Tag Archives: career goals essay

Define Your MBA Goals Before Applying to Grad School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com The career goals essay is perhaps the most common of all topics posed in the MBA application, so it may surprise you to …

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com

The career goals essay is perhaps the most common of all topics posed in the MBA application, so it may surprise you to learn that many prospective students don’t have clearly defined career goals. If that sounds like you, the first step to remedying this situation is taking a long look at what you think an MBA degree will do for you.

B-school offers clear skill-building in teamwork and leadership, as well as practical skills like accounting, marketing and finance. For many, the strong professional network you’ll build with classmates and alumni is the most alluring aspect of the experience. If you want to advance in a career where an MBA is valued, it may be an important next step.

However, if you’re simply feeling bored in your current position or hoping to earn a higher salary, make sure that an MBA is the right professional degree for you. Applying to business school is an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Without real dedication for the path upon which you’re embarking, your journey will likely stall before getting out of the gate.

Show me the passion: Remember, a goal is something you want to achieve. Therefore, simply stating, “I want to work in investment banking,” is not a goal. But how do you go about defining your career goals? Like most of the important decisions in life, it begins with a bit of soul searching. Think about your history of extracurricular activities. Is there a recurring theme or interest area that you would like to incorporate into a career?

Then take a closer look at the best and least-favored moments of your work trajectory thus far. What functions seem most appealing to you? What aspects do you dislike? Consider your personal goals as well. Are you driven to be a leader within an industry or company? Are you interested in work/life balance? Keep in mind, some flexibility with your goals is fine, as long as there’s a common thread linking what you’ve done so far with what you plan to do post-MBA.

One thing I tell people to tap into when they’re thinking of their career goals is envy””in the best possible sense. When you think about envy, it probably means you’re thinking about people doing things that you wish you were doing. Ask yourself, “Who is this person? What about them would I like to emulate?” That can help you define your goals in many ways. Passion for your career choice will come across as you tell your story through essays, discussions with recommenders, and interviews, so it’s worth articulating your own dreams in advance.

And keep it real: Along with passion, realism is an important aspect of your MBA career goals. Consider the application process from the school’s perspective: MBA programs want to launch productive, successful graduates who will contribute to the community.

When evaluating career goals, ask yourself: Does my career goal require an MBA? Even within nontraditional industries, an MBA may be valuable in certain functions. While a film director probably won’t benefit from the degree, the finance director at a studio would certainly benefit from formal business training.

Is this an industry that typically hires MBAs? Certain industries are clear feeders for MBA programs, while other industries may require more research. Finance, banking, and consulting are the obvious industries, and there’s growing demand for MBAs in the fields of IT and technology, manufacturing, healthcare, and at nonprofits. Many MBA programs have a list of typical companies that recruit at the school, and it’s worth investigating the industries that value an MBA degree.

Is the level I am seeking in my short-term goal realistic? Investigate the typical post-MBA title for your chosen industry and function to make sure you understand the usual career path. If you have significantly more work experience than your classmates, you may be qualified for a step up. However, typically companies recruit for standard new-MBA positions.

Once you’ve come up with a clear, cohesive vision of your career goals, tying it all together with your background and accomplishments is a great first step in a successful application strategy.

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SBC Scoop: An Older Applicant

A lot has been said in recent years about schools like Harvard and Stanford taking a greater interest in younger applicants and denying older applicants, with many top schools following suit.  In fact, I have …

A lot has been said in recent years about schools like Harvard and Stanford taking a greater interest in younger applicants and denying older applicants, with many top schools following suit.  In fact, I have seen posts in forums that basically tell people there is “no chance” past a certain age.  Whereas ten years ago there was buzz about getting as much work experience as possible, more recently, applicants have feared having too much experience, being too old.  This case study is meant to demonstrate that older applicants do get in, and can and should apply.  But I also want to provide a context and explain why older candidates do often have a tough time.  Since our client ended up at HBS, I will speak to HBS, but this really applies to all top schools.

