Many MBA application essay sets include a career goals essay question in one form or another, questions like:
- Chicago Booth: “What are your short-term and long-term career goals?”
- Wharton: “What are your professional objectives?”
- Kellogg: “Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA.”
- Stanford GSB: “What do you want to do—REALLY?”
In this article, we examine the different elements that comprise an effective career goals essay and provide excerpts from a sample essay to illustrate lessons that you can apply when writing your own career goals statement. We would never want to want to suggest that there is only one structure that works when writing your career goals essay. Rather, the example and lessons are to help you to develop an approach to writing the essay and to evaluate whether or not your drafts are achieving the desired effect.
Lesson 1: Articulate your career goals clearly and directly in the introductory paragraph.
One effective way to begin an MBA career goals essay is to begin with a clear summary of short-term and long-term career goals. The sample essay was written by a private equity analyst who intends to work in private equity in the former Soviet Union after graduation. He opens his essay as follows:
Directly out of business school, I want to move to Moscow to work for a leading private equity group, such as Baring Vostok. Long-term, my goal is to start my own fund in the former Soviet Union, ideally based in Kiev, where I was born and where most of my extended family still lives.
Lesson 2: Summarize the connection between your career history and career goals.
You want to establish that your career goals are realistic by explaining how your career so far has prepared you for the future roles you plan to pursue. When possible specify relevant skills and experiences that have prepared you for your future professional objectives. The key is to be brief, especially if you have not been asked explicitly about your career progress.
In the example essay, our applicant emphasizes his private equity experience:
Although I was honored to be offered a 3rd year analyst position at Deutsche Bank, I decided to join Astrix partners, a private equity fund with $2 billion in assets. At Astrix, I have excelled by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of target companies and by building effective, trusting relationships with the management teams of our portfolio companies.
Lesson 3: Explain your motivations and why these career goals matter to you.
MBA programs were founded on the belief that business leaders can and do play a powerful role in contributing to the prosperity of society. Consequently, MBA programs are looking for future leaders who have a strong desire to make a positive impact in the world. Schools also want to know that the career goals are meaningful to you.
Later in his goals essay, our case study candidate reveals his motivations and sense of purpose:
We moved from Kiev to the U.S. when I was eight, but I have managed to maintain strong ties to my native country. On frequent trips to the former Soviet Union, I have seen first hand that there is a tremendous need for the kind of investment fund I envision starting.
Lesson 4: Summarize your career action plan.
Another important building block of an effective career goals statement is your career action plan – it includes the jobs and organizations you plan to work for along the way toward your long-term career goal. For each job on your path, explain briefly how the position and role will move you a step closer to your long-term aspirations in terms of things like additional skills, essential experiences, and a stronger network.
In his career action plan, our example candidate emphasizes his plan to work for an established fund in the part of the world in which he intends to start his private fund:
By working for a firm in Moscow like Baring Vostok for five to seven years, I will gain regional private equity experience and key business relationships in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (“CIS”).
Lesson 5: Share your career vision.
Ending the essay with a career vision statement can be powerful. Admissions officers at top business schools welcome grand ambitions, some even expect them. The statement should describe your vision for fulfilling what you believe to be the underlying purpose of your career.
In the later stages of his career, the writer of the example essay explains that he want to spur economic growth in the former Soviet Union both as an investor and eventually an economic advisor to the government:
Eventually, I want to serve as an economic advisor to the Ukrainian government. New energy and optimism not to mention capital are critically needed in the former Soviet Union. I want to be an investor who provides all three.
Sharing your excitement about your future career path with admissions officers via your MBA application essays is an important step toward earning an acceptance letter from a top MBA program. The coherence and clarity of your career goals essay can serve as an elegant proof of your desire to be a leader of consequence once you finish your MBA studies.
The lessons we’ve shared in this article can help you to ask yourself the right questions at the outlining phase and afterwards to gauge of the quality of the essay you write to answer those questions. Ultimately, the goal of your career goals essay is to convince admissions officers that you are a candidate who will use your MBA education to make a positive difference in the world. If you succeed, you will almost certainly increase your chances of being accepted by one of the top business schools.
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.