Strategies for Defining Your MBA Goals

While it sounds simple enough, many b-school hopefuls struggle with the question of addressing their career goals because although they know they want an MBA, they haven’t yet clearly defined what their goals are, and how earning an MBA degree will help.

Remember, a goal is something you want to achieve. Therefore, “I want to work in investment banking” is not a goal. How then do you go about defining your career goals?

Think about a logical sequence that starts with your past work experience, then your MBA education and ends with your immediate post-MBA goal. Self-awareness about your strengths and interests will help you refine what you want.

setting MBA goalsIn your essays and interviews, you’ll want to give some background about why you are interested in your specific career pursuits. It will also add credibility to describe how you tend to approach goals in general. Are you determined despite obstacles? How have you demonstrated your persistence in your career thus far?

Your past experiences have certainly informed your post-MBA plans, and touching on those most relevant will be helpful to setting the background for your current pursuit of an MBA. To make this essay more than a rehash of your resume, think about explaining the rationale for your decisions throughout the essay.

Focus only on relevant examples from your career: the situations that led you to realize what you really want to do or helped you to build skills that have become important to your goals. Often the best indicator of future performance is the past, and therefore examples can support your position that your goals are achievable with an MBA degree.

Believe it or not, it’s sometimes helpful to reflect on the negative. By taking a look at your least-favorite moments in your career trajectory so far, it becomes easier to see which functions appealed to you the most and which ones you really disliked. To take your research deeper, talk to colleagues and alumni who have MBAs in your field to see what your career path options are.

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.

One final tip: Spend some time thinking about how the specific business school you are applying to will help you achieve your career goals, and use your essays to explain to the admissions committee why their program is the right place to spend the next two years of your life.

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. A career path that focuses on demonstrated passions and interests throughout your life is going to be most compelling.

Make sure that your career goals are both realistic and aspirational. Your post MBA goal should be achievable and demonstrate the need for the degree. 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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