MBA Admissions Committee Evaluation Area #3: Articulating a Career Vision

The third element of your business school application that will be reviewed particularly closely by the MBA admissions committee is Career Vision.

I can’t tell you how many prospective MBA candidates I’ve worked with who cannot give me a good answer when asked, “So what do you want to do after business school?” While there is no universal right answer to this question, there are certainly wrong answers. The wrong answers tend to fall into two camps:

Wrong answer #1: “I hope to use my time in business school to explore a range of functions and industries.” Being undefined or undecided in your aspirations will raise red flags for an admissions committee. Now, this answer may very well reflect how you are actually feeling. Many people return to business school to learn about another industry, with the goal of using the contacts that they develop to move in this new direction. However, admissions committees want to see candidates with vision, who can articulate at least a general idea of their future plans. Two years is a short time, and for the duration of your program you will be pulled in many different directions and have many different options. Students who do not have some focus on what they want to do tend to get lost or end up in careers that will not satisfy them. Being able to articulate a focused vision with an idea of the steps it will take to get there is also a good sign for your leadership capability.

Wrong answer #2: “I want to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company.” Saying what you think the committee wants to hear is as bad as being undecided, because it shows the committee that you cannot articulate a unique and concrete plan. Again, many people enter business school wanting to be a CEO of a major company someday, but you need to be more specific in terms of how you intend to achieve this goal and more focused on the industry you will be pursuing. 

Again, there is no single right answer to this question, but the advice I always give candidates is to be thoughtful with your story and develop a step-by-step plan for how you intend to achieve your vision, which should be both aspirational and achievable. Top schools are certainly looking for driven, passionate, and motivated individuals, so dreaming big is a good strategy. However, make sure that the vision is achievable. By that I mean it should make sense based on your work background, prior experiences, and passions. Choose target industries or missions that you have already shown an interest in, so you can point to your history when asked why this is your goal.

You can change course later—no one will follow up with you five years after you graduate to make sure you are living the vision you articulated in your business school application!—but at the application stage, the committee needs to see that you can think through your vision and establish realistic steps to enable you to achieve your goals.