MBA Career Goals – Part II: Crafting a Compelling Long-Term Vision

In Part I of this series on MBA career goals, I shared how to craft a short-term career goal that is specific, realistic, and logical. While ‘checking those boxes’ will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you understand the type of companies that hire out of their program, it won’t get them excited about having you as part of their incoming class.

This is where your long-term career vision comes in. It describes your end goal – where you see yourself at the pinnacle of your career.  It should connect to your values and motivations while focusing on the impact you want to have on those in your company, industry, or even society more generally.

Intimidated? I get it, this one is challenging and requires some deep reflection. However, top MBA programs aren’t looking for people who are afraid or unable to dream big. Exactly the opposite – they want to educate the next generation of leaders who will leave an indelible mark on the world.

So that’s the big picture. Here are some guiding principles to use as you think about your own long-term career goals.

1) Your Future Should Connect to Your Past

A great place to start when brainstorming your long-term career goals is with your past. Think about situations – whether early in life, in college, or throughout your career – where you’ve felt truly fulfilled or energized. What was it about these situations that made you feel this way? Is there a common thread between them?

As an example, perhaps in college you built a new campus organization from the ground up and loved the sense of ownership you had during the experience. Fast forward to your current job, perhaps the most exciting project you’ve been involved with was helping your company enter a new market or launch a new product. The connection I see between these two things is an entrepreneurial spirit, which is something that could absolutely factor into your ultimate career goal.

Beyond a linkage to your underlying passions or motivations, your long-term goal should have a more tactical connection to your past. It’s hard to make the case that you want to pursue a certain path if you haven’t had even a touch of exposure to it in the past. For instance, if your pre-MBA career is in investment banking, it would be hard to justify a long-term goal as the founder of a nonprofit (unless another part of your background is heavily social impact focused).

Said simply, there has to be a solid ‘why’ driving your long-term goal that the adcom will understand within the confines of your application.

2) You Don’t Have to Reinvent the Wheel

A common concern I work through with clients is how to differentiate themselves if their long-term goal is ‘typical’. For instance, someone who followed the investment banking / private equity pre-MBA career path and wants to remain in the private equity space throughout their career.

Rest assured that targeting a finance career (or consulting, etc.) is ok! Remember that large portions of the graduates from top MBA programs go these ‘typical’ routes (see statistics at the far right of this table) and a notable amount of them remain there for the long haul. Clearly the adcom is amenable to these goals.

I do, however, encourage my clients to make these types of goals ‘their own’.  Each of these careers has numerous areas of specialization, whether that be an industry focus, investing philosophy, etc. By identifying one about which you are passionate, rooted in past work or personal experience, makes the goal more unique and interesting.

If not an industry specialty, perhaps you are passionate about a certain leadership philosophy (like Ray Dalio, a Harvard Business School graduate, and his ‘idea meritocracy’) or a cause that could be tied in with your future career ambitions. The key, if you are targeting one of the more common post-MBA careers (and even if you aren’t, quite frankly), is to put your personal spin on the goal and tie it in with the values and passions that make you who you are.        

3) Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – Your Career Goals Shouldn’t Be Either

As I said earlier, arriving at an authentic, well developed long-term goal is hard – and that’s exactly why it matters to the admissions committees at top MBA programs. I find that many applicants rush to a conclusion about ‘what they want to be when they grow up’ without enough self-reflection and end up with a goal that is run of the mill and uninspiring.

Take the time to research where MBAs that have gone into your field of interest have ended up 10 to 20 years after graduation. Read about business leaders you admire and the path they followed to get where they are. Last and most important, network with alums of your target programs that have gone into your field of interest.  All of these things will get your wheels turning and help you develop a compelling narrative for your application, while inspiring you to set and achieve lofty goals.   

If you would like personalized advice on your post-MBA plans, reach out to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.




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