Creating and conveying a career vision is an elemental part of your MBA application. It’s about portraying a clear picture of where you’ve been, where you are headed, and why an MBA is essential for getting you there. B-schools are looking for students who are poised to get the most value from their MBA experience by going on to great things in the future.
First, big plans suggest great things to come. Your ability to express a logical and motivating career vision signals your commitment to the journey, even if the destination changes en route. 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.
Think of this as a two-pronged approach: A powerful career vision for an MBA articulates what it will bring you, and also what you will bring to it. This requires making a compelling case that the MBA is a catalyst for you to realize your dreams. It also means showing what you will contribute to the school community, its alumni, and, more broadly, the world you will be entering after graduation. It’s an opportunity to share the ideas that you can contribute and share, as well as the connections and insights you bring.
Developing a coherent and persuasive career vision is about the process as much as the product. Consider these top tips for articulating your career vision, drawn from our team of former senior MBA admissions and careers staff at Fortuna:
Crafting Your Vision: Setting a strategy with good process
Tip 1: Get introspective. Why do you want an MBA? What do your goals, short- and long-term, convey on a both a professional and personal level? It’s this kind of reflection that not only helps make the case to the admissions team, but can also clarify for yourself why this next phase of your life is important. Step back to consider your values, strengths, career interests and life ambitions. Ultimately, your particular motivation and future aspirations become the lens and filter for honing a vision for the future and the map for how to get there. Many candidates concede that their engagement with the admissions process inspired greater insight and self-awareness—a validating and unexpected benefit to working through their applications.
Tip 2: Forecast your future. What type of jobs do you wish to undertake post-MBA? Take time to explore and do your research. For example, in which sectors do you want to work? In which functional areas, and with what kinds of companies? Can you pinpoint your dream companies? Get as specific as you can by creating a list of your top 10. Imagine yourself in the future in one of these companies. Why are you motivated about working for L’Oreal? What is it about its brand, products, company culture and career opportunities that feels compelling to you? You may discover that some companies value an MBA more than others, and that companies in certain sectors (e.g. hospitality, travel, consumer goods) put a premium on more practical experience and ascending the company hierarchy. This part of the research process allows you to affirm that having an MBA will really to add value to your career goals.
Career changers must anticipate some of the challenges ahead, for example—if you don’t yet speak Mandarin but want to work in China. Have you considered taking a language course to demonstrate your commitment to the culture and location? If you are transitioning from investment banking to luxury goods, can you show that you’ve thoughtfully researched the sector, along with influential players and brands? Have you taken steps towards your goal, e.g. by working pro-bono at weekends with a luxury goods start-up on its finances? Have you joined affinity groups focused on the area that you want to enter?
Tip 3: Weigh up your options. It’s okay to share a Plan A and Plan B. It can even be advantageous, as it shows that you have considered the possibilities and narrowed down your options, and that you are methodical and realistic in your approach. It’s important to stay open to the opportunities that may shape you during your program—not everyone nabs their dream job straight out of b-school. Your career journey may be a series of steps that will guide you to your future goals. You can demonstrate this awareness by factoring it into your career strategy. Well-considered steps in your career path are far better than radical and unplanned pivots that can wind up costing you time and advancements in your career.
Tip 4: Research your programs. B-schools may seem alike at a glance, but each one has a distinct culture and personality, not to mention a particular management development methodology. Research programs online, follow their student and Adcom blogs, talk to alumni and current students, and try to visit the campus if possible. A visit to your schools offers a direct experience of identity and cultural fit, as well as a sense of the community vibe. Sit in on a class to glean insight into the classroom setting, a feel for the pedagogical approach, the caliber of the professors, and a sampling of all the learning opportunities on offer. First hand experience can’t be underestimated; nothing else offers a stronger sense of what the program is about or what you can get out of the MBA academically, personally and professionally. As you compare schools, ask yourself: Can I see myself here? How can each school move me towards my future goals?
