. Of course, the programme will develop your knowledge and skills and help to map out your recruitment plan, but at the end of the day, you and only you will be responsible for writing those job applications, attending those networking events, and acing those interviews. Demonstrate you’re prepared to take the onus for your career, and that you have the drive to self-start.
- Use the application as an opportunity to reflect on your goals. Think about how the programme will connect the dots from your past to your future aims (it should go without saying research, research, research both the academic and non-academic course elements that will help you achieve your aims). And if you find this needs to be further thought through, give yourself the time to do so.
- Don’t just write what you think the adcom wants to hear. Just because you’re applying to Wharton doesn’t mean you have to say you’re interested in finance if you’re not. Be honest as they’ll be able to read/see through any untruths.
Demonstrate key qualification: Commitment
Commitment is an important qualification to the adcom – they want to see you’re committed to your studies, committed to your community, and committed to achieving your goals. The application process gives you a chance to demonstrate these attributes, so make the most of your opportunity to show you’ve got the interest and drive to achieve your realistic and still ambitious goals.
Do you need help demonstrating your post-MBA goal in your b-school application? Work with an experienced advisor who will guide you through the process of identifying, defining, and outlining your goal and then successfully convincing the adcom that you have the drive and commitment to make it happen. Explore our MBA Admissions Consulting & Editing Services for more information.
• Best MBA Programs, a free guide to selecting the right one for you
• The Importance of Defining Your MBA Goal
• Why Do You Need an MBA? [MBA Interview Questions Series]