businessmen going for a trophy

Fake Goals - My Point of View

A lot of admissions consultants advise that you have a “stated goal” when applying for business school, but not knowing what you truly want can hurt your success in both b-school and life.


If you have very pie in the sky unrealistic dreams you are setting out to achieve, this might be advisable for some. My first client was a periodontist who wanted to get into a hedge fund. It was a status thing. I put the kibosh on that.


But now that I'm more experienced, I choose clients who are willing to put in the work to arrive at their real goals. I am a certified career coach and able to get curious about my clients, ask the right questions, observe, probe, and provide research assignments that help them get more clarity on the “what do I do with my life” question.


For example, one of my clients headed to HBS this fall (hopefully in person!) said that by doing this exercise I “saved him from a lifetime of unhappiness.” He was so focused on stating a CONSERVATIVE GOAL it was oppressive: the original plan was to just climb the ranks in Oil and Gas at his current company. Get an MBA from HEC; most of the executives are French and they went there.


After doing more exploration, turns out he had a business concept the company paid consultants one million Euros to develop but failed, without him being there to implement it. Thankfully, he is OK to reuse what he created from an IP standpoint, and that now is the basis of his business concept.


Throughout the process of our work together, we developed his business plan, his pitch, we have a lot hammered out already. He will hit the ground running at HBS and be ready to speak with investor.


He has no obvious dotted lines with entrepreneurship, but we were able to provide multiple anecdotes to show how he takes an entrepreneurial approach to solving problems at work.  Even in a very conservative, lock-step industry like Oil and Gas.


Believe me, he was panicky about all this because he wanted to stick to something safe. A lot of people do. BUT I WILL TELL YOU THIS. No one is inspired by safe – and that matters as much as being practical. You need to stand out, excite them, to have them root for you. His business idea is already vetted for profitability and will also have a very positive environmental impact.


A few reasons I feel icky about “stated” goals.


Opportunity cost: you are researching what looks good to the admissions committees while you could be researching, gaining clarity and momentum on a real career goal that would be both realizable and very fulfilling.


School selection: if your goal is fake, then you are building everything around that. So, for example, you might pick schools strong for finance recruitment when you are actually interested in tech. But to make the damn story work, you are forced to pick finance schools. And to show “fit,” then, you must research clubs, classes and ways to contribute that will make the fake goal seem convincing.


Motivation: the admissions application process is very long and tiring. You need to be propelled by the passion of pursing your real goal; focusing on something that “lights you up” rather than what “sounds good” is going to provide you with a source of energy that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Authenticity inspires effort, persistence.


Passion: how you write about your goals, the words you choose for your essays, comes across energetically. You are dealing with a very savvy audience. And if you are admitted – and decide to forgo an income for one or two years, and take on ~$200K in debt, without having a goal that lights you up, well, what is that all about?


Interviews: similar to the above. If you are trying to manufacture enthusiasm for a goal that your admissions consultant pushed on you, THIS WILL TELEGRAPH ENERGETICALLY. You are basically lying and think about how it feels when you know someone is lying to you. I mean, you might change your goal once you are in business school, that happens. But intentionally misrepresenting your goals to an interviewer, in my opinion, is hard to pull off successfully. Especially if you have zero poker face like me.




My client’s GMAT was a 720, 47 quant, white male, who is in no way underrepresented. When he received an interview offer from Yale so fast, given these stats, I wondered why and shared his profile with a fellow admissions consultant, SOM grad, who said, “I see nothing exceptional about his profile. I have no explanation as to why they prioritized this invite.”


Myself, I sincerely believe that his inspiring story was a big reason he got interviews for 7 out of 7 top 10 business schools, zero dings and he is turning down scholarships from MIT and other schools to head to HBS. He was able to excite and inspire the adcom.


The benefits don’t end when the application process is over.




Leverage your time in business school for good use; your future happiness and fulfillment. Make good use of your ~$200K to actually improve your life and not just recruit for 3 different industries, spending 2 years in coffee chats, at the expense of getting an actual education or building your network - only to be ultimately stuck with a huge bill. It should not cost you $200K to get a job.


My point is, it’s well worth the time and effort to research yourself, your passions, and come up with a goal that is both exciting and will excite the adcom. I can’t tell you the difference it makes.




HBS pairs you with an alumni buddy once you are shortlisted. My client's official HBS alumni “buddy” brought a friend with her to their meeting which seemed initially very awkward and insulting, but guess what? After discussing his goal, his business idea, the friend actually offered to connect him with an entrepreneur who has a similar business model for a pre-MBA internship. That was pre-Corona unfortunately, but they are working out a way to do this remotely.


This is what happens when you land upon a real goal that excites people! The world conspires to help you. ADCOM INCLUDED. People want to be part of these things, it’s fun and exciting for others to connect you with resources that will propel you forward. All this momentum will help him make good use of his time at HBS.


Start working on your MBA applications early, accounting for time for your admissions consultant to get to know you very well. To figure out your goal. To research your goal. Time to craft the language you will be using at school admissions events, essays, interviews and ultimately – to pitch for funding! 


Because I knew my client well, coupled with keen intuition, I pitched this idea to him and held him forward. I knew he was qualified for the path of a serial entrepreneur, if we brought out the reasons why – I knew that entrepreneurship was his true path. He is holding on to a gem of an idea that could improve the world, and he is the exact right person to bring it to fruition.


I had to talk him off the ledge of “safe goal” many times and give him a lot of confidence and encouragement, sometimes still do a bit. But the proof is there – it was not safe, it seemed risky. But it was exciting, it set him apart to the adcom and his whole life will be forever changed for the better. I know he will be successful with this, and it will have a huge environmental impact on developing countries.


One final thought. “SAFE” IS NOT ALWAYS SAFE.


So many applicants think playing things very conservatively will help their chances. I will say this: adcom must be sure you can get a job or get funding. You need a plausible exit strategy out of the MBA years.


However, you need to stand apart in this process and hiding your true self in the process will not get the job done. They need to see passion, a spark, this is what magnetizes them to you. This is what branding is all about. The adcom knows what you stand for, it’s memorable. They believe in it and can get behind you.


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