How to Answer A Career Progression Essay?


Mrunmayai Bobade
Updated on Jul 18, 2022 10:00 AM IST

Career progression essays are one of the most typical essay questions asked by international universities. Since many colleges also want essays for MS-related management programmes, these essays are not just restricted to MBA programmes. Learn how an MBA career progression essay differs from a personal statement and how to write it.

How to Answer A Career Progression Essay?

If you intend to apply for an MBA, you should be aware that you will be required to write a number of essays to help the university understand your motivations behind obtaining a degree. One such essay is a ‘Career Progression’ essay. The admissions committee will be able to evaluate your application and reach a well-informed decision with the help of the career goals you outline in the essay. All they look for is whether you have the drive to pursue the degree and the necessary skills to execute it successfully.

Most universities usually ask you to write your career progression essay within the range of 150-500 words along with professional goals. While this may appear to be a simple chore for some, it can be incredibly difficult for others as there are a number of things to keep in mind while writing this essay.

Therefore, it is imperative that you discuss your short-term and long-term goals in a compelling, concise, and persuasive manner while presenting your career goals as an MBA aspirant. However, the word limit may differ from one university to another and one course to another; you may also find multiple variations of the same question asked.

It is important to keep in mind that unless explicitly asked, a career progression essay should not include your career goals. Furthermore, universities may rarely ask explicitly about your career progression to date. These application essays are usually coupled with your desired contribution to the university or how you would use the MBA programme to accomplish your goals. Having discussed the brief on why you need to write the career progression essay, let us now have a discussion in detail.

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What is a Career Progression Essay?

Just as your undergraduate university application most likely required you to write a ‘personal statement’, the career progression essay is at the heart of practically every MBA application. It may take myriad forms/formats because of tricky prompts and word count constraints, but the approach to this major element of your MBA application remains consistent. The career progression essay is your opportunity to portray why you are applying to business school in the first place, irrespective of the programmes you are applying to. 

The MBA programme is designed to foster you to pursue avenues of interest. Admissions committees are keen to know about your passions. They want to know how you view the world, what issues you have identified with existing systems, and how you intend to address those issues in order to bring about long-lasting change.

They want to see that you have goals and a vision in mind. The vision may alter, but you must be the kind of person that naturally develops visions in the first place. All you have to prove is your desire to accomplish a goal, and your energy is revved—that you hold your feet to the fire. This is the ultimate goal of a career progression essay.

Career Progression Essay Prompts

As discussed, the career progression essay prompts may change from one university to another and also the word limit may vary. You could be asked the same question but with a spice of trickiness. Take a look at the following career progression essay prompts:

  • What strategies will you use to accomplish your post-MBA career goals, taking into account both your professional and academic experiences? (250 words).

  • What makes the master's programme such an important step towards your career goals in both the short-term and long-term? (500 words).

  • What role does an MBA play in your future career goals, given your career progression to date? Please clarify your answer.

  • What distinguishes your background and experience from those of your MS/MBA classmates? (150 words)

What is the Difference Between an MBA Career Progression Essay and a Personal Statement?

A personal statement is by definition personal. It may have a fairly flexible form, and often the more inventive you can be with it, the finer it becomes. An admissions committee can learn more about you as a person by reading your Personal Statement.

While admissions committees want to see your personal traits, they also want to know your leadership qualities. Any topic you choose to include in your personal statement is acceptable as long as it helps the reader get to know you better. A career progression essay, on the other hand, is far more concentrated. Your main objective in it should be to outline your goals; the importance of those goals to you and to the rest of the world. Simply, your career progression essay should answer the need of the question- why you are the ideal candidate for the university.

Business schools are interested in your practical plans for transforming the world. If you can incorporate your personality into the mix while doing this, this is indeed great, but the 'personal' should never take precedence over the essay's central theme, which should be your future and your strategy for achieving it.

How to Define Your Goals in a Career Progression Essay?

If you look up the meaning of the word 'goal' in your local dictionary, it is likely to be defined as 'the end to which effort is directed’. What does that actually mean? Well, an MBA aspirant does not need to know! This is because the MBA goal is a totally different beast.

The career progression essay simply asks for two distinct types of goals: long-term and short-term goals. To assist you in choosing the 'correct' goal for each, have outlined both goal types below.

Short-Term Goals

Your short-term goal is to do something immediately after receiving your MBA degree. For instance, working at McKinsey, Accenture or Goldman Sachs is a good short-term objective. Taking a job at an established company in your preferred industry to gain experience, or even creating a start-up venture that addresses one component of your long-term goal.

The most crucial factor to consider when separating your short-term and long-term goals is that they are aligned parallelly. The purpose of the short-term goal in a career progression essay is to showcase that you can devise a strategy that will take you from point A to point D, where point A represents everything you have accomplished so far, point B represents your MBA, and point D is your long-term goal. That brings us to point C, which represents your short-term goal.

You should demonstrate that you understand what it takes to pull off anything huge by setting a short-term goal. Remember that MBA admissions committees are not searching for slackers. They are seeking future leaders who have what it takes to do something remarkable, and what it takes is almost usually a step-by-step approach to professional growth.

The short-term goal reveals your willingness to follow through, plan, and preciseness about how you will position yourself to achieve your long-term goal. That being stated, you must reconcile your short-term goals with your long-term goals. As a result, you will need to define the type of experience you hope to acquire from Accenture or Goldman that will assist you in alleviating hunger. Perhaps you can use the example of working as an investment banker, that to understand the ins and outs of raising finance for new firms. Later, you can use that knowledge in your own emerging business geared at reducing world problems.

Long-Term Goals

The long-term goal is your ‘big picture’ perspective. It is the goal you have set for yourself ten or more years after earning your MBA. As you see it from where you are now, this should be the pinnacle of your life's work.

While it is important to have a long-term goal that has a big impact but your reader (AdCom) must also believe that you can accomplish it. The MBA admissions committee wants to see that while you have a passion for your goals, you also have the competence to carry out those goals. They want to know that you have a plan and that getting an MBA is the first pivotal step in carrying out that goal.

Your long-term goal must also be attainable based on your prior experience. For example, if you are a finance graduate and have been a banker for the past four years, your long-term goal in this essay must not be to cure cancer.

However, if you wish to switch from finance to a healthcare-related profession, you could characterise your long-term goal as 'optimising the current healthcare field through business expertise. As a result, you may argue that an MBA can assist you to broaden your existing knowledge base of the core business principles underlying the healthcare industry. Hence, this makes the MBA a key component of your strategy.

The main thing to remember from this part is that your long-term goal is not merely what you want to accomplish in the future. Finding a solution to an issue you are passionate about is a solid long-term goal.

Career Progression Essay Format

Make sure you have spent enough time brainstorming the aforementioned data before you hold a pen and paper or open that blank MS Word document. The most difficult part of acing the career progression essay arises before you even begin writing. Before you begin writing the essay, make sure you have a firm grasp on your long- and short-term goals. 

In any event, every solid career progression essay should reflect on the subjects listed, therefore following the format listed below is a good strategy to write the initial draft. 

  • The Introduction

The introduction of your career progression essay should include the tenure or the total number of work experience. A brief about previous education leading to the first job.

  • The Main Body

The main body paragraphs of your career progression essay should include:

Body Paragraph I: Work experience till present. Explain the roles and responsibilities you have handled. How you were promoted or changed designations/roles. You can also add impactful projects/decisions in this section.

Body Paragraph II: Why an MBA now? Why this MBA specialisation? 

Body Paragraph III: How the MBA relates to your goals (short-term and long-term)

  • The Conclusion

Your conclusion should be short, succinct and persuasive. It should circle back to the motive of the essay i.e your career development till the present.

A career progression essay does not have a defined format that the students need to follow. However, most universities required a 500-word essay, for which students can use the above structure to write their essays.

Quick Tips to Write a Career Progression Essay

As evident from above, a career progression essay can be difficult to write. Another thing to notice is that not all students are the same. While some students may be fluent in writing, others may not be so articulate. While writing a career progression essay for your MBA programme, you have to find a balance between two extremes - writing too much and writing too little. Here are some writing tips to help you out:

  • Start your essay with a captivating introduction about your previous education and what career you picked after your studies. Ensure to not write every detail about your educational background as the focus is on your career development.

  • Try to highlight what skills you gained from every role or at different companies. What differences did you notice? Did you lead a team? Any problematic situations that you managed?

  • Keep the word limit on your mind and avoid going into great detail. For instance, a career transition does not need much explanation. You can just write “I worked in the same capacity for XXX for a brief period of time after leaving ZZZZ, and then I transferred to ABC as a Senior Analyst”.

  • The motive of a career progression essay is to showcase your personality development along with your career development. Ensure to highlight your skills and learning while writing.

  • When it comes to defining your career goals, try to be precise. A well-planned and thought-out career plan impresses AdCom immediately. However, ensure that it is related to your previous employment or if there is a change of field, then it should be justified.

  • When it comes to maintaining a format for the career progression essay. Just follow a regular essay format of introduction - body - conclusion. Keep your text in Arial or Times, New Roman, with 10pt or 12pt font size, if there are no specifications given by the university.

To summarise, a career progression essay is a timely framework for your career development now and your future plans. It should also relate that you are willing to put in the effort to achieve an MBA degree and achieve your goals. There will always be some essays that will find their own form that goes beyond a five paragraphs high school essay structure. All you need to do is start writing by following the tips mentioned above.

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What mistakes to avoid in a career progression essay?

You should avoid the following mistakes in your career progression essay:

  • Inability to understand the essay prompt.

  • Inability to articulate post-MBA goals.

  • Overuse of jargon.

  • Excessive use of passive voice.

  • Inability to be precise.

  • Providing descriptive details.

  • Writing bulky sentences.

For a detailed list, check out Common Mistakes to Avoid While Writing an SOP or Application Essay.

How do you write an introduction for a career progression essay?

You can write an introduction for a career progression essay by giving a brief about your education journey and your first job. Ensure that there is a connection between your educational background and employment. If not, then you need to explain the shift in interest and it should be convincing.

Who requires a career progression essay?

A career progression essay is mostly required by top business schools. These are one of the most typical essay questions asked by international universities. Since many colleges also want essays for MS-related management programmes, these essays are not just restricted to MBA programmes.

What is the format for a career progression essay?

There is no strict format for a career progression essay. If not specified by the university, you can simply follow a regular essay format or structure. This structure is usually like: Introduction - Body - Conclusion. Apart from this, students should remember to keep the formatting of the document simple by using serif fonts and 10pt or 12pt font sizes.

Is there a word limit for a career progression essay?

Yes, there is a word limit for a career progression essay. Universities abroad will generally require you to write within word limits ranging from 150-500. The university will specify the word count restrictions as it varies from one university to another and also from one course to another. For more information, read the article How to Maintain Vocabulary, Grammar, and Word Limit in SOPs and Application Essays?

Should I include my career goals in a career progression essay?

No, you should not include your career goals in your career progression essay unless the university specifies to do so. Goals essays are usually included in university applications as a separate question. A career progression essay should not repeat your goals in such cases, as it is repetitive and does not make sense.

How to write a gap year essay?

You can use the following ways to write your gap year essay by elaborating it in your own way:

  • State Reasons for Taking a Gap Year

  • Discuss the Effect of Taking a Gap Year

  • Evaluate its Influence on Your Personal Development

For a detailed format, check out the article- How to Write a Gap Year Essay?

What are some common MBA essays?

The following are some common MBA essays:

  • Goals essay

  • Why this Business School/University Essays

  • Leadership Essays

  • Failure Essays

  • Career Progression Essays

For detailed information, you can check out Common MBA Essay Topics - Tips to Answer.

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