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.
I still think it's bizarre that they ask you to do this, since someone who writes a great essay might have a ridiculous research plan, but it seems unlikely.
More often I think it's the other way around- the advisor helps with the research plan, but doesn't even want to discuss career goals with the student, so the essay on career goals is horrible.
It's rare that anyone really excels at both, and it's equally rare that the essay being bad is going to keep you from getting the fellowship.
Most people just write the same bullshit anyway. So basically you just want to sound like a real person, but it's okay if you don't say anything too original, because most people are only going to give the essay the most cursory read.
Here's my advice: Think hard about what you want to do, and why you want to do it. Be honest. And get someone else to read it.
It's funny because I was just thinking about this again today. One of my role models is having a rough time right now, and I'm feeling abandoned because she's worried about her own career and doesn't feel qualified/doesn't have time to help me with mine.
So I was thinking again how, while there are things I admire about her, I hope I've learned how to avoid making some of her mistakes.
But part of me just thinks, well here she is, quite a bit farther along with her career, and she doesn't feel any more secure or satisfied, really, than I do now.
Is this really what I'm signing up for? Lots more years of battling other people's malformed expectations, passive aggressive crap, and a constant feeling of uncertainty?
Last week was so good. Was that my one good week for a while? Lately it seems like I can't have more than one in a row.
Maybe I should hire Nancy Pelosi's astrologer.
So as an example, I've posted my career goals here before, but it never hurts to think about them again.
I want my own lab, and I want to run it my way.
I want to work on my ideas, not someone else's.
I want a team of people to work with me on my ideas. I want to do the hiring and firing.
I want students who have their own ideas.
My top career goal right now is to get a faculty position and funding. That's all. I can't think much farther ahead than that.
The purpose of my research is to ask good questions and figure out the most direct, practical ways to ask them.
The purpose of my research is to keep me from getting bored.
The purpose of my research is that it's a non-boring way to pay the rent.
Lately I'm hearing more and more that the way to get a good job is to find the job you want and target it as you would an all-out attack. Do lots of research on 2-3 places that you think would be good for you, and put all your effort into making contacts, and making your application suit the slot that's open.
My problem right now is, I'm afraid the job I want doesn't exist. And I'm afraid that, the more I research the possibilities, the less certain I'll be that there is a place out there that I would ever fit.
If you keep squishing me between a rock and a hard place, can you make me fit a mold that wasn't made for someone my shape?
It's funny because here I tend to vent my fears and frustrations, and here it's probably evenly split between people telling me to quit and people telling me not to give up. Though admittedly, I've never really run a poll and counted.
But in real life, people who know me, or even people who barely know me, say they feel certain I'll succeed in achieving my goals, that they're not worried about me, that I seem to be on top of my game.
You do? I will? You're not? I am?
My question now is, how much help is it reasonable to ask for when people think you shouldn't or don't need it? And how do you convince them you do need it, when you're in a culture where showing signs of weakness just means the sharks will smell blood and come out to eat you?
If I didn't really need any help, would I still feel like I do now?
Labels: ambition, career, funding