When admissions officers read your MBA application, they want to feel inspired by your personal statement; they want to know that you have a strong sense of purpose and will work energetically to attain your objectives. Thus, you must ensure that you are not presenting generic or shallow goals. Although this problem is not industry specific, it occurs most often with candidates who propose careers in investment banking or consulting but do not have a true understanding of what these positions entail.
For example, a candidate cannot merely state the following goal: “In the short term, after graduating from Wharton, I want to become an investment banking associate. After three years, I will be promoted to vice president, and then in the long term, I will become a managing director.”
This hypothetical candidate does not express any passion for his/her proposed course, does not show any understanding of the demands of the positions, and does not explain the value he/she could bring to the firm. To avoid these kinds of shortcomings, conduct this simple test when writing your personal statement: if you can easily substitute another job title into your career goals and the sentence still makes perfect sense (for example, “In the short term, when I graduate from Wharton, I want to become a consultant. After three years, I will be promoted to vice president, and then in the long term, I will become a managing director.”), you have a serious problem on your hands and need to put more work into your essay.
To effectively convey your goals, you need to truly own them. This means personalizing them, determining and presenting why you expect to be a success in the proposed position, and explaining why an opportunity exists for you to contribute. For example, a former forestry engineer could make a strong argument for joining an environmental impact consulting firm. (Note: This candidate would still need to explain why he/she would want to join one.)
Similarly, a financial analyst in the corporate finance department at Yahoo! could connect his/her goals to tech investment banking. Although the connection need not be so direct, especially for candidates seeking to change careers, relating your past experiences and/or your skills to your future path is still extremely important. This approach will add depth to your essay and ensure that the admissions committee takes you seriously.
While some candidates struggle to effectively convey their immediate post-MBA goals, many also have difficulty defining their long-term goals. Although short-term goals should be relatively specific, long-term goals can be broad and ambitious. Regardless of what your short- and long-term aspirations actually are, what is most important is presenting a clear “cause and effect” relationship between them. The admissions committee will have difficulty buying into a long-term goal that lacks grounding. However, do not interpret this to mean you must declare your interest in an industry and then assert that you will stay in it for your entire career. You can present any career path that excites you—again, as long as you also demonstrate a logical path to achieving your goals.
For example, many candidates discuss having ambitions in the field of management consulting. Could an individual with such aspirations justify any of the following long-term goals?
- Climbing the ladder and becoming a partner in a consulting firm
- Launching a boutique consulting firm
- Leaving consulting to manage a nonprofit
- Leaving consulting to buy a failing manufacturing firm and forge a “turnaround”
- Entering the management ranks of a major corporation
The answer is yes! This candidate could justify any of these long-term goals (along with many others), as long as he/she connects them to experiences gained via his/her career as a consultant. With regard to your goals, do not feel constrained—just be sure to emphasize and illustrate that your career objectives are logical, achievable, and ambitious.