Many MBA application essay sets include a career goals essay question in one form or another, questions like:
- Chicago Booth: “What are your short-term and long-term career goals?”
- Wharton: “What are your professional objectives?”
- Kellogg: “Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing an MBA.”
- Stanford GSB: “What do you want to do—REALLY?”
In this article, we examine the different elements that comprise an effective career goals essay and provide excerpts from a sample essay to illustrate lessons that you can apply when writing your own career goals statement. We would never want to want to suggest that there is only one structure that works when writing your career goals essay. Rather, the example and lessons are to help you to develop an approach to writing the essay and to evaluate whether or not your drafts are achieving the desired effect.
Lesson 1: Articulate your career goals clearly and directly in the introductory paragraph.
One effective way to begin an MBA career goals essay is to begin with a clear summary of short-term and long-term career goals. The sample essay was written by a private equity analyst who intends to work in private equity in the former Soviet Union after graduation. He opens his essay as follows:
Directly out of business school, I want to move to Moscow to work for a leading private equity group, such as Baring Vostok. Long-term, my goal is to start my own fund in the former Soviet Union, ideally based in Kiev, where I was born and where most of my extended family still lives.
Lesson 2: Summarize the connection between your career history and career goals.
You want to establish that your career goals are realistic by explaining how your career so far has prepared you for the future roles you plan to pursue. When possible specify relevant skills and experiences that have prepared you for your future professional objectives. The key is to be brief, especially if you have not been asked explicitly about your career progress.
In the example essay, our applicant emphasizes his private equity experience:
Although I was honored to be offered a 3rd year analyst position at Deutsche Bank, I decided to join Astrix partners, a private equity fund with $2 billion in assets. At Astrix, I have excelled by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of target companies and by building effective, trusting relationships with the management teams of our portfolio companies.
Lesson 3: Explain your motivations and why these career goals matter to you.
MBA programs were founded on the belief that business leaders can and do play a powerful role in contributing to the prosperity of society. Consequently, MBA programs are looking for future leaders who have a strong desire to make a positive impact in the world. Schools also want to know that the career goals are meaningful to you.
Later in his goals essay, our case study candidate reveals his motivations and sense of purpose:
We moved from Kiev to the U.S. when I was eight, but I have managed to maintain strong ties to my native country. On frequent trips to the former Soviet Union, I have seen first hand that there is a tremendous need for the kind of investment fund I envision starting.
Lesson 4: Summarize your career action plan.
Another important building block of an effective career goals statement is your career action plan – it includes the jobs and organizations you plan to work for along the way toward your long-term career goal. For each job on your path, explain briefly how the position and role will move you a step closer to your long-term aspirations in terms of things like additional skills, essential experiences, and a stronger network.
In his career action plan, our example candidate emphasizes his plan to work for an established fund in the part of the world in which he intends to start his private fund:
By working for a firm in Moscow like Baring Vostok for five to seven years, I will gain regional private equity experience and key business relationships in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (“CIS”).
Lesson 5: Share your career vision.
Ending the essay with a career vision statement can be powerful. Admissions officers at top business schools welcome grand ambitions, some even expect them. The statement should describe your vision for fulfilling what you believe to be the underlying purpose of your career.
In the later stages of his career, the writer of the example essay explains that he want to spur economic growth in the former Soviet Union both as an investor and eventually an economic advisor to the government:
Eventually, I want to serve as an economic advisor to the Ukrainian government. New energy and optimism not to mention capital are critically needed in the former Soviet Union. I want to be an investor who provides all three.
Sharing your excitement about your future career path with admissions officers via your MBA application essays is an important step toward earning an acceptance letter from a top MBA program. The coherence and clarity of your career goals essay can serve as an elegant proof of your desire to be a leader of consequence once you finish your MBA studies.
The lessons we’ve shared in this article can help you to ask yourself the right questions at the outlining phase and afterwards to gauge of the quality of the essay you write to answer those questions. Ultimately, the goal of your career goals essay is to convince admissions officers that you are a candidate who will use your MBA education to make a positive difference in the world. If you succeed, you will almost certainly increase your chances of being accepted by one of the top business schools.
Most business school applications will ask you to think about your career goals. This is a very important question. Business schools want to know how you will make the business world better when you leave their campuses and what your unique mark will be.
The best career essay will do two things:
1) Your essay will connect your past career to your future goals. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and we have all left a mark in one way or another. Whether you plan to take your career in a completely different direction, make a small career pivot or return to the same company post-MBA in a higher role, it is important to connect your past to your future. This does not, however, mean that your essay should include a chronological history of your career to date. In fact, in nearly all cases you DO NOT want to do this. Instead, you want to think about a few highlights from your career and link them to your future. What are your strengths? When have you shined? Take an example or two and draw the connection for the reader.
Regardless of your goal, this link is important. If you are not planning a major career change, there should be plenty of ways to make this connection. But even if you are, there are links to me made. Here are some examples:
- Perhaps you are a great public speaker. If so, show how you have used this to your advantage in the past, how your performance at work has reflected this and detail how you might use it in a future role, combined with certain key things you will absorb from the MBA.
- Maybe instead your strength lies in working through ambiguity. This is another example of a skill that could be leveraged regardless of your career.
2) Your career goal will be focused, attainable and if possible, unique. Your career essay should generally include both a short-term and long-term goal. This goal should be specific! Do not use OR in your essay. If you don’t know for sure, that is ok! No one is going to hold you to what you put in your essay, but it is important to think through and convey your plan. There are many different strategies to think about when deciding how to narrow down your career goals. In fact, I plan to write a whole blog in the future on just this and I spend many hours counseling clients on how to arrive at their ideal career goals. What is most important, however, is that you are decisive and consistent. Whatever you choose, do not waiver. Your short-term goal should also flow logically to your long-term goal. I have seen candidates with a short-term goal of working in marketing and a long-term goal of becoming a CFO. Sure, some might make this leap in their careers but this isn’t the norm. If you want a finance career, both your short and long-term goal should be in this field.
Your career goal should also be attainable. As valuable as an MBA is, you likely will not be running a department the first day out of business school. Do your research and figure out what jobs are attainable for you. This does not mean you should not be ambitious, of course! This is part of why I tell client to have two goals in most essays.
Finally, uniqueness can also work in your favor. If you have your heart set on a career at McKinsey, then you should write about that. (I talk my clients through when this is and is not a good strategy based on your background and long-term goals). However, don’t simply put this as your goal because that is what you think AdComs wants to hear. Not everyone goes into consulting and having a unique goal can often work in your favor. It may make it easier for you to stand out and be memorable, but at the same time do not forget that it has to be realistic and achievable.
The career goal essay is very important. After all, you need to convince admissions committee members that you know WHY you need an MBA and that you will use it effectively so give it the time it deserves!
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See examples of career essays from a few different business schools
Columbia Business School
Admission Counseling, Personal MBA Coach