The Personal Interview – Goals

Another pestilential question which bothers people is “What are your long- and short-term goals?”

One key to answering this sensibly is to avoid extremes. It is not a good idea to aim for the moon (in an interview at least – in real life please aim for the moon all you wish), nor is it good to appear too uninterested in a successful career. So you need to find out what is the spectrum of achievement typical for a graduate of the college you are interviewing with after a certain number of years (which represent the range of realistic possibilities you could achieve) and mention something from the higher end of that.

These two questions are among the few where people with solid work experience can have a genuine advantage; often such people have a much clearer idea as to which field they wish to specialise in, and can articulate better how an MBA would be able to help them grow in that field (alas, software engineers usually lack this advantage, the only thing most of them know is which field they do NOT want to work in!)

The short-term goal (say next 5 years) is relatively straightforward; get an MBA for the theoretical knowledge and put it into practice at the trainee or junior management level (or if you have enough pre-MBA work experience to qualify for lateral placements, perhaps even at middle management level). There isn’t too much divergence in career paths in 5 years; some people might choose to enter their family business or start up their own company instead, but generally the expense (and opportunity cost) involved in an MBA means most people prefer to first work in the corporate sector till they are financially stable.

A long-term goal is a more delicate question. There is no easy answer, and ideally you should research well before blurting out anything here. Should you say “I wish to be the CFO of a multi-national company in 15 years” they could ask “so what exactly does a CFO do?” and woe betide the poor fresher who has to reply to this! Or they could say “why a multinational company and not an Indian one?” (note that if you say “Indian” they could ask “why not foreign?” they are not really objecting to your choice, rather they want you to defend it so that they can see the clarity of your thought and the depth of your resolve to do an MBA.) On the other hand, if you try to escape this line of questioning by saying something like “I want to start my own company”, then that opens a whole other can of worms, as I mentioned in an earlier post. If you seriously have no clue, it might be safer to hedge your bets by not committing to a specific post or role, but instead saying something like, for example, “I look forward to being in a position of authority and responsibility in a reputable company, while at the same time having a fulfilling personal life” (I tried this, by the way, and was still grilled quite mercilessly – “what if you have to make a choice between personal and professional”, “You seem to have no clear idea of what you want to do” etc etc. Whatever you say, you need to have answers!)

Being vague is still fine, but saying something outright stupid or indefensible is a no-no. Going for an interview at a B-school ranked 20-30 in India and saying “In five years I want to be a Trader at an Investment Bank in their New York office” is rather unrealistic, for example. I used to be the undisputed champ of saying stupid things in interviews in my day, and as a result, more often than not, I found myself in swiftly escalating trouble, trying frantically to talk my way out (and failing more often than not).