One of the most important parts of your pre-MBA strategy is clarifying your goals. After all, an MBA is a huge investment, and if you don’t have a clear sense of why you’re pursuing it, you won’t get as much out of the experience as you should:
- You’ll get into the wrong school for you: Without knowing where you want to end up, you may go down the wrong path and end up choosing programs for the wrong reasons, wasting time and money applying unsuccessfully, or ending up at a sub-optimal program for you.
- Once at b-school, you won’t use your time wisely: Even if you attend a great program that serves your general purposes, lack of clarity regarding the purpose of your MBA, may cause you difficulty in setting priorities and managing your time effectively.
- You won’t even get in: Finally, if you’re targeting elite MBA programs, showing that you have a well-thought-out goal is crucial to your application. If the adcom can’t see why you need an MBA – or why you need an MBA from their program – you’ll have a hard time getting accepted.
So, what do we mean by a “goal”?
I can see some of you rolling your eyes at the obvious question, but in reality, most MBA applicants don’t have effective goals and damage their chances of acceptance with vacuous non-goals. Don’t be one of them. Read on.
First of all, goals are frequently divided into immediate post-MBA goal and then long-term goals.
To be meaningful, your short-term goal needs to be specific and realistic. Your application should make a case that given what you’ve done to date and given the MBA program you are applying to, you will be ready to achieve your short-term goal when you graduate.
Frequently, we hear from applicants who say something like:
“I want to go into finance.” “I want to shift from technology consulting to investment banking.” “I want to move from tech into either finance or consulting.” “I want to go into marketing.” “I want to start my own company.”
None of these is a real goal. Why? They’re general and superficial.
How can you formulate a specific, effective statement of your short-term goals?
Start with two key components:
A third key component for many people is geography, if it is integral to the goal.
Then add the “do” part – what the work will actually consist of, and what you hope to accomplish.
Here are some examples:
- I plan to return to operations but work at a higher, decision making level, such as Senior Operations Manager in an East Asian semiconductor firm or a related industry. In this role I would, for example, oversee a global high-tech supply chain, increasing efficiency and decreasing costs and time-to-market.
- Currently I’m a BPR consultant in the pharmaceutical industry; I plan to shift to strategy consulting at a top global firm such as Bain or McKinsey, ideally focusing on clients in the pharma/biomedical space, and helping them set up operations in Eastern Europe.
Your short-term goals are naturally a stepping stone, and people often focus on what they will learn; experience they will gain; people they will meet. But note that your short-term goals ideally should include what you want to do as well as the difference you intend to make.
Longer-term goals, aspirations, and yes, even dreams, can be more general and should build on achievement of your short-term goals. They don’t have to be as specific or clearly defined or as obviously attainable as that immediate post-MBA goal.
Whether for the short-term or long-term, if you have a social benefit or value you are trying to realize, include that element in your goal. Schools want to know what’s motivating you and they also like their alumni to be known for improving society.
Some of you may wonder why the goal is so important since a large percentage of MBA students end up doing something different than stated in their essays. Here’s a few reasons why it’s still important:
- If you developed a good “game plan” for yourself before the MBA, you are more likely to be able to do it again if your goals change during business school.
- Having some direction when you arrive on campus is critical to the internship job search, and many times internships lead to full-time offers and positions.
- Changing direction is completely different from lacking direction. It’s the difference between a broken weather vane and one that simply changes direction with the wind. The former is malfunctioning and worthless; the latter is responding to changing conditions as it should. You want to be in the latter category.
Ask yourself: Do you really need an MBA?
As you evaluate your goals, The adcom will be looking to see if you’re a good fit for their program – which means, in part, that they want to know that you need their training to achieve your career goals. And from your own perspective, if you don’t actually need an MBA, it’s much better to figure that out before you take time out from your career and invest a lot of money in a program.
Begin your MBA application with the end in mind. Take a purposeful approach to the process. Think about what you want to do and where you want to do it before you choose schools or fill out applications. With your goal as your weather vane and guide, you’re well on your way to acceptance at the best school for you.
One of the questions you will almost certainly have to answer – either in an essay or an interview – is why you need an MBA. Will you have a strong answer? Learn how to strategize effectively by checking out Accepted’s admissions guide, Why MBA? — get it here for free!
Linda Abraham is the founder of Accepted, the premier admissions consultancy. She has coached MBA applicants to acceptance for over 20 years. The Wall Street Journal, US News, and Poets&Quants are among the media outlets that seek her admissions expertise.