What exactly is a brand? Most of us consider it to mean a distinctive set of attributes intended to differentiate competing products of different companies. Coke vs. Pepsi. BMW vs. Mercedes. Verizon vs. AT&T.
Digging deeper, it’s helpful to think of a brand as a promise from the provider that the buyer’s experience with the branded product will meet or exceed expectations. If that promise is clear and credible, then the buyer is likely to believe it and make the purchase. This is true for soft drinks, automobiles, cellular services – and, yes, MBA applicants!
So, how does a business school candidate go about branding himself or herself to help convince the admissions committee to say yes? From our experience at The MBA Exchange, having advised thousands of eager candidates, here’s a proven framework that you can use to establish a compelling, convincing and authentic personal brand for yourself.
Start by listing the 3 major components of an MBA candidacy: professional, academic and personal. The, for each component, ask and answer the following 6 questions…
1. What is my most significant accomplishment and related learnings?
Making a big sale to a difficult customer. Mastering Mandarin. Helping build a rural school. Actions speak louder than words. Capture and convey what you have done that had the greatest impact, and explain how that experience helps strengthen and define who you are.
2. When and where did I achieve this?
Stating success without factual evidence is perceived as boasting. There’s no bigger turnoff for an adcom than an arrogant applicant. So, provide the essential facts to substantiate your claim. It can be especially helpful to have your recommenders sing your praises