Your goal should focus on something you want to achieve or do and not just something you are interested in studying. For the sake of defining your MBA goal, be sure that you relate your desired achievements or actions to a specific function within a specific industry.

You may need to call into play certain external factors such as geography, and certainly you need to take into account your personal experience, talents, passions, and skills. Your goals shouldn’t be completely money-driven.

This is not to say that you can’t change careers. In fact, about 50% of MBA students are career changers. So as long as you present your goals in a credible, realistic way (connecting your experience, talents, passions, and skills to a future in a new industry), then there’s no reason to be shy about your aspirations in a new field.

Defining Your MBA Goal

To define your MBA goal, first look inward and address each of these three points:

1. What you enjoy and in what areas you excel

Are you a people person or would you rather work behind the scenes? If you’ve been selling lemonade since you were six, your goal may be to be the top salesperson in a Fortune 500 company. Do you have an interest in medicine as well as business? Working in the biomedical field may be just the thing for you. Think about what will make you excited in five or ten years.

2. Explore lessons learned from your off-the-job achievements

What do you love to do in your free time? Do you enjoy travel? Is there a special organisation that you volunteer for? Examine what you take away from these experiences. Look at contributions you have made to that organisation. Have you found new ways to raise fund for them, or implemented better ways to keep records? Take some time to think about what you’re passionate about. Your MBA goal can be found there.

3. Clarify and mine your interests and past experiences

You have explored what you enjoy and where you excel. You have looked at where you spend your free time and what you are passionate about. Use this information and come up with your MBA goal. It may be what you have thought all along, or it may be something totally new. Maybe the corporate position you always thought you wanted isn’t what you want after all.

Next, look outward and consider these three items:

4. Examine professional paths that will take advantage of your strengths

Explore which positions will help fulfil you professionally as well as personally. You will excel much easier in a job that fulfils you. No one wants to look back in 10 or 15 years and realise that they hated their professional life.

Now is the time to clear your goal and look toward a successful and satisfying future. 

5. Only consider MBA programs that support your career goals

MBA program should provide you an exciting, compelling educational environment for you. You will be making a commitment of 1 to 2 years, and a significant amount of money, to get your MBA.

Be sure the place you will be spending this time and money is the place that will give you the educational background for the career that you want, but also will be a place you want to be. If you’re a “city” person, a more rural environment isn’t the place for you. Do you do better in a group setting, or are you an independent learner? These are just a few of the questions you should answer when looking at MBA programs. The educational aspect is important, but you will learn much more in an environment where you feel comfortable.

6. Establish specific short-term and long-term goals

You should think in terms of short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals. Your short-term goal could be completing your MBA in the next two years. When establishing your intermediate and long-term goals you should consider what your ideal position would be, and in what industry you see yourself.

These goals are not etched in stone, and can change as you transition from one stage to the next. Try to be specific in terms of job titles and companies you would like to work for.

Avoid These Mistakes

1. Having a goal that is too vague

Saying you want to go into “consulting, investment banking, or product management” telegraphs that you don’t know what you want to do. If you don’t have reasonably defined direction, an MBA admissions team will think you are not sufficiently focused on what you want to do with the degree, or might just be going after the degree for a resume credential.

Adcoms are very suspicious in this type of situation, as they only want to admit people who are fully committed to the experience while in the program, not just going through the motions. The career management team would similarly not look favorably upon someone who came in and started taking interview slots for everything under the sun - consulting, operations, finance, and brand management, for example.

Recruiters will be similarly unimpressed with your lack of ability to tell them why you are interested in the type of job you are interviewing for. So all around, a bad situation. 

2. Having a goal that is too specific

On the another side, you don’t want to have a goal that is too specific. If you say you want to work at one particular company in one particular job, admissions committee will be concerned about admitting you because they think you might blame the school if you are unable to achieve that too narrow goal.

You want to have a good direction for your goal, “work in strategy consulting at a company like McKinsey or Bain,” for example, but not so precise that it may well be unattainable.

3. Having a goal that is not well-aligned with the strengths of the school

While most top business schools have solid representation in all of the basic areas of business, some have greater strengths in particular areas. If you focus your goal in an area that is not a particular strength of the school, the school will think you haven’t done enough proper research on the school and they will have concern the school will not be equipped to help you achieve your goal, which would lead to your overall dissatisfaction of the program.

4. Having a goal that an MBA program can’t help you achieve

Are you interested in a career in astrophysics and might eventually need management skills? Then, an MBA program is not the right option for you at this time.

If your short and medium term goals will most likely lead you to a technical job, it makes sense to either move straight into that field or do so with a master’s degree in that area first. At some point further in your career when you may need management skills, a part-time or EMBA program might be the perfect option for you, but getting business management skills first just doesn’t make sense, as you won’t have the opportunity to apply them until further down the line, and they might get rusty in the interim.