Goals Development #2: Realistic and Ambitious

I mentioned in a previous post the goals “sweet spot,” which falls on the spectrum between realistic and ambitious. In the last few days I’ve had several discussions that made me realize I should explain in more depth.

Here is a typical exchange I’ve been having, much simplified.

Applicant: “My short term goal is to be involved in IT and strategic consulting.”

Me: “What do you do now?”

Applicant: “IT and strategic consulting.”

Stop. This person has certainly provided a realistic goal. It’s so realistic in fact, that she is already doing it. And without any further explanation, an admissions committee (adcom) will likely think that she does not need an MBA.

Here are some questions that could help her refine her thinking. Will she be working with bigger clients or international clients? Will she be managing larger project teams or an entire consulting division? Is there a new opportunity in IT/strategic consulting that she can’t capture with her current skill set? In essence, she needs to define her new challenges in such a way that an MBA is clearly necessary.

Here is another example:

Applicant: “I want to help my company expand its investments overseas.”

Me: “Sounds great, but you’ve been doing that for the past few years successfully. How will these future investments differ from the investments you’ve made in the past?”

Applicant: “Oh. Well, our investments so far have been in developed countries. But in our business that means the growth potential is not as high. Our future strategy is to invest in developing countries where the potential is greater, but so is the risk.”

Perfect. This person just hit the sweet spot. He can show that his goal is realistic by referring to his past success. At the same time, his goal is ambitious because his investment direction is changing and there is more risk involved. Most importantly, an MBA is the perfect vehicle to prepare him for these changes. Finance and accounting classes will help him with due diligence. International strategy and negotiation classes will help him in his face-to-face dealings with potential partners. Study trips and an international network of classmates can provide first-hand, up-to-date information as well as inter-cultural experience that can make a subtle but important difference in closing a deal successfully.

It is also possible to be too ambitious, which is usually less of a problem and also easier to detect, especially when it comes to short-term goals. For example, if you have two years of experience in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, you will not become CEO right after graduation no matter what MBA program you graduate from.