MBA Life

How to answer the Career Goals question

Business school applications generally ask specific questions about short term and long term career goals. What do you intend to do, why, and how you plan to go about it. They also want you to explain why you need an MBA to achieve those goals. Some schools include this question on the application form itself with a restrictive word count. Others ask this question either directly or indirectly in the long-form essays.

If you know what you want to do post-MBA, this should not be a difficult question for you.  However, many candidates are not sure what they would like to do immediately after the MBA. Some applicants pursue an MBA so they can pivot their career in another direction. Often candidates want to use their MBA to explore alternative career options through internships or experience a different culture through an exchange program. The question remains – How do you address the career question in your essays if you are not yet sure what you want? Should you write about completely changing careers? Or play it safe by staying in your current career path?

Candidates need to address both the immediate short term goal post-MBA as well as the longer-term career objective.

Short Term goal

Business school applicants fall into two major groups – those who want to fast track their career in the short term and those who look to switch their career paths post MBA. If you are not switching careers, it is a good idea to get as specific as possible about your post-MBA professional goals.

For example:  

– “Immediately after the MBA, I want to return to a global tech firm  working in an expanded product management role.”

– “Post MBA, I want to leverage my marketing background and work for a leading luxury goods Manufacturer in France.”

– “I want to pursue my passion for clean mobility by working as a product planning manager at a top automotive group.”

Career switches happen along three axes – Industry, Function, and Geography. If you are a career switcher, be aware that it is a commonly accepted fact that changing all three (function, industry, and geography) is rare. But it is possible to switch one or even two. Business schools are aware that an MBA offers candidates a chance to re-align their careers. Candidates need to convince the admissions committee that your career switch makes sense and that your profile remains attractive to employers post-MBA.

Long term goal

The time horizon is at least 15+ years into the future. For example, reaching the C-suite at major multinational corporations or founding your startup, or immersing yourself in various charitable causes close to your heart.

It is no secret that projecting that far into the future is difficult. For one, many companies might not even be around by then. Also, as people change and evolve, so do their dreams and ambitions. But thinking that business schools hold you accountable to your long term goal is missing the point. Business schools want to weed out applicants who have seemingly no long term ambition.

Business schools present a mind-boggling choice of activities, electives, clubs, and extracurricular activities. Without a clear idea of what applicants want from the MBA program, they will get distracted and not make the best of all the opportunities during their MBA. Business schools are aware that the need for positive ROI dictates the short term goals of many candidates. But candidates make this common mistake of not building a glide path between their post-MBA role and their long term ambition. For example, just stating that you want to start your own company someday is not enough, unless you provide some context to your entrepreneurial dream.

Business schools are aware that many candidates choose an MBA precisely to figure out what they want to do with their career. Of course, what you write in your essays may not always play out in real life. But the best candidates can convince the admissions committee how they intend to build on their MBA and progress towards their long term career objective. Not bridging the gap between your short term and long term goals, especially if they are dramatically different, does not reflect well on your application.

Admissions committees like passionate leaders and doers. People who take initiatives and make things happen – at work and for their careers.

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