Perfecting The Careers Goals Essay

When you catch yourself thinking or saying the complaint, “Why hasn’t anybody . . .,” insert yourself there. Be that somebody. Ask not what anybody can do for you, but what you can do for everybody. That’s transformational leadership in a bottle (or a cosmetics tube, if you will). Just by doing a little digging, I put my finger on something Pia cared deeply about. Her professional passion had been staring at her in the makeup mirror the whole time.

Suddenly Pia got that Elle Woods glint in her eye. “I could dominate the cover-up market with a concealer that actually works. I wouldn’t even have to go on late-night TV to sell it. But QVC is the natural outlet! I could get an endorsement from Dr. 90210!” She grabbed my arm. “What about Sanjay Gupta? Do you think he’s big enough?”

Wow. Pia had gone from an obsession with appropriateness to outside-the-box visionary in just one quick session. Her fire was real, not manufactured, because she was her own customer. She knew the market and knew how to address it.

Then I saw her crash back to earth. “But I’m not an entrepreneur. Do you know how much money it would take to get a product like this off the ground? The manufacturing costs alone would require a huge capital investment. Who’s going to give me that kind of money? How do I even ask for that kind of money?”

I finally interrupted her litany of self-minimizing concerns to ask a rhetorical question: “Isn’t that what business school is for? To learn how to write a business plan? To understand capital investment? To become an effective entrepreneur? To master persuasive leadership so you can enroll anyone to do anything for you? I mean, you’ve not only discovered the difference you can make on the planet, you’ve expressed your rationale for needing an MBA education! I couldn’t have made this up if I tried!” She had practically written her goals essay already.

We ended that conversation with a piece of homework: “Go surf the Internet and get me some facts. How many people have tattoos? What is the annual revenue for those useless products you’ve gone through? Are they all made by big cosmetics companies or by specialty providers? And is Alyssa Milano hawking one on late-night TV?”

A couple of days later, Pia reported her findings to me with an excitement that neither Susan nor I had yet to hear in her voice. Suddenly, the tattoo turned from a burden to a blessing—and a great basis for a successful company. Making a difference in seven million lives is big— and certainly a more visionary long-term goal than being some kind of manager in some kind of consulting firm.

PS: With this goal, Pia got accepted to the Triple Crown—Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. At the risk of sounding like Madonna during the Blonde Ambition Tour, I later told Pia, “Go on, girl. Show me what you can do!”

The Lesson If you’re not sure what you’re passionate about, do a little inner-view— an interview with yourself—and objectively put the pieces of your life together. … For those of you who are reading this and saying, “I don’t have an embarrassing tattoo,” and you’re bummed out because the most exciting thing in your life is turnarounds or semiconductors, be careful not to play the “is my goal catchy enough?” game. Your goal doesn’t have to be catchy, cool, or involve a near miss with death. If it’s real, if you can really get behind it, then that will come through—no matter what.

Here’s how you know for sure: Are you behind it enough to go after it even if you don’t get accepted to business school? Full stop. Admissions officers will get on board even if you’re talking about semiconductors when it’s obvious that your goals have your full faith and credit (that is, if you don’t get into business school and learn how to get financing, you’ll still get financing) even if it means maxing out your credit card to get the ball rolling.

Note: A goals essay is not a business plan. It’s a vision kicked off by an action (that would be your short-term goal). And, oh yes, a reason to go to business school (after all, you need certain skills to realize your vision). By the way, if you already know how to write a business plan, you may not need to go to business school. And you’ve seriously missed the point of this essay.

Evan Forster and David Thomas are the founders of admissions consulting firm Forster-Thomas Inc. and the authors of The MBA Reality Check.


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