Harvard values great leadership.  If you are applying to Harvard when you are 34 or like our client, 37, you better have already developed terrific leadership skills and have a lot to show for them.  The problem is that many people with great leadership skills have achieved so much by the time they are almost 40, that they are not interested in going back to school.    However, if one of these people is interested, and can demonstrate great achievement balanced with a legitimate need/desire to return to school, than they have a good chance.  You see, proving that you are a strong and accomplished 40 year old leader, and balancing that with the fact that you want to improve in order to get to the next step, is tough to pull off.  But it is pulled off and “old” people are admitted every year!

Our client, Max, was 37 and applied to a full range of schools.  Harvard was actually a re-application for him ”“ the others were all first time apps.  In a nutshell, his numbers were just average (3.5 GPA from mid tier school and 670 GMAT), and he had a nice, though not outrageous record of extra-curriculars.

Max’s work experience was stellar.  He had advanced quickly and impressively, and had significant P&L responsibility at Nestle.   He had rock solid evidence of strong leadership and communication skills, and he clearly had a lot to offer peers in classroom discussion.  Recommendations were also very good.  In drafting his application, he struggled with the balance between past experience and articulating ambitious, reasonable goals that supported his desire for an MBA.  Ultimately, he had a very big, high impact vision for his career.  But it was not a “pie in the sky” type of pipe dream.  His prior experience informed and inspired his future goals, and made them appear to be realistic: ambitious and realistic.  He was also able to tie unique personal experiences to his goals, showing how his career plan had personal meaning for him and was about more than just “making money”.

Even though he emerged from the process with admits from HBS and Tuck, it was not a smooth road.  His initial results were not so happy as he was waitlisted and then denied first from Wharton and later also denied from Columbia and Stanford.  At that point he seized upon the only aspect of the application that was still within his control and prepped like crazy for his Round 2 interviews.  Guess it helped tip him over the edge!  A very happy ending.

Facebook Contest: Answer the question below in the comments section for a chance to win an account from Apply in the Sky ($75 value). The winner will be chosen by the Stacy Blackman Team on 05/15:

How do you see an MBA degree helping you achieve your goals post-graduation?

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Tuesday Tips – INSEAD MBA Essay Tips

INSEAD’s essay questions offer unique challenges addressed in this week’s Tuesday Tips. Two campuses, multiple degree options and a diverse and international class set INSEAD apart from its competitors. INSEAD focuses separately on the job and personal portion of your MBA application essays, and we will guide you to address both questions thoroughly.

INSEAD has released the key dates, deadlines and essay topics for the 2011/2012 Fall and January intake.

INSEAD’s range of essays seeks to understand both your career path and your personal motivations. Fit with INSEAD’s unique program will be important, and the focus on international experiences is clear through the final essay in the set. Two campuses, multiple degree options and a diverse and international class set INSEAD apart from its competitors. In addition, you have the option to enter INSEAD either in the traditional Fall intake or in a January intake option.

INSEAD focuses separately on the job and personal portion of your MBA application essays, seeking to understand candidate’s roles in detail and career progress before delving into the personal aspect. While most MBA programs combine all aspects of your career goals trajectory into one essay, INSEAD provides three separate opportunities to discuss your current job, past experiences and future goals. Though career is covered in three essays rather than one, you should make sure that all of the essays work coherently together. As INSEAD states on the website: “We evaluate each applicant against four central criteria: leadership potential and work experience; academic capacity; international motivation; and ability to contribute to the INSEAD experience.”

Job-Related Essays
1. Please give a detailed description of your job, including nature of work, major responsibilities; and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, number of clients/products and results achieved. (250 words)

This question should focus entirely on your current work situation. Though you will want to provide relevant context for your current role, make sure you are devoting most of the essay to describing the details of your day-to-day responsibilities and oversight. If you are lighter on supervising others or managing a budget, you have the opportunity to highlight some key responsibilities and results.

When you are composing this essay make sure you focus on what you uniquely have contributed to the role, rather than reciting the job description. What have you done that is above and beyond?

2. Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (250 words)

This is essentially a walk through of your resume using the essay format to allow you to provide a unifying thread through the narrative. INSEAD is seeking to understand your career trajectory and how you have grown and progressed through your career. Think about the choices you have made in your career, and how your past experiences have combined to provide you with your current skill set. If you have a fairly straightforward career path you can take the opportunity to comment on some of the learnings from each position. The second part of the question also needs to be answered. Think about the next step at your job, and where you might land if you did not leave to pursue an MBA. While this is a straightforward question, you may need to demonstrate that you can’t get where you want to go from here ”“ and that you will need an MBA to achieve your goals.

Essays
1. Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (400 words approx.)

Strengths and weaknesses are a common topic for MBA applications. This is a great opportunity to highlight some of your skills and attributes that demonstrate leadership, teamwork or other qualities of a future business leader. Demonstrating self-awareness and the ability to assess your own performance will be impressive. While examples aren’t required, consider that adcomm is reading a vast number of essays and that solid examples to prove your points will help you stand out.
When describing weaknesses you will want to focus on those weaknesses that you have taken concrete steps to address, or that have been a route to learning more about yourself. Often strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin, in which case you can even tie your key weaknesses to your key strengths. Because it is often difficult to write about one’s weaknesses this is an especially important essay to share with others to seek feedback on tone and impact.

2. Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date, explaining why you view them as such. (400 words approx.)

Similar to the HBS question, this is an opportunity to describe two of your most important accomplishments. While impressive accomplishments are great and will certainly enhance your overall application, you should pay equal attention to explaining why these accomplishments are valuable to you. If you concisely explain the accomplishment and how you were able to bring it to fruition, you will have room to provide the context for your personal pride in the accomplishment.

Consider using personal or extracurricular examples in this essay, as most of your previous essays will be career focused.

3. Describe a situation taken from school, business, civil or military life, where you did not meet your personal objectives, and discuss briefly the effect. (250 words approx.)

Modeled after the failure or mistake essay, this essay asks you to discuss a situation that was disappointing to you. The most important aspect of this essay is to demonstrate that you are able to learn and grow as a result of a mistake. Everyone faces disappointment; it’s how you react that determines your effectiveness in an organization.

A strong essay will include a clear and concise description of the situation; describe your objectives, and how you did not meet them. Then you can devote significant space to discussing what your reaction was and how you moved forward. Demonstrating that you learned something from the situation is crucial to demonstrating self-awareness and emotional intelligence. If you have the room, either applying your lesson learned to a current situation or a subsequent experience would be an excellent way to wrap up the essay.

You are provided the freedom to pull examples from multiple areas, and this is an opportunity to demonstrate another side of you that has not been explored in the previous personal or career essays.

4. Discuss your career goals. What skills do you expect to gain from studying at INSEAD and how will they contribute to your professional career. (500 words approx.)

This essay is a continuation of the first two essay questions. Here you should make a case for why an MBA is the appropriate next step in your career and life, and why INSEAD is the right place to do it. You already laid the groundwork on where you have been in essay 2, and where you are right now in essay 1, and this essay should be part of the overall career trajectory. Consider what you said about your next position in the job related essay 2, and how an MBA will change your future career for the better.

INSEAD seeks MBA candidates with a range of experiences and the school wants to clearly know why you are seeking an MBA. Your future career goals should flow logically from where you have been in your career and your education at INSEAD. If you are confident about where you are going the admissions committee will be more confident about your ability to take advantage of the unique MBA experience.

5. Please choose one of the following two essay topics:
a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What did it mean to you? (250 words approx.), or
b) What would you say to a foreigner moving to your home country? (250 words approx.)

Both of these essay choices seek a response that will demonstrate your awareness of the world outside your home country. INSEAD is a highly international program and seeks candidates that both demonstrate and value diversity. Either one of these essay offers an opportunity to highlight any international or cross culture exposure you have had, whether while traveling outside your home country, or when experiencing foreigners within your home country. You will want to demonstrate cultural sensitivity, but also an awareness of the real differences between people and nationalities.

