Thursday, May 30, 2013
The trap of the short-term career goal
In my last post I discussed the pitfalls applicants face when discussing long-term goals. In this post I will be focusing on the short-term goal.
I recently had drinks with a former co-worker. She wanted to discuss MBA applications since she will be applying this coming year. She is someone who has the credentials and background to get into a great school, but like many others new to the process, she does not yet have a clear idea of what she wants to do right after an MBA. Although she knows what she wants to do long-term, the notion of figuring out the job she wants post-MBA is still foreign to her. I suspect many are in the same shoes, so I want to lay forth some general guidelines when tackling this in the essays and interviews.
I believe that one's short-term career goals should be specific, realistic, and congruent with what the school has to offer.
Most applicants don't have too much of a problem with being specific. After all, if you write in your essay, "My short-term goal is finance," then you're in serious trouble and won't get too far. Even a statement such as "I hope to transition into investment banking after my MBA" is too vague for the short-term goal. Be very specific with respect to industry, function, firms, and maybe even location. For instance, a specific goal would be something like "After my MBA, I hope to work in tech M&A banking at a major investment bank such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, or Credit Suisse, ideally in the SF Bay area." By being specific, you are showing adcom that you know what you want to do and that you understand the various opportunities available in a given industry.
The next two areas are where a lot of applicants get in trouble. When I tell people that they should be realistic, the most common retort is the following: "But isn't the whole point of an MBA to make a transition?" Yes, an MBA is most often used for making a career transition, but we have to be very careful here. The transition needs to be realistic given your experience and what you have already accomplished. Business schools offer a lot of resources, but they're not miracle workers. After all, certain firms want very specialized pre-MBA skillsets, and business school alone is not going to get you from A to B if that jump is simply too drastic. For example, someone with no experience in banking, consulting, or private equity, is not getting a job at KKR or Blackstone simply because he's at HBS. Simply put, experience+MBA=post-MBA job. The MBA merely serves to bridge the gap between where you're at and where you want to be in a few years. That gap may be a missing knowledge base, analytical tools, access to resources, network, or a combination of those things. By and large though, remember that the larger the gap, the more problematic it will be when trying to convince adcom that your short-term goal is a realistic one.
Finally, the issue of congruence is an important one. This is where school research becomes absolutely critical. Each school has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to career placement, and don't think for a second that adcom is not aware of that. Even if your career goal is specific and realistic, if the school in question does not have the proper channels to help you get that job (whether it's on-campus recruiting, alumni, etc.) then your sales pitch will become more difficult. I highly recommend examining employment reports of each school you're interested in to see the % of students who go into the industry of your choice, along with firms that recruit on-campus, and if possible, approximate # of hires from the school. Almost every school publishes quite detailed employment reports, and they give a great picture of what the recruiting landscape is like. Now, for generic industries such as banking and consulting, the top 15 programs all do fairly well in placing their students (some do better than others of course). However, for those who are interested in more niche fields such as buyside finance, media, luxury marketing, tech, etc., it is imperative that the school will at least help you get your foot in the door. For example, an applicant who wishes to land a job in fixed income research or product management at a major investment management firm such as PIMCO, dimensional fund advisors, or wellington, will be well-advised to apply to Wharton and Booth, which are finance powerhouses that see active recruiting from those firms. If that same applicant, however, applied to say Darden or Ross and wrote that exact same short-term career goal in his essay, he could be in trouble since Darden and Ross, as great as they are, simply lack the proper recruiting mechanisms for those jobs.
To sum it up, nothing is a substitute for honest introspection and thorough research. No matter how qualified you are, you should not apply to business schools until you have a pretty good idea of what you want to get out of an MBA program and what you want to do afterwards.