Avoiding the Most Common MBA Application Mistake

Personal Statement Tips

Avoiding the Most Common MBA Application Mistake

Stating unrealistic and generic goals – that’s one of the most common mistakes applicants make while drafting their MBA applications.

All schools will expect you to answer this question, whether asking for it explicitly through a “Goals essay” or camouflaging it in some other form. The good news for you is that most applicants provide, at best, a mediocre response to this critical question. Applicants fail to understand the real rationale behind this. A common question from applicants is, “Is it okay to mention management consulting as my goal”, “ Will I be at a disadvantage if I mention investment banking as my career goal”, or “Will it be beneficial to include social sector specific goals”?

The reality is that it (almost) doesn't matter what you choose as your goal. It’s the “why” that matters. When you're writing your goals essay, or rather any essay, you must always keep the audience in mind. Now, specifically for the goals essay, what are the most common questions or doubts that the Admissions Committee might have? Here are the top 4:

1. Is there a common link between career history and future goals?

A strong link between your past experiences and your dream post-MBA career is the litmus test for your goals essay. If this is well-established, you will receive a hypothetical check mark from the Admissions Committee. This does not necessarily imply that you must stick to the same industry or function. However, you must establish the relevant skills and experiences that have already prepared you for the post-MBA career. As an example, if you intend to shift from IT consulting to management consulting after MBA, you could write about incidents that highlight your soft skills while dealing with difficult clients – that’s a common issue in any sort of consulting and would be valued by recruiters.

2. Is an MBA necessary to achieve the goal?

If your goal is to find a cure for cancer, you don’t need an MBA. Many applicants are driven towards the MBA because their peers are pursuing an MBA, or successful people in their organizations are MBAs, or simply because the number 730 popped up on their computer screens on GMAT day. While these could be “triggers” to think of an MBA, these should not be the fundamental reasons to spend a fortune. You need to do your homework – there are no shortcuts or ‘quick-wins’. Spend time researching about the schools. Talk to people who are already living your post-MBA goal, and dig deep into how the MBA helped them to launch their career. Don’t be shy – reach out to people; you’ll be surprised how willing people are, to share their experiences. It’s their way of giving back to the community. Before you begin drafting your essays, you should be able to identify the top 3 advantages of the MBA degree from your target school for your specific career goal. If you’re unable to convince yourself, it’s unlikely that the Admissions Committee would get convinced. Bear in mind that they can “see through you”; these are people who have read thousands of applications. They must be convinced that an MBA is the next logical, almost inevitable step to reach your career goals.

3. Are the goals specific?

Stating that you want to be an entrepreneur, or a hedge fund manager, or a partner at a top strategy consulting firm is a good start but it’s far from sufficient. Schools love specifics. Note that down. Whether it’s examples of demonstrated leadership in past or your vision of the perfect career in future, they need to dig deep. The high-level ‘wishy-washy’ stuff isn’t going to work. Save that discussion for your uncle at a cocktail party – you may get away easily there. Put yourself in their shoes: Suppose you’re reading the essays of two candidates, where one says “I wish to take a leadership position at a Fortune 500 company” and the other says “I wish to work at the intersection of technology and healthcare, in companies such as A or B, as a Product Manager, where I would oversee the inception, launch and distribution of medical devices”. All other things equal, which candidate would you choose? It’s important to understand here that schools know that goals change. It’s very likely that the goals on your application and your career post MBA may be poles apart. After all, the whole point of an MBA is to explore! They get that; they see it every year. However, what they are really looking for is your thought process that helped you arrive at the goal. This point cannot be emphasized enough. Your thought process of arriving at the goal is much more important than the goal itself.

4. What is the “value add” of this applicant?

The goals essay is often combined with the ‘Why this school’ question. On the one hand, you must establish the relevance of the school with your career goals. But when the competition is tough, perhaps the other question – what would you bring to the table – becomes more relevant. After all, it’s a “give-and-take” relationship. You’re gaining a lot from the school – brand name, networks and knowledge, but what are you giving back? Would your past experiences enrich the class at your target school? Could you strike the difficult balance being a team leader and a team player during group assignments? Would you remain an engaged alumni member 10 years down the line?

While you are drafting your applications, ensure that you have covered these aspects well before hitting the Submit button. Bear in mind that the MBA application process is perhaps one of the most critical phases of your career; and the goals essay is the most important aspect of the process. All the time and effort that you are putting into it is well justified.