Culture shock can be a result of visiting or living in a new country, an unfamiliar group of people, or even a novel situation. Because INSEAD is such an international community it would be best to use this opportunity to discuss your awareness of other cultures and people. Choose an example that is easy to understand, and then spend some time explaining why you felt the culture shock and what it signified to you.

Option b allows you to act as host in your own country, describing the customs and challenges that may await a foreign visitor. This essay can demonstrate your skills of observation and empathy as you step into a strangers shoes and evaluate your own culture and values.

Whether you choose option a or b, it will be important to make sure you are highlighting your ability to conduct business across cultures. As a highly international program INSEAD will want to see demonstrated international savvy.

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Tuesday Tips – Tuck School Of Business Essay Tips

Tuck School of Business is focused on demonstrated achievement and interpersonal skills. How can you make sure your essays sell your unique experiences and attributes to Tuck? This edition of Tuesday Tips focuses on the 2010-2011 Tuck Essays.

The Tuck School of Business focuses on rigorous coursework and teamwork. As expressed on the website, “The dynamics within study groups are electric. You will perform at your highest level because your team is counting on you.” The Tuck Business School experience is one that prepares you for the next level both professionally and personally.

In evaluating candidates, the Tuck Business School looks at several criteria: demonstrated academic excellence, demonstrated leadership, demonstrated accomplishments, interpersonal skills, diversity of background and experience, and a global mindset. Note that many of these criteria specify that Tuck is looking for “demonstrated experience.” Aside from the raw data in your application, your essays are the best place to demonstrate what you will bring to the school.

If you are targeting the Round One deadline on October 13th, you may be thinking about how to approach this set of Tuck School of Business essay questions.
Setting strategy is your best first step. Clearly assess which of the desired traits are ones that you can demonstrate through your own experience. What are the areas you want to communicate to the Tuck Business School admissions committee? Which essays work best for a work example or a community service example? Be sure to provide specific examples for each essay. Real life examples provide the best evidence of your leadership qualities, teamwork skills and management potential.

While Tuck Business School does not require a certain word limit, the 500-word guidance should be adhered to. Generally 10% plus or minus the word limit suggestion is reasonable when there is no formal limit.

1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck Business School the best MBA program for you? (if you are applying for a joint or dual degree please explain how the additional degree will contribute to those goals.)

This standard career goals question requires you to clearly outline your short- and long-term career goals. Your short term goals are the aspirations you have for your job immediately after graduation, while your long-term goals may be 10 or 20 years after you complete your MBA. In this relatively short essay you will need to explain what you have been pursuing in your career thus far, and why you need an MBA at this point in your life, along with your career goals.

“Why Tuck Business School” is an important aspect to this essay, and your opportunity to demonstrate fit. Make sure you have researched the school’s programs and determined your education will suit your plans. By reaching out to current students and alumni you will gain crucial insights that will provide a personal perspective on the culture of the school.

Essay 2: Discuss your most meaningful leadership experience. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?

This essay is similar to Kellogg’s leadership essay. As in the Kellogg essay, you will want to define your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. What are you good at, and what do you hope to develop at Tuck Business School? Unlike the Kellogg essay, this version requires that you describe one specific example that illustrates your leadership challenges and strengths. When you contemplate your most meaningful leadership experience, it may not be the most impressive example. Think about the leadership opportunities that led to a deeper understanding of yourself and others, and may have resulted in definition of your strengths or an improvement in your weaknesses.

The example you choose can be from work or community involvement, as “great leadership can be accomplished in the pursuit or business and societal goals.” You will need to adhere to the Tuck School of Business definition of leadership and include a team-based aspect to your example. As you describe your leadership experience, make sure you explain how you were able to inspire and enable others to accomplish.

3. What is the greatest challenge or hurdle you have overcome, either personally or professionally, and how did you manage to do so?

This question is somewhat similar to the classic mistake essay, and it’s your opportunity to show how you handle challenging situations. Everyone faces challenges at work or in personal life, and it is how you decide to react that creates learning and growth. Revealing your emotions and thought process in this essay will provide a window into how you process difficult experiences and emerge from them with a new direction. Think back to Tuck Business School’s criteria, and consider using this essay to either demonstrate your interpersonal skills (if your challenge was of the interpersonal variety) or to show something from your background or experience that is unique.

