Wouldn’t it be great if you could just “magic” yourself into the MBA program of your dreams?
I don’t think I need to tell you that isn’t possible. (And if I do, you may want to consider a D.M instead of an MBA, eh?) The key to getting into an MBA program is showing the admissions committee that you’re going to have a (high-paying) job when you graduate. Yes, that’s really what it comes down to. And the key to doing that is to 1) present a very specific career goal and 2) demonstrate a need for an MBA in order to make that goal a reality.
In other words, you need to have a killer spiel down when it comes to a) WHY you want to go to business school, b) WHAT business school is going help you accomplish, and c) HOW you’re going to use your MBA from [insert prestigious business school name here] to reach for the stars, snatch them from the sky, and then do something really baller with them to make a ton of money and donate it back to that prestigious business school. Ya dig?
We can’t say this enough: Your post-MBA career goals – both short-term and long – are really important to your overall MBA candidacy. Hell, they’re central to it. And though this may seem obvious, we find that a lot of MBA applicants end up either picking really lousy goals, or just simply dropping the ball when it comes to articulating them.
Getting an MBA should not be your goal…
Let’s get this one out of the way quickly: Getting an MBA is not an end point. An MBA is a means to whatever your future endpoint, or endpoints, may be. So even if going to business school is, in fact, one of your personal goals, it’s not going to be enough to just say that. You’ve got to come up with something far more compelling for your applications.
At the end of the day, the adcom wants to know that you’re going to get a job when you graduate. That’s a very important statistic for them. If you come to the table with weak goals that have nothing to do with professional advance and future success, no one’s going to take you seriously.
So, you need to present (very thoughtfully) short- and long-term goals that prove a need for the degree you’re seeking, and also, connect to your previous experience in some way.
Common ways MBA applicants mess up when they’re talking about goals
In our 10+ years in MBA Admissions Consulting, we see the same three mistakes again and again. And again and again. Still, 10 years later, despite so many awesome blog posts and resources telling people otherwise!
- Lack of specificity
Let’s break each of these down:
1. Lack of specificity
The admissions committee at HBS, CBS and Wharton want to know you’ve done your due diligence when they look at your application. They want to know that you have a plan to get from Point A to Point B to Point C, and that you’re not just applying to business school on some random whim. So, when you write about goals, a general rule of thumb to remember is that being too general is always a bad thing.
- “I want to go into marketing for a big company…” Uh huh. Twitter big or Walmart big?
- “I want to work at Amazon…” Where? In which department? Doing what?!
- “I want to own my own business…” Cool. Got any ideas in mind for what that business will do?
All three of these are examples of goals that simply don’t stand on their own. First, not one of them proves a need for an MBA! I know plenty of business-owners without an MBA, and I can guarantee most employees at Amazon don’t have one! Even more, they lack the vital information that proves you have a plan in mind and the MBA is just a stop on your journey to get there. And that fact conveniently leads us to our next point…
One of the worst things an MBA applicant can do is present a goal that looks irrational or unrealistic. Listen, you should dream big (remember that whole “reach for the stars, grab them and do something baller with them” bit from earlier?); we’re not trying to dissuade you from having lofty goals! But we want the adcom to read your application and feel confident you’re going to get where you want to go with an MBA under your belt.
The other end of the spectrum, when the adcom instead feels confident that you are someone who is completely out of touch with your target industry… or reality – is what we’re trying to avoid.
Let’s take a break and close our eyes for a minute. Now, imagine you’re one of the billionaire investor guys on Shark Tank. And let’s say this woman walks into the tank with the following pitch: “Hi Sharks! My name is Betty and I have spent the past 4 years of my working as an IT Consultant. I want to open my own Private Equity fund! Please give me $100,000 for 20% of my business.”
What do you think you’d say? (Really, what do you think Mr. Wonderful would say? I have a feeling it would have something to do with “taking that idea behind the shed and shooting it, amirite?!”). You’d say no! Why? Because what does this IT Consultant know about opening a private equity fund? Or about private equity at all?!
You with me now? The adcom is an investor. They are investing in your future, so if they see goals that seem totally out of whack, they’re not going to invest in you. At the end of the day, MBA admissions is a numbers game: there are only so many spots and there are a LOT of people vying for ‘em. And if there is one seat left in a class, who do you think the business school adcom is going to admit: the person with relevant experience who is more likely to get the job, or the person who just really really wants it?
You need the adcom to see you as a sure thing, and you are wayyy more likely to be seen as that sure thing when you choose goals that connect to your past experience. Make that connection and make it obvious; don’t make the adcom take a leap for you!
