Here to inaugurate EssaySnark's new essay advice series is an exercise for what should be the first step of your MBA admissions journey: Mapping out your career goals. Your career goals are what help you decide which schools are the right fit for you, and they help the schools decide if you're the right fit for them.
Here's how to do it.
- Start with the future. What do you want to do with your life? Do you want to be a CEO someday? Do you want to run your own business? Are you going to move to some other country and start something new? Great! Write that down.
- Next: Recognize that this is not your “long-term goal.” Most schools have a five- to eight-year post-MBA timeframe in mind when they ask about your “long-term goal.” So, if you're applying to bschool this fall (2011), in order to start school next fall (2012), you'll be in the Class of 2014 (hopefully!!). This puts your long-term goal in the realm of, like, the year 2020. Don't have a clue what you'll be doing in the year 2020? Don't worry about it, we'll circle back to that again in a minute.
- Now, analyze where you're at now. What types of positions do people like you get coming out of b-school? For example, if you're a private equity associate today and want to stay in private equity, maybe you'll be able to land a VP role when you graduate (you'll need to convince the adcom that you're VP material in your essay, of course, for them to give you that chance).
If you're changing tracks to a new career, research the standard hierarchy in the industry you want to work in. There's often wide variation. Director at some companies is the level right below VP; at others, it's a super-senior executive role. Find out how things are commonly done in your target industry, and define for yourself what a viable position would be for you when you graduate with your MBA.
You now have your short-term goal for your essay!
- Okay, good. Now map out a path to get to the future. Using the future goal that you identified in Step 1 as your ultimate destination, and your short-term goal that you just nailed down in Step 3, create a plan for yourself. What interim steps will be required for you to get from A to Z?
It's easiest to start backward.
For a traditional future job as an executive in a major corporation, there are standard stepping-stones to advance to that position. Every new CEO was promoted (or hired) from a not-CEO role, right? Every VP was something else before that. Use the research you just did on titles and org charts to define a logical progression through a typical company in your industry. (Check out Vault's Professions section to start)
- Find your long-term goal. Now that you have your A-to-Z map... where does it say that you'll be in around the year 2020? That's your long-term goal for your MBA essays!
This long-term goal that you present to the adcom should be realistic and achievable, given who you are and what you've done today, and with the advantage of the MBA from your target school backing you up.
Doing this map for your career can really help you to articulate your immediate plans for the adcom. And yes, this exercise can be challenging. It's tough to predict the future! You don't need to get it exact – and you should not try to cram all these details into your essay. However, going through this exercise will help you pick out the key milestones to present to the adcom, both in writing the essay, and then later when you go to interview.
Sure, it's likely you'll do something entirely different once you actually go through the process of bschool and beyond. But having at least a tentative plan now will serve you well in admissions, and in preparing you to hit the ground running from Day One on campus.
About Essay Snark
MBA admissions consultant by day, anonymous blogger by night, Essay Snark wants to help you get into business school! EssaySnark is sometimes amused and often appalled by what applicants write in their admissions essays, and is here to help you avoid the standard errors we so often see.
If you're applying to a super-competitive school such as Columbia Business School, that is super-focused on seeing solid and compelling career goals from its candidates, you might want to get EssaySnark's SnarkStrategies Guide for Columbia's 2011-'12 Admissions Essays, which covers additional tips and tricks and offers insights into answering the specific questions that they're asking this year around professional goals and the Columbia MBA. And, be sure to come back for more detailed and practical advice from EssaySnark each week here on Vault and at our blog.