Through your résumé and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3 – 5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
This is mostly a standard goals essay. But interestingly, they tweaked the question from last year. Last year, they wanted you to split time between explaining your goals and how you envisioned CBS helping you achieve those goals. This year they’ve zapped that second piece out and replaced it with… doubling down on the goals themselves. Neat. Let’s drill into that a bit, shall we?
First of all, they’ve made a point to steer you away from rehashing your résumé here. “Because we can read, and have your résumé and recommendations in front of us… We have a clear sense of your professional path to date. In other words, we get what you’ve done up to this point (so please don’t waste our time by repeating that stuff here, because you’ll be revealing just how much you don’t get that simple concept)”… is kinda what the folks at Columbia Business School are really saying there. Now, there IS a reason to slip in some of your achievements, but only to the extent that doing so further CLARIFIES your goals and/or CONVINCES the reader that you have a shot at succeeding AT achieving those goals (we’ll come back to that).
[They’ve also gone back to the tried-and-true 500-word limit, rather than leave it open to 100-750, which we’re guessing ended up being 750+ every single time.]
Okay, so how to crush Essay #1 for CBS? Well, this may require some re-wiring of your brain, so strap in.
You want to the reader to be utterly impressed, okay, we’ll grant you that. But HOW you go about impressing him/her is where it gets tricky. Your instinct might be to impress through pitching the coolest-SOUNDING job/plan. In other words, you may want to tantalize these guys/gals with a killer tech idea; or something revolutionary; or something so creative and unique, it stops them in their tracks. Nope. Don’t try to impress through the plan. Instead, impress through the INEVITABILITY OF that plan. If your background (and therefore your skill set, prior achievements, general career arc, etc.) maps perfectly to the plan you’ve laid out for the next 3-5 years, you’re going to be thought of as “bankable.”
Think about it… business schools don’t just allow for your career goals to shift, they fully expect them to. That’s often the whole point of business school: to prime “future successes” to be as mighty as possible. What they want are SURE THINGS.
This should be a game-changer as you approach your essays. You’re no longer selling “the buyer” on the quality of the plan itself, but rather, on your ability to pull that plan off, because your background and your skill set, and your interests, and your future aspirations, and your dedication to success are all in perfect alignment.
To put a fine point on it, the reader of the perfect CBS Essay #1 won’t say, “Wow, what an impressive 3-5 year plan. I hope this kid succeeds!” The perfect essay elicits THIS response: “Wow, this kid is gonna pull that plan off. Or any other plan s/he commits to. Let’s go get them before someone else does.” See the difference?
Now as far as the long-term dream job is concerned, don’t just talk about what that job is. Attack it from the angle of what changes (in the world, in others, etc.) as a result of your succeeding IN that dream job. Let’s say your dream job is to be the future CEO of a brand new game-changing telecom company. Don’t just tell us what that company does, and what you imagine your role to be as CEO of that disrupting change agent. Pitch us the DISRUPTION. Sell us on “the thing you dream will happen WHEN YOU’RE SUCCEEDING.” If we buy into THAT, then we’re gonna want to help you get to that long-term dream job…
As far as balance/structure goes, this will get you out of trouble for a decent first draft (as always, remember that no two applicant essays need look alike–this is just a general suggestion if you’re stumbling out of the cages):
- Sell us quickly on either a TEASER version of your long-term vision, or the OPPORTUNITY you’re hoping to pop, or a PROBLEM that needs fixing. (50-75 words)
- Now, quickly catch us up to speed on what you’re up to now, and how you’re hoping to push things forward in the next 3-5 years. (Important to forget business school, for a second – pretend an MBA didn’t exist for the purposes of this particular paragraph; just give us the 3-5 year plan.) But, don’t just give us the step-by-step plan. Convince us that your skill set will allow you to transition from wherever you are right now to step 1 of that plan, and then to step 2, and then step 3, etc. This is the crux of it. Remember, it’s not the plan. It’s the inevitability of your SUCCEEDING at it, that counts. (2 paragraphs, 150 words apiece)
- Finally, expand the canvas to include your long term dream job, selling us on “the result of your succeeding AT your dream job.” Sell us on your passion for this thing. Sell on your confidence for why you’ll succeed. (100 words or so)
- Somewhere along the way, wherever it makes sense, it won’t hurt to layer in the area or areas where you need some fortification (from, say, a top-notch business school), in order to really achieve your goals, fully. (2 sentences, max)
More important than nailing the structure on a first draft, is getting the foundation correct. So focus on making a convincing argument that:
- You have assessed your strengths and weaknesses with considerable thought and insight, and
- You have thought through your goals very carefully and have a clear sense of risk, what’s realistic/not realistic, have a back-up plan if things don’t work out exactly as you’d like, etc.
As long as you nail those two things, the rest (the rewriting process where it all starts to tighten up and get sexy) will fall into place easily.