A powerful career vision not only helps you stand out in your business school applications, it’s essential for your admissions interviews. Most importantly, it will help you hit the ground running when you actually start your MBA, because the job search and recruiting start as early as day one on campus. Arguably, your career vision is the most important part of the entire MBA application process.
Having reviewed thousands of MBA career visions, my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and I have distilled our insights and advice into a two-part series. In part 1, I’ll clarify what a career vision is, why it matters, what admissions is looking for, and how to get started. Part 2 will dissect the process for honing in on your long-term vision versus short-term goals.
Whether you’re crafting your application or preparing for your MBA interview, these strategies and insights will help you convey a career vision statement that’s persuasive, coherent, concise, and authentic to you.
CLARIFY THE PURPOSE: WHAT IS A CAREER VISION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Your career vision lies at the intersection of two key admissions questions: What do you want to do, and who do you want to be? Its purpose is to provide a clear and inspiring direction for your professional life, guided by your motivations, ambitions, ideals, and values. It helps the admissions team understand what it is that drives you forward — not only in your career, but in your life.
Most business schools ask explicitly about your career vision in the application, and all will expect you to present and defend your career vision at the interview stage. But the process for developing your stand-out career vision is also helpful for focusing your story and finding a narrative for the decisions you have made so far.
WHAT WILL THE MBA ADMISSIONS TEAM BE LOOKING FOR?
Your career vision should provide a roadmap that clearly shows the steps you will take to achieve your goals. When deciding between two candidates with similar profiles, admissions committees will look for who is best poised to leverage the resources their business school will offer.
Here are seven key criteria MBA admissions will be looking for:
- Your ability to articulate a coherent vision.Think of it as your first MBA assignment — you are showing that you can do the industry and company research necessary to develop a robust vision. Your ability to articulate a coherent, compelling career vision is an indication of the quality of work — and clarity of thought — you’re capable of producing.
- A vision that’s both aspirational and inspirational.Admissions committees are looking for the world’s future leaders. A career vision that’s aspirational conveys that you want to eventually reach a senior level in your chosen industry (no B-school is looking for candidates who aspire only to middle management). “Inspirational” means that you have ambitions to impact a community, industry, or society at large.
- You have a realistic plan on how to achieve your goals.While your vision might be lofty, admissions committees want to see that the steps you plan to take to get there are realistic. You’ll need to demonstrate an understanding of what the MBA will do for you, and also how the recruiting process works.
- You have a coherent career thread or narrative.Along these lines, you will need to present a coherent thread or narrative that convincingly links your past experiences and your reasons for pursuing an MBA with your short- and long-term goals.
- Evidence that you need the MBA.You’ll need to be convincing that an MBA — now, from this program — is mission critical to achieving your ambitions. Schools also want assurance that they’re equipped to help you land the types of post-MBA jobs you’re targeting.
- You bring something to the table.Lastly, programs want to know what you bring to the table. How will your experiences and network help others to achieve their career visions and contribute to a diverse incoming class? What is unique to you that makes others believe you can accomplish this (your passion, your unique background, a personal experience, etc.)?
FOUR STEPS TO GETTING STARTED:
Developing a great career vision is about the process as much as the product. While you might have a good idea of what you want to do, this is a good time to think broadly about your future and explore different possibilities. Here are a few tips for getting started:
Set parameters: To begin narrowing down the possibilities, account for any restrictions you might have (such as location, family considerations, potential visa issues, etc.) and set some parameters to guide your research. Is your goal to work in a particular industry (i.e., clean tech, private equity, or CPG), where you may pass through a variety of functions over the course of your career? Or is it to develop an area of deep expertise and specialization (i.e. CFO, marketing, or human resources)?
Research: With your parameters in place, do your homework to further understand each possible path. This can include researching specific industries and roles, networking and conducting informational interviews, and identifying new trends and opportunities that excite you. No industry is static; you’ll want to understand the competitive environment and identify the trends shaping the industry.
Clarify your long-term vision and short-term goals: The time frame of a long-term vision is typically around 10 years out — it’s the end game or pinnacle of your career. Your short-term goals, by contrast, are stepping stones on your way to that end goal, meaning they are your immediate plans (for your internship) to two to three years post-MBA. In part 2 of this series, we’ll do a deeper dive into the long-term vision and short-term goals.
Perform a skills assessment and gap analysis: By identifying the skills you’ll need for the career you’ve chosen, you’ll be in a position to assess whether the path you have chosen is realistic. What skills will you learn in the MBA? How? This will also help you to identify transferable skills that set you up for success.
“Your ability to express a logical and motivating career vision signals your commitment to the journey, even if the destination changes en route,” says Fortuna expert coach Nonie Mackie, former INSEAD assistant director of career services, in her article, How to Convey a Powerful Career Vision. “And admissions officers are aware your plans may evolve. After all, getting an MBA should be a life-changing experience; it will inevitably present new opportunities and possibilities.”
Stay tuned for part 2 in our series on crafting a compelling career vision, coming next week and focused on your long-term vision versus short-term goals.
Heidi Hillis is an expert coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, as well as a Stanford GSB alum & former MBA admissions interviewer. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 13 of the top 15 business schools.