This one is pretty straightforward: you don’t need to go to business school to move from a position as a junior developer to a position as a senior developer. Similarly, you don’t need to go to business school to go from working in HR to working in project management. You also don’t need an MBA to become a professor of economics.
The adcoms at Stanford GSB need to see why they’re a logical part of the trajectory toward yours before they’re going to consider your application. They’ve got their eyes out for people who want to learn how to become a leader and/or make a serious (and might we add, ambitious) industry jump.
It’s not about simply WANTING to have an MBA because you think it might help you accomplish your goals; it’s about NEEDING an MBA from that specific school for very specific reasons to accomplish your very specific goals.
How to avoid the common pitfalls while writing about goals in your essays
Let’s hone in on ‘lack of specificity’ for a moment since it’s the most common problem we see. To help us do so, here’s a real life example pulled from a recent Columbia Business School application essay.
“I was exposed to retail at a very granular level at North Face and most recently have seen the industry through a wider lens while working as a consumer analyst. After earning my MBA from Columbia, I want to return to retail and help grow an early stage retail company into a publicly listed small cap company.”
Well, this is just all sorts of vague, right? Tell me your eyes didn’t glaze over about four words in. The issues are abundant. We don’t know:
- What positions this person has held at North Face and why their experience makes this aspiration relevant…
- Any compelling examples of the “early-stage companies” they’re dying to work for…
- Any information about the industry’s status, their analysis of it, and HOW they plan to impact change…
- Why they’re passionate about this pursuit in the first place…
- What there overall plan is (or if they even have one at all…
And for those reasons, that essay just isn’t working for us. So, what does a better version look like? In the case of this applicant, it looked like this:
“In a world of informed consumers and competitive landscapes, retailer adaptability has never been more crucial. Where others see challenges, however, I see opportunity. Post MBA, I will become VP of finance at a small retailer such as Kendricks, a role that will allow me to acquire strategic and managerial skills. This professional experience will act as a crucial stepping-stone towards my long-term goal of serving as CFO to eventually take an early stage retail company public.”
Now, this applicant could have taken this wayyy farther, but this is a pretty decent improvement. It’s way more specific in terms of titles, companies, and both short-and long-term goals. And because of that, we know way more about what they intend to do and why they really want an MBA.
Let’s look at another example. This time it comes from an applicant who did a killer job communicating their goals.
“I seek to become the Operations Manager and ultimately Chief Operating Officer of a multinational energy company such as Royal Dutch Shell. There, I can directly influence operational performance and corporate responsibility much like Favio Floresi, COO of Eri Development and Production, who led Eri to proactively apply HES as a competitive advantage rather than an added cost. To prepare myself, I seek to enter an energy rotational program at a company like Total SA, HAB Corporation or Marathon Petroleum upon graduation to gain a broad understanding of the complex issues facing the industry. I am confident that the industry has the tools to prevent these disasters, but skilled leaders need to stand up and proactively apply them.”
Can I get a woop woop? Now that is a well-articulated career goal! We’ve got loads of relevant details to chew on: titles, target companies, even industry-related name dropping! The applicant has communicated both an understanding of the industry, and a passion to solve a specific problem. Not only that, but they’ve presented a clear pathway that highlights the short-term goals that will help them bridge the gap to the long-term ones, and that is the key to success here.
Applying all of this to your essays
So, how do you know if you’ve accurately articulated your future goals in a way that will make MBA admissions committees want to send you an admit letter?
- Make a connection between your previous experiences and skills (work-related, volunteer-related, life stuff, entrepreneurial things, whatever they may be) and your proposed goal, especially if there’s a transition involved. We need to understand why this all makes sense for you!
- Give specific examples of the target companies you want to work for and titles you want to achieve. Bonus points if you have done your research and those target companies recruit or have recruited from your target school (and you mention this explicitly!).
- Show off the overwhelming passion and desire (whether it’s personal or professional) that’s driving you to conquer your goals in this proposed function and industry.
- Build a pathway to your desired outcome by not only sharing the long-term goals/vision, but your short-term (stepping stone) goals as well.
- Step back and look at what you’ve said from someone else’s position. Does it sound rationale, researched and well thought out, or naive and “pipe-dreamy?”
To recap everything, you’ve got to sound like a champ when you write about your goals or you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb. And just to be clear, that’s not the kind of standing out you want to do.
Even though your hopes and dreams might seem crystal clear in your own head, you’ve got to spend some time crafting the pitch to other people. You should be able to write about them in a way that makes the adcoms feel as confident about your potential for success as you do. They wont invest in you otherwise!
Like this post? Well, b-school bound earthling, you’re in luck… it’s post #2 in an entire series designed to help you write better MBA application essays. We’ll release a brand new post every other week. While you’re waiting for the next one to come out, check out post #1 about writing awesome intros.