When brainstorming for this essay think first about what you learned from the situation, and then work backwards to describe the circumstances and the initial challenge or hurdle, that will help you see the whole situation from a more optimistic viewpoint. Is there a learning from the experience that impacted your life or carried a thread through your character, goals or accomplishments?

4. Tuck Business School seeks candidates of various backgrounds who can bring new perspectives to our community. How will your unique personal history, values, and/or life experiences contribute to the culture at the Tuck School of Business?

This question provides you with an opportunity to describe why you are different from other applicants. Do you have a unique background? Unusual work experience? Or have you demonstrated a consistent history of community involvement? The part of your application strategy that is most unique and surprising should be described here.

Once you have determined what is special about your candidacy, you need to tie your personal history, values and/or life experiences to how you will interact with your fellow students at Tuck Business School. The most obvious approach is to outline the clubs and organizations you will contribute to. Beyond formal groups, you may contribute your unique perspective to the classroom, provide networking opportunities in your industry to your classmates, or mentor your fellow students.

5. (Optional) Please provide any additional insight or information that you have not addressed elsewhere that may be helpful in reviewing your application (e.g., unusual choice of evaluators, weaknesses in academic performance, unexplained job gaps or changes, etc.). Complete this question only if you feel your candidacy is not fully represented by this application.

This is your opportunity to discuss any perceived weaknesses in your application such as low GPA or gaps in your work experience. When approaching a question of this nature, focus on explanations rather than excuses and explain what you have done since the event you are explaining to demonstrate your academic ability, or management potential. If you do not have a weakness to explain, this may be an opportunity to address any additional facet of your application strategy you have not been able to illuminate in previous questions. There is no requirement to complete this question, and it would be wise to use the space for something truly new and important to your application that has not been addressed elsewhere.

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Tuesday Tips – IESE Essay Tips

IESE is an international MBA program based in Barcelona. Along with the traditional full time MBA, IESE offers a range of executive programs, including the Global Executive MBA. The Global Executive MBA program operates across …

IESE is an international MBA program based in Barcelona. Along with the traditional full time MBA, IESE offers a range of executive programs, including the Global Executive MBA. The Global Executive MBA program operates across several continents with sessions in Barcelona, Madrid, Shanghai, India, Silicon Valley and New York City. To learn more about the Global Executive MBA, you may want to attend one of IESE’s events.

The nice thing about this set of essays is the specificity of the questions. That is also the difficult challenge you will have as you apply your overall application strategy, with the strengths and accomplishments you wish to communicate. Many of the situational questions ask for examples within the last two years, which may be a challenging direction. While you may be attached to situations that are further behind you, remember that the key to any situational question is a clear and concise example that you can extrapolate larger learnings from.

The situational essays in this set allow you to approach the question from either a professional or personal perspective, and it will be important to choose wisely. Think about the correct balance of personal and professional, and which activities you want to particularly highlight.

Essay 1: Please describe your short term professional goals (post MBA). (200 word limit)
Essay 2: Please describe your long term professional goals (post MBA). (200 word limit)

These first two essays are the key components of every career goals essay, and should work together in the same way that a more typical career goals essay would while also remaining two distinct essays. Make sure your short and long-term goals are cohesive, and that your short-term goals lead naturally to your long-term goals. While not explicitly part of the question, you should certainly work in why you need an MBA, and specifically why the IESE MBA will be important to achieving your career goals.

Essay 3: Describe two substantial accomplishments and one failure in a professional or private endeavour. (600 word limit)
This essay question is very similar to the HBS question asking for three accomplishments , with the substitution of a failure for one of the accomplishments. It’s difficult to explain three distinct situations in 600 words. Focus on quickly recapping the accomplishment, making it very clear what the accomplishment was, and take some time to reflect upon the accomplishment and its larger meaning to you in your life or profession.
For the failure section of the essay, you will want to find a failure that can be described succinctly, that you learned from, and that you were able to ultimately redeem yourself through. Whether you turned the failure into a success in that exact situation, or faced a similar situation later than you were able to succeed in, ending on a positive note will be crucial for this question.

Essay 4: Describe a recent situation (within last two years) in which you used a contact from your network to achieve a personal or professional objective. (200 word limit)
Limiting the situation to the past two years may be frustrating to you, but the important part of this essay will be demonstrating that you are able to build and maintain a strong professional network. If you haven’t faced a major situation that required help from your professional network, like a job hunt, think about times that you may have reached out to your friends or co-workers to seek a new perspective on a problem, or to tap into their vocational expertise. The question also allows the use of the network for a personal objective, which may be a more common occurrence day-to-day.
Whatever situation you choose, this is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate how you work with others, your collaborative approach to problem-solving, and how you may behave in a team situation at school, or as an alumna or alumnus of IESE.

Essay 5: Describe the most difficult project (personal or professional) that you have faced recently (within last two years). (200 word limit)
Difficult projects are a great learning experience, and you will want to be able to communicate clearly what you learned from this particular difficult project. If you were ultimately successful, that is a great result, but even if the project never reached completion in a satisfactory way, you hopefully learned a lesson that could be applied in subsequent projects. Though the word count is restrictive, be as specific as possible about the situation and how you approached it.

Essay 6: Describe a recent situation (within last two years) in which it was difficult to convince others. (200 word limit)
This essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate your leadership, teamwork and/or communication and negotiation skills. You will want to find a situation that was difficult, but where you were ultimately convincing. Clearly describe what was difficult about convincing others, and how you were able to ultimately succeed.

Essay 7: I wish that the application had asked me”¦ (200 word limit)
This essay is a gift for all of the extra material in your application strategy. If you had an important situation in your life that occurred more than two years ago, this is an opportunity to highlight it. If you have an interesting personal story, explanation for any weakness in your application, or other material that will help your candidacy, this is the ideal place for that material.

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Tuesday Tips – Oxford Said Essay Tips

The Oxford MBA is a one year MBA program located at one of the most prestigious universities in Europe. For access to international business acumen and a diverse and close-knit class from 50 various nationalities, …

The Oxford MBA is a one year MBA program located at one of the most prestigious universities in Europe. For access to international business acumen and a diverse and close-knit class from 50 various nationalities, the Oxford MBA is an excellent choice.

Oxford MBA’s two essays will require discipline and focus, with only 3000 words available to market yourself.

Essay 1: Explain why you chose your current job. How do you hope to see your career developing over the next five years? How will an MBA assist you in the development of these ambitions? (1000 word maximum)

This is a variation of the classic career goals question, which focuses initially on your current job. You will want to provide some background to describe your motivation in your career thus far and how you set and achieved the goals you have accomplished in your career path up until now.

The next section of the essay seeks to understand your career over the next five years. This is a fairly brief window into the future, but you can at least set the stage for any long-term goals you have. Explaining your short-term goals very concretely will be the basis of a successful answer to this section.

The link between your past and your future is your Oxford MBA. Explaining clearly why you need an MBA at this stage in your career will be important. At the same time, take the opportunity to describe why an Oxford MBA is the right choice for you. To understand the MBA program as well as you can, take the opportunity to visit the campus and attend a class if you are able to travel to the UK. If not, you can attend an international event

Essay 2: Which recent development, world event or book has most influenced your thinking and why? (2000 word maximum)

This is a broad question and will require a strategy and clear approach. You could approach this like Stanford “What matters most” and similarly think about your life ”“ personal, extracurricular, and professional ”“ and what themes arise. Framing the answer around a theme that also fits with your career goals will provide focus and communicate who you are effectively to the admissions committee.

While you will want to have a plan for this question, understanding what you need to communicate with your answer, do not neglect the core question. You will want to choose an event, book or development that fits in with your overall theme and that can serve as a microcosm of your general attitude and motivations.

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