Most business school applications will ask you to think about your career goals. This is a very important question. Business schools want to know how you will make the business world better when you leave their campuses and what your unique mark will be.
The best career essay will do two things:
1) Your essay will connect your past career to your future goals. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and we have all left a mark in one way or another. Whether you plan to take your career in a completely different direction, make a small career pivot or return to the same company post-MBA in a higher role, it is important to connect your past to your future. This does not, however, mean that your essay should include a chronological history of your career to date. In fact, in nearly all cases you DO NOT want to do this. Instead, you want to think about a few highlights from your career and link them to your future. What are your strengths? When have you shined? Take an example or two and draw the connection for the reader.
Regardless of your goal, this link is important. If you are not planning a major career change, there should be plenty of ways to make this connection. But even if you are, there are links to me made. Here are some examples:
- Perhaps you are a great public speaker. If so, show how you have used this to your advantage in the past, how your performance at work has reflected this and detail how you might use it in a future role, combined with certain key things you will absorb from the MBA.
- Maybe instead your strength lies in working through ambiguity. This is another example of a skill that could be leveraged regardless of your career.
2) Your career goal will be focused, attainable and if possible, unique. Your career essay should generally include both a short-term and long-term goal. This goal should be specific! Do not use OR in your essay. If you don’t know for sure, that is ok! No one is going to hold you to what you put in your essay, but it is important to think through and convey your plan. There are many different strategies to think about when deciding how to narrow down your career goals. In fact, I plan to write a whole blog in the future on just this and I spend many hours counseling clients on how to arrive at their ideal career goals. What is most important, however, is that you are decisive and consistent. Whatever you choose, do not waiver. Your short-term goal should also flow logically to your long-term goal. I have seen candidates with a short-term goal of working in marketing and a long-term goal of becoming a CFO. Sure, some might make this leap in their careers but this isn’t the norm. If you want a finance career, both your short and long-term goal should be in this field.
Your career goal should also be attainable. As valuable as an MBA is, you likely will not be running a department the first day out of business school. Do your research and figure out what jobs are attainable for you. This does not mean you should not be ambitious, of course! This is part of why I tell client to have two goals in most essays.
Finally, uniqueness can also work in your favor. If you have your heart set on a career at McKinsey, then you should write about that. (I talk my clients through when this is and is not a good strategy based on your background and long-term goals). However, don’t simply put this as your goal because that is what you think AdComs wants to hear. Not everyone goes into consulting and having a unique goal can often work in your favor. It may make it easier for you to stand out and be memorable, but at the same time do not forget that it has to be realistic and achievable.
The career goal essay is very important. After all, you need to convince admissions committee members that you know WHY you need an MBA and that you will use it effectively so give it the time it deserves!
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See examples of career essays from a few different business schools
Columbia Business School
Admission Counseling, Personal MBA Coach
There is a common misconception that we want to clear up: that an acceptance letter to a top-tier business school is all about what you’ve achieved so far.
An acceptance letter to a top tier MBA program is not a blue ribbon for past achievements. While it’s certainly true that admissions committees want to know what you’ve accomplished thus far, it’s because they are trying to assess your future promise – your potential.
You must convince the admissions committee that you are just getting started and that you will achieve even greater things in the future!
One of the primary ways is to get the admissions board excited about your future plans – and you can do that with your career goals essay.
One question appears in some form in just about every application:
“What are your short-term and long-term career goals and how will our program prepare you to achieve those goals?”
Is the admissions committee really all that interested in what job you hope to get when you graduate? Do they want to read 10,000 essays about each candidate’s rung-by-rung plan for climbing the corporate ladder? Not really.
If not, then why do they ask the career goals question?
They ask the question because they want to be convinced that you have outstanding “potential.” There’s that word again. At MBA Prep School, we define “potential” as a collection of capabilities fueled by passion and directed by purpose toward a defined set of career goals. It follows that an A+ career goals essay must express your career purpose, career goals, and career action plan.
Your past achievements are evidence that you have the capabilities (i.e., skills, talents, and experiences) necessary to achieve your aspirations. Many candidates undermine their chances for admission by proposing a set of lofty career goals that don’t appear realistic when viewed in the context of their past experiences and strengths. Grand ambitions are fine but you can hurt your chances for an acceptance letter if you are unable to convince admissions officers that the dots connect from your past accomplishments to your future aims.
Defining your career goals is a central step in formulating your application strategy because a powerful career goals essay will tell the admissions officers how you plan to become a leader of consequence once you graduate. The coherence of your career goals essay will serve as an elegant proof of your potential. Your career goals, if properly developed and defined, will set you apart from other candidates competing for a spot at that school and that’s exactly what you want them to do.
To help you meet this challenge, we’ve created a simple rubric that you can use to predict how your career goals essay might be “graded” by the admissions committee. By grading your essay drafts on your own, you will be able to determine how to improve upon the quality of your essay.
|A+||Your career goals address a significant problem that you have the capabilities to solve, in a field that you are passionately interested, the career goals are personally meaningful, and the results are socially beneficial.|
|A||Your career goals address a significant problem that you have the capabilities to solve, in a field that you are passionately interested, the career goals are personally meaningful|
|B||Your career goals are aligned with some of your capabilities in a field that interests you.|
|C||Your career goals are aligned with some of your capabilities|
|F||Your career goals are unclear or misaligned with your capabilities and lack significance, passion, meaning, and social benefit.|
Let me be clear that writing a career goals essay that scores in the top 2% is not easy. The difference between an A an A+ is that the career path you are dedicated to will benefit others in a significant way. We are not suggesting that you need to write about starting a non-profit organization to get into business school. The world needs investment bankers, consultants, entrepreneurs, and corporate CEOs too, and business schools still have room in their classrooms for candidates with these kinds of ambitions. If it’s hard to make a case on social benefit, you just need to work that much harder to convey your passion for your career path and explain why your career goals are meaningful to you.
Nothing we’ve said here should imply that we are recommending that you manufacture an answer that is simply meant to hit the admissions committees’ hot-buttons. Remember that admissions officers read thousands of these essays and so they can tell the difference between aspirations that have integrity and those that are simply engineered for effect.
Creating an A+ answer to the career goals question will require hard work and soul searching on your part but can be very exciting once completed. You will have a coherent, logically structured set of career goals aligned with your abilities, deeper motivations, and sense of purpose. In essence, you will have a roadmap to guide your career journey from MBA school onwards.