Identifying Your Career Goals: Advice for Starting Business School

This post was written by our resident Career Coach, Elissa Harris. To sign up for a free 30-minute career consultation with Elissa, please click here.

Many MBA candidates believe that business school will offer them time to explore different careers or gain clarity on their career goals. Unfortunately, this does not magically happen. Developing this kind of insight requires a significant time commitment on your part, along with a lot of targeted research and reflection.

So, what parameters and process for your research and reflection will yield maximize results without putting you into a circle of “analysis paralysis”? Consider the following seven tips:

1. Recognize that you will never have 100% perfect information to help you decide on your post-MBA career goals. For example, none of us could have predicted how things have unfolded since March 2020. Significant business challenges have arisen, but so have interesting new opportunities. Your career will be iterative and will likely include lots of twists and turns through which you will learn more about yourself and continue to find new positions that offer more fulfillment.

2. Hold yourself accountable to a process and timeline. Write down weekly and monthly goals and milestones, estimating the amount of time required for each, and then work backward. For example, if you plan to start school in August, ask yourself what you need to accomplish by the end of May, June, and July, respectively.

Schedule actual blocks of time on your calendar for your job search–related activities and write down the outcome of your actions; this will not only ensure that you do the tasks but will also provide tangible evidence of your progress.

3. Leverage your MBA program’s resources. Check and see whether summer self-assessment resources are available—perhaps access to external tools such as CareerLeader or internally developed exercises and industry-specific content. Read this blog post for tactical advice on starting your job search before you even arrive on campus.

4. Identify themes from your past experiences. Explore your previous experiences (go back to your brainstorming documents for MBA program applications) to figure out what key elements you want in your next professional role. Ask yourself questions like What did you like most at work (or in your extracurriculars), and why? What did you like least, and why? When were you at your best? What skills were you constantly praised for demonstrating? What type of problem solving excited you? What are you most curious about?

5. Conduct a 360-degree review. Ask five to seven (or maybe even more) people who know you well—managers, colleagues, direct reports, vendors, friends—for feedback and advice. Prompt them with specific questions, such as the following: What do you think are my biggest strengths? What skills do you think will be most beneficial to a long-term career? In what type of situations am I at my best? When have you seen me most engaged in something?

6. Narrow your options. Evaluate your best options, given the marketplace realities and your interests, skills, and risk tolerance. Use insights from items 4 and 5 to build a set of criteria/priorities for your target role. Identify two or three potential careers, then gather information on each pathway, noting any unanswered questions for future exploration.

7. Network to confirm areas of interest. Speak with people in your target roles, and focus your questions on areas of priority (e.g., if stability and a structured career path are important to you, ask questions on that topic). Seek to understand potential employers’ needs through questions such as these: What type of people are most successful in this role? What skills enable you to be successful in this role? What are the biggest obstacles you face on a day-to-day basis? What are the most effective strategies for job searching in this space?

Finally… although we understand that having someone simply tell you exactly what career to pursue would be great (and certainly much easier), we strongly believe that devoting the necessary energy to making this decision for yourself will lead to more success in recruiting and more satisfaction in the role you ultimately accept.

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