“Self-Marketing 101” for Future MBAs

By David Topus, founder and president of HelpMeSellMe

As an MBA student, you’ll be reinventing yourself, your career, and your professional brand. Although the finish line for attaining this impressive accomplishment and credential might seem far off, graduation will arrive sooner than you think. That’s why now — even before you apply — is the time to begin laying the groundwork so you get the well-deserved return on your substantial investment of time, money and effort.

Your business school admissions campaign offers a rare chance for you to conduct an inventory of your personal, academic and professional background and successes. With the guidance and support of a skilled admissions consulting firm like The MBA Exchange, you’ll uncover the significance of your experiences, your accomplishments, and your connections. You’ll stretch yourself to confront and overcome vulnerabilities, take initiative, and establish meaningful relationships.

During your MBA program you will take courses on strategic planning, marketing and branding. Managing your career and professional brand is no different than managing any other strategic marketing initiative, except in this case you are the “product.” The investment you’re making in this advanced education will be only as valuable as the extent to which you leverage it in the marketplace. It begins with who you know, followed by what you know, all presented in an engaging and compelling package. And in fact, there have never been more resources or opportunities available for designing and promoting your professional brand strategy than there are today.

No doubt, you have plenty on your plate as you contemplate months of intense learning in the MBA classroom. But for those who want to establish and fortify an early competitive advantage, here are some recommendations you can embed into your lifestyle starting today that will put you ahead of the pack upon graduation, and for the rest of your career.

Begin Building Your Network by Considering Everyone You Encounter a Possible Conduit to Opportunity

It doesn’t take an MBA degree from a top business school to realize that who you know is just as important as what you know. Much of your enhanced “marketability” resides in your contact base – a resource you won’t want to start building from a dead stop. To the contrary, this is one you will be glad you started building now, while applying to business school.

That means engaging with just about everyone you come in contact with, first as an applicant and then as a student. Classmates, faculty and alumni, just to name the obvious people. And then there are the random encounters we all have – the people we meet in the course of daily life. Here’s where you are likely to meet some of the most influential contacts. Call them strangers, but there are endless numbers of stories of people making high-yield connections with complete strangers, simply by initiating conversations, learning about one another, discovering possibilities, and staying in touch. It’s that simple, and is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to build a network of influence, as unpredictable and serendipitous as it is.

But whether you deepen your connections with people you already know, establish relationships with people you have a direct reason to know, or turn your everyday random encounters into a big networking opportunity, you’ll be putting in place one of the single most important building blocks of a successful career – establishing and maintaining a network that is the conduit to your future.

Gather Examples of the Outcomes You Produce in the Course of Your Learning

The classes, case studies, assignments, internship, and campus activities in which you are involved during your MBA program will generate deliverables, materials and results of various kinds. Samples, reports and other tangible evidence of your success in these endeavors make ideal ingredients for your post-MBA resume and portfolio. So, consider what you’re working on throughout the next two years, and collect related materials with the intention of highlighting them as part of your personal marketing presentation.

Consider How Your Knowledge, Skills, Experience and Attributes Translate into Value for Others

Your MBA education will equip you with knowledge that few others possess. You’ll learn how to approach business issues and challenges with greater insight. You’ll have the benefit of others’ successes and failures, gleaning the best (and worst) practices that resulted. You’ll have a frame of reference that enables you to identify the root cause of business problems — and then solve them. You’ll gain confidence in your own expanded abilities. And you’ll refine your personal attributes and emotional intelligence so you can relate to — and with — a wide range of people who will surely comprise the fabric of your career success. Ultimately, you’ll have what it takes to make a difference — across industries and across borders.

All of this subject matter expertise, insight, skill and personal development are the ingredients of your value proposition. But like any good recipe, the key is in putting it all together. As you go through your MBA program you’ll want to think about how your newly acquired knowledge and attributes translate into value for your future employer. You’ll want to understand how these assets position you as the best candidate for the job. Or the new assignment. Or the promotion.

Your value proposition will be in the outcome you are able to deliver. How does your subject matter expertise enable you to develop customer-centric products? What about creating successful go-to-market strategies? How do your newly honed analytical skills allow you to improve operational efficiencies? How do your financial skills enable you to optimize profitability? How about your leadership skills helping you to develop and cultivate high-performing teams? These are the outcomes in which all of your hard-earned knowledge and skills ultimately manifest, and that will get the attention of potential employers.

Promote Yourself So You Are a Recognized Presence in the Marketplace

With an active, influential and readily available network and a clearly defined value proposition, you will be positioned to package and promote yourself. It’s a crowded world out there, so phase three of your successful reinvention entails proactively packaging and promoting yourself and your capabilities so you get the attention you need and deserve. Keeping your new skills and MBA credential a well-kept secret will not work to your advantage; rather, this is the time to let the marketplace know who you are, what you have to offer, and how you will make a difference for whomever you work.

By packaging and positioning yourself in compelling ways, and making yourself visible in the marketplace, opportunities will find you instead of you having to find them. To get there, you’ll need dynamic and engaging personal marketing materials that articulate your professional brand and value proposition.

Most of the action today is online; so as you begin thinking about how to build visibility and recognition, LinkedIn and other web-based platforms will take on new and greater significance. As part of building your professional brand you’ll want to protect and manage your social media profile and engage in positive activities, both online and off, that show up in a Google search. Ideally, you’ll have yourself packaged, positioned and presented consistently in all venues and platforms.

Your acceptance into a top MBA program is a turning point in your life. And while completing the program is an accomplishment in and of itself, the return on that investment comes in your ability to leverage the knowledge, skills, attributes – and credential – that come along with it. Whether you return to current industry, or make a big change, you know one thing: you have your first marketing assignment: it’s called, as Tom Peters so aptly named it years ago, marketing “the brand called YOU”.

David Topus turns reputations into revenue. He is the founder and president of HelpMeSellMe (www.helpmesellme.com), a provider of personal marketing materials and services, and was the founder of ExecuNet’s Career Services Group. His book, “Talk to Strangers; How Everyday Random Encounters Can Expand Your Business, Career, Income and Life” was published by John Wiley in May 2012.