Career Goal Essay Tips

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!

But how?

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.
AYour 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
BYour career goals are aligned with some of your capabilities in a field that interests you.
CYour career goals are aligned with some of your capabilities
FYour 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.


Admissions Tip: Approaching the Career Goals Essay

With essay topics for the coming year already being released by some schools, there are applicants who are eager to get started on their written applications.  Though essay questions tend to vary year to year, the two things that nearly every prospective student can count on being asked are “What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals?” and “How will Business School X help you achieve these goals?”

These are the fundamental questions of the entire application process; identifying clear answers will help in everything from creating a list of target schools to communicating effectively with recommenders and interviewers down the line.  As such, it’s a great idea to begin drafting answers to the Career Goals essay early and often!  To help you get started, here are some general pointers:

Whether the essay is 1,000 or 500 words long, the adcom looks for applicants who offer fully defined long- and short-term career goals, sound reasons for pursuing an MBA at this point in their careers, well-informed interest in School X and specific plans to contribute to the campus community if they are admitted.

The key to successfully tackling each of these components is specificity.  In presenting future goals and explaining one’s motivation for seeking an MBA, it is crucial to present well-defined and feasible objectives.  Unlike the undergraduate experience at many American colleges and universities, MBA adcoms believe that students need a fair amount of direction at the time they enter the program in order to take the right classes, join the appropriate clubs and seek the best internship.  Everything is oriented towards preparing for the post-MBA job, so specifying a specific industry and function for the short-term is of the utmost importance.  In addition to identifying goals for the adcom, it is also important that applicants explain their interest in their particular plans.  Along the same lines, applicants should comment on what they hope to accomplish in their target positions.

Admissions officers understand that successful students are focused in their ambitions, and one of the best measures of this is what they have done so far.  Not every school asks for this explicitly, but in most situations a Career Goals essay is more compelling when it includes a brief but coherent career history summarizing the applicant’s work history to date.  This should reveal the continuity between one’s previous professional experiences and goals for the future.  A great essay manages to thoroughly and efficiently address each of these elements, with a nice balance between the “career progression” section, the “career goals/why MBA” section and the “why School X” section.

Another critical part of this essay is the explanation of one’s interest in a given program, as the adcom is sensitive to whether or not applicants are serious about attending if admitted.  Individuals who name specific classes that are relevant to their goals, recount their impressions of the campus culture based on a class visit, or share what they’ve learned from discussions with alumni and students will be in good shape.  The aim is to convey the fact that the applicant has conducted extensive research and is making an informed decision in applying.

Beyond convincing the adcom of their genuine interest in the program, it is also important for applicants to keep the following concept in mind: Any fair trade necessitates mutual benefit.  In other words, in addition to showing that School X is the best MBA program for one’s needs, the applicant should demonstrate to School X that he or she will enrich its community.  A strong candidate describes insights he or she could contribute in class, and offers detailed intentions for getting involved in campus activities.

These general pointers should set applicants on the path toward crafting a great Career Goals essay, the centerpiece of any compelling candidacy.  Happy writing!  Feel free to contact us for a free assessment of your candidacy.

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Posted in: Admissions Tips, Application Tips, Essay Topics

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