If you have a beating heart, you’ll have chosen the second one.
So what are you passionate about? What do you love to do, whether at work or in your free time? I encourage clients not to initially limit themselves to what they think they should be doing based on their career trajectory so far, and I’ve actually directed clients to new opportunities they hadn’t considered before. Give your imagination some free rein. Now I realize that if you’ve been clocking 90-hour work weeks for the past two to three years, it can be hard to get in touch with this. You’re most likely passionate about being able to sleep for seven hours straight! It can really help to solicit input from others on this topic, whether through surveying friends and family (“What do you think I’m passionate about?”) or engaging an admissions consultant to assist you.
If you have a nontraditional background, you have an additional task to accomplish here. You need to show that you’re just gaga about business. Have you just finished Steve Jobs’s latest biography and are trying to get all your friends to read it? Do you wait with baited breath for the latest issue of Fast Company or the Economist? Do you go to business-related conferences that you pay for on your own dime? Make it clear that you aren’t just trying to escape your current career (“I can’t stand to look at another line of code!”); show how much you love to learn and think about business.
What skills and experience do I bring to the table? (Is it plausible?)
Now you don’t need to have every skill and competency necessary to land that post-MBA job now—if that were the case, you wouldn’t need the MBA in the first place (except in the few cases of rubber stamping). However, you do need to honestly assess whether you have what it takes to achieve a particular goal, especially if you’re applying to business school to change careers. For instance, if you’ve never sold a thing in your life and are congenitally shy, even the best MBA program under the sun isn’t going to help you make a career shift into enterprise-hardware sales. If you aspire to work in foreign country, you better know the native language or have the capacity to learn languages easily—plus it would be great to have traveled and even lived abroad, so you know that you can adjust and thrive easily outside your native country. If you’re thinking of becoming an entrepreneur post-MBA, I suggest you read my article on the topic entitled “So You Want to Be an Entrepreneur?” There I’ve posed a series of considerations to help you determine how plausible a goal this is for you.
There’s another question that I pose along with the above: is the stated career goal feasible? This is relevant, for example, when I speak with candidates age 30 or older who want to go into investment banking or private equity (and in some cases management consulting and venture capital) who have no related experience. Given the way these industries hire, it’s highly unlikely these folks will be able to land these jobs. I won’t allow them to write about such goals in their essays unless they find a company or companies that assure them they’re willing to hire them post-MBA. Since they’re usually unable to find any, we typically end up writing about something else!
Is there truly an opportunity in this space?
This is where I ask clients to apply their business savvy and do a lot of research. Are they interested in a high-growth industry? Have they identified some unexploited market? Is there a gap in the market they’d like to fill? Are there so many problems in this particular industry that there are ample opportunities to try to fix it (think healthcare or education)? Is a high ROI likely, whether in literal financial returns or social gain? If there aren’t players in this space yet, why? Do they have an idea in mind that would make moving into this space attractive? What are the trends that will be shaping this sector or industry over the next three to ten years? One of the challenges of articulating a post-MBA goal in any rapidly changing industry is that what you envision now may be completely obsolete by the time you graduate from school. With this in mind, you may want to take a broad-brush approach. Let’s say you noodle up some idea regarding a social-network app for kids related to education. Well, we really don’t know what the Internet landscape will look like in a few years, whether various platforms will have come and gone, whether Facebook will still dominate, etc. So I’d ask you what you really want to accomplish fundamentally. Providing enhanced learning opportunities at a low cost to users. Having kids help each other. Making use of existing communication infrastructure (you don’t plan to create the new Internet). In your essay, you could lay out your broader vision and basic parameters such as these without looking as though you’re clueless about the pace of change.
Let me give you an example
When I worked with Irina** a number of years ago, she wanted to move from civil engineering to something more business oriented, and she first floated the idea of real estate development. Having gotten a master’s in her field and worked on large-scale projects for a few years, she loved the technical aspects of construction as well as the project-management piece. She’d been working on some sustainable-design projects, and that had gotten her thinking. In her home country, formerly part of the Soviet bloc, housing construction—and building in general—hadn’t kept up with growing GDP and a rising middle class. Much of the built landscape was an eyesore, spotted with worn-down, utilitarian Soviet-era architecture. Putting her passions and opportunity together, she proposed a post-MBA goal of doing sustainable real estate development back in her home country.