Crafting Sharp MBA Goals

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“I want to join a top-tier management consulting firm and rise to the manager level within five years.” -Applicant A

“I plan to join McKinsey in their digital practice and develop a specialty in cybersecurity. After seven years I will open my own practice in cybersecurity consulting in New Delhi.” -Applicant B

Who wore it better, Applicant A or Applicant B? The answer should be pretty obvious: Applicant B. When given the choice between a vague, generalized goal and a sharp, clear goal, the adcom will always prefer to hear the latter. Here’s why:

  1. Your essay, and you as a candidate, will be MUCH more memorable—specificity makes you stick. A hundred other applicants will want to be management consultants, but only YOU have THIS particular vision. Obviously, the adcom is more likely to remember the more specific goal then the generalized version they hear over and over.
  2. Sharper goals make you more credible. The adcom is investing in your future… would you invest in someone who didn’t have a clear business plan? Someone who didn’t know EXACTLY what he or she was going to do after graduation? B-school is a finishing school for future managers, not a place to find yourself. You will come across as smart and driven if your goals are well-defined, as opposed to the general befuddled “fuzziness” that comes with a vague vision.
  3. The more specific the goal, the more structured your essay. You can draw on that goal to highlight the particular aspects of your professional experience and past achievements that are relevant to your MBA and your future. Work history in your essays should ONLY be used to prove your fitness and passion for your future plans, not as a general, rambling explanation of what you’ve done so far. They have your resume, there’s no need to restate.

Now here’s the plot twist: While the adcom wants to hear a specific, credible and ambitious goal, they don’t care WHAT that goal is. That’s right, you heard us. No one is going to follow up with you during your MBA, two days after you graduate or 20 years from now. The adcom does not have special teams out there, making sure you did exactly what you said you were going to do. You can change your goal as soon as you submit your application.


>> Recommended Reading: Cracking the “Why MBA Now?” Question. 


So why do you need to have a specific, clearly laid out goal if the actual goal is not the point? The adcom wants to see that you are driven, focused, and ambitious, and wants to get a sense of how you think about the future. They want to know that you CAN create specific goals when asked to. If you’re good at planning a future, that’s a good indication that you’ll be able to plan in the future. Whatever you do, you will think about your career strategically and be successful.

With this in mind, you need to ensure that the reasons you have chosen your goal are clear, specific, and thought through. How will you get from here to there, passing through steps X, Y and Z on the way? Do you have a plan B, or plan C? What are the obstacles you might encounter? Have you done your homework and can show that you know what it will take to overcome them? What’s your big idea or innovation that will allow you to beat the competition?

Taking a step back to assess your goals from time to time is good practice for any professional, and we find that the goals essay is often useful even outside the MBA admissions context. Even if you end up changing your career track and goals completely in the MBA, achieving this level of depth and clarity makes the adcom far, far more likely to bet on your future success.

Rehashing Your Resume in B-School Essays