Too many times, as an admission officer, I read applications from candidates who shared career goals that didn’t quite make sense. Whether there was no connection to 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 put into their stated goals. I often concluded that their goal was one they thought the Admissions Committee would want to hear. Those applications were at a disadvantage.
A revealing conversation about goals and authenticity
A recent conversation with a candidate who has been working in the tech start-up space reinforced this concern. The applicant asked if she should indicate consulting as her post-MBA career goal since that is the path 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 instead of moving into a more senior role in tech. After all, in many top MBA programs, 30-35% of graduates move into consulting roles following graduation, and 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. To me, however, focusing on what you have in common with your competition is flawed thinking. You’ll blend in the gray mass of applicants. As a candidate, 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 the MBA class. Whether a “non-traditional” candidate or one with a more conventional background, highlight the unique perspective you 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 reflection will help you be authentic
Specifically, as it relates to the career goals essay, spend time to reflect on and assess what motivates and inspires you and how the MBA degree and this program will help you achieve your goals. If you are making a pivot, what transferable skills will you build on during the program? Especially if your goals are a bit out of 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 it possible to achieve your goal. Current students with similar interests to yours are a tremendous resource as you prepare your application. Connect with them; they are happy to talk with you. What is their experience in the program, both academically and in co-curricular activities? How might you take advantage of similar opportunities while you are in school? These answers can inform the context and story you present in your application.
Goals that are a stretch
In the event that your desired role is a stretch, consider whether there is an interim step that will allow you to move down this new career path. Additionally, if you have an established network you can tap into during your career search, share in your essay that you have access to this resource. Connecting the dots between what you have done and what you want to do from a career perspective will paint a clear picture for the admissions committee of how you will achieve your goals.
Multiple possibilities for authentic goals?
Perhaps you see the possibility of two alternative career paths. You may want to share a two-pronged answer, such as:
“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 3-5 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 have demonstrated an openness to new opportunities.
Your research will pay dividends after acceptance too
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. Suppose you haven’t spent the time during the application process to truly consider the direction you want to take in your career. Given all the new things you must manage in your MBA program, your career search may fall behind that of your classmates as you juggle academics and career-related activities.
Another thing to remember: As you begin your MBA program, you will be exposed to new career paths that may not have been on your radar. Your preparedness and flexibility will allow you to take advantage of new opportunities that may take you in a different direction than originally planned. The time you spend early in the application process researching and considering your career goals is an investment of time worth the effort.
If you would like the guidance and support of experienced admissions consultants as you work on perfecting your b-school application, Accepted is here to help. We offer a range of services that can be tailored exactly to your needs.
Sadie Polen has over ten years of experience in higher education, reviewing applications and making selections for elite programs at Harvard University, with experience advising for career and graduate school. Want Sadie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!