Get in contact with alumni and ask about their experiences of working with the school’s careers team. What kinds of opportunities did the school offer to support their networking endeavors, information gathering and career strategy? What recruitment events were organized on-campus? Which companies regularly come to campus? Were there opportunities to participate in career treks? It’s advantageous to get a recent alum’s perspective on the career services offering at your chosen programs.
Conveying Your Vision: Demonstrating your potential with a great product
Tip 5: Articulate a logical, inspiring vision. You must demonstrate there’s a logical flow to your plan—that an MBA will allow you to take an important step towards the future you want. Offer a path that makes sense to admissions committee members, given your professional and academic credentials, showing the transferable skills that you will bring to the next steps in your career development. Given what you will learn in business school, how can you best achieve your goals entering the job market and advancing in your field? You need to show, either as a career switcher or a career enhancer, that your strategy is viable. And also that now is the right time. Consider scaffolding your internship plans. If you’re a career changer, this could be an great opportunity to get a head start on building your network and gaining a deeper understanding about a new functional area or sector.
Tip 6: Describe why this school is for you. Imagine Adcom’s perspective: They want to recruit students who really understand what makes their school special, and can articulate why it’s an academic and cultural fit. If you don’t know the program intimately, you won’t be able to successfully speak to this. Too many applicants offer generalities or vague comments because they possess superficial knowledge of the program. This is where your research will pay off. Show that you’ve taken the pulse of the program, understand the school’s culture, and envision yourself thriving there. If you’re in contact with alumni, you can reference the conversations in your application. What is it about their experience that really inspired you to pursue this school, or cemented your ambitions to get an MBA?
It’s also important to know what your schools care about, and to be able to show that their values are aligned with your own. One way is to speak to the on-campus clubs that interest you, and why they appeal. If you’re interested in joining, for example, the Haas Manbassadors club at Berkeley, what it is that you might bring to the table? Do you have a track record in promoting gender equity, and would you consider taking on a leadership role?
Tip 7: Describe what you bring to this school. Now that you’re clear what the school will bring to you, describe what you will bring to the school. Talk about your potential contribution to the community. After all, adcom has the privilege of creating their own community each year, and they want to know what you are offering as a member of that class that will enhance the overall experience for others. A school that emphasizes its culture of innovation, for example, is giving you the window to talk about a shared passion that demonstrates fit. Commitment, engagement and passion are adjectives that you would want to consider in this context; it’s how you will leave your mark on this particular institution that matters.
Tip 8: Be genuine. Authenticity is essential. If you pretend to be something you’re not, you risk coming across as pandering and admissions officers will trust you less. Your story is your own to tell, so work up the confidence to convey it with sincerity. Don’t sweat about which profiles you think a school is looking for—adcom wants to understand what makes you special.
Some essay questions give you the chance to share what makes you tick as an individual, what your influences are, who motivates and inspires you. Sharing your past, formative experiences, challenging moments, and times when you have faced down fear convey that you are humble, honest, willing to learn from missteps and failures. Admissions officers want to know that you are self-aware, genuine and possess a strong sense of what a stint at b-school can mean for both you and the community you are entering.
Tip 9: Defend it with conviction. The scope of the career vision you can offer in writing will vary depending on the program—with some schools it can be very brief indeed. Yet all schools will ask about your career plans at the interview stage, which means being prepared to present and defend it. Interviewers will quickly sense whether your plans for the future are carefully considered, or whether they seems to have been cooked up for the purposes of the admissions process. It’s pointless to have a brilliant career plan on paper if you can’t bring it to life with conviction and confidence in a conversation about your future. Be ready to share your thought process for getting here, and how embarking on an MBA is essential to opening the door to the skills and opportunities that will help you achieve personal fulfillment and professional success.
Remember, schools don’t measure you against one specific profile or ideal candidate. Adcom wants to get to know you, and committee members will be better equipped to champion your application in their discussions if you give them depth and substance to work with. Imagine someone advocating for you in a decision meeting; how they’ll talk about you depends on what you choose to share and how confidently you share it. That means doing the groundwork in your MBA application and allowing your potential, and your true self, to shine through your career vision.
The original version of this article was published on January 9, 2017 by Fortuna’s Nonie Mackie in Poets & Quants.