[Little quasi-Stevie Wonder shout-out... Cheesy '80s, anyone?]
“To what extent should one discuss his/her short/long term goals – as in, should we drill down to the day-to-day primary responsibilities or should we just stop at ‘I want to…’”? The same way that those three little words “I Love You,” when properly administered, can melt most women’s (and men’s) hearts… “I want to” will have the same effect on Adcoms.
The ambition, the vision, the desire… is absolutely pure gold. Say it often and mean it. [Everyone knows when you're faking.]
The Short Term/Long Term question, at its core, is wondering “What does this kid really WANT?” And the key to a compelling answer is CLARITY. Sounds like something as simple as clarity should be taken for granted, but man oh man, such is not the case. If you can serve up a very clear pitch for what it is you aim to do–big picture–you are starting from a very, very good place. Now, here’s what matters in filling it all in:
• Do you have a plan?
• Have you thought this through?
Your thought process here is wayyyy more important than the nitty gritty detail [which is also important, but worthless without the "why" component]. So as you’re laying our your plans to do XYZ in the short term, the actual piece that earns you points is the reasoning behind it all. Spell that out. Let us know WHY you think working at Google, or JP Morgan, or Samsung will help. What purpose will it serve in the short term and how will that help you in the long run? Yes, 100%, absolutely get SPECIFIC!!!
But only if there’s some relevant reasoning sitting underneath that can support that level of detail. If you need to talk about a very specific THING you want to do in the short term (boning up my people skills by working as a BLAH at BLAH company—because in order for me to accomplish my long term goal, I’m going to need to be an ACE at dealing with people, then absolutely that level of detail shows me that you’ve really given this some deep consideration).
If you don’t support it though, none of it really weighs that much. Don’t just provide lists of plans. They’re less interested in “what.” Think about that, if that’s all they wanted to know, why not just literally submit a list? The essay form provides you a space to flesh out your thought process. That way, if the specific short term plans you have in mind are not necessarily on target, that’s okay, as long as you’re thinking about everything correctly, and have the drive to adapt to new information.