Yesterday we issued a warning about career goals that are too trendy. They’re the type of goals that were uncommon or, in some cases, completely unheard of just a few years ago, but which now everyone is saying they want to go do.
Today’s warning is the opposite. If your career goals are too unusual, then you have a different challenge.
Consider this article from Harvard Business Review about how today’s professions are morphing and rearranging. The author essentially advocates creating a mashup for yourself (EssaySnark’s words, not his). He’s basically saying that the world is in flux and so you should take the best of what you do and combine it with the what you want to do in order to meet the needs of modern-day industries.
EssaySnark likes this idea a lot. That about summarizes how we stumbled into admissions consulting. were already mentoring young professionals on their career paths. We had finished our MBA (phew!) and were consulting out in the big bad world of business. Writing and snarking both come naturally. Put it all together and Voila! A new career.
This is very cool. This is very liberating. This is how one finds their purpose on this Earth (yes EssaySnark is very much invested in pursuing your passion and doing your calling and all that self-help hippie nonsense). Going through the process of investigation and discovery that is required for creating a good application to bschool sometimes triggers such inspirations in people (at least, it SHOULD).
So if yesterday we cautioned against the me-too trends, what could be wrong with someone who comes up with a career path built for one? What’s the problem with gushing out all your ideas to the adcom in your essays and carving out this entirely new, never-before-heard-of career for yourself?
Absolutely nothing, Brave Supplicant… provided you pull it off.
The major risk with defining a goal in your essays that’s never been done before, or even anything that’s just a little too non-standard, is that the adcom may have trouble categorizing you in their minds.
Typically when people read through an application, they put the candidate in boxes. This is a natural occurrence; we are all very good pattern-matchers, and the natural tendency when we’re evaluating something is to see where it fits. We do this with everything, whether it’s a new cute little beastie we see on an Animal Planet show or it’s the trailer for a movie or some kind of odd food that your new girlfriend’s mother wants you to eat. Part of the thinking machine that we are is a categorizer, a sorter and a make-senser. It’s automatic.
So the adcom reader who does not know you picks up your application and starts to work through it, and she unconsciously and automatically is reading the signals to see where you fit. She’s like the Sorting Hat. She’s figuring you out. She’s determining where you belong.
Finance chick? check
Consulting guy? check
Then, she’s going through whatever her own personal evaluation consists of, to see if you’re up to snuff for that type of candidate.
This is not formalized. There are many factors at play. This is an oversimplified description of a complex mental process.
But the point is, if you come up with your very own, unique, individualized set of career goals for bschool, well, you don’t fit naturally into any categories. And you make your reviewer’s job all the harder. (And you never want to make your reviewers job hard.)
The adcom will still be very open to receiving your pitch, and you’re not shooting yourself in the foot simply by coming up with your own set of goals. But if you don’t easily fit into their categories, then you have two challenges:
- You need to prove why you need an MBA to go pursue these goals
- You need to put the adcom at ease that this career you’ve defined really exists and that you’ll be able to get a job when you graduate
Basically, it means you need to do a lot more explaining.
When you say you want to be a strategy consultant, boom, you’re done. OK not really, you still need to explain why you want to do this, how you’re qualified, what it means to you, etc. But nobody applying to bschool needs to define what “strategy consulting” is.
On the other hand, if you say you want to be a “partnership broker” (to use a job stated in that HBR article), well, you’ve got to explain what in heck that is.
And that takes words. And you have precious few. And the ones you have are best allocated towards presenting YOURSELF, not describing this idea for a career that you’ve cooked up.
So, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. You want to be differentiated and memorable — and most of all, you want to be authentic. If you really truly have thought up this awesome new career for yourself, GREAT! But you have then created a bigger challenge than you already had in explaining it.
When the career goals are too unique — and particularly if they’re all the way to avant-garde — then you’re setting yourself up for some issues, based on the limited space you have to state your case. It may very well pay off famously — after all, how many partnership brokers will your target school be accepting this year?? But you also have some work to do in making the pieces fit together appropriately.
(Shameless plug: This is where a good admissions consultant can help! You definitely need an outside opinion/reality check if you’re going down this path with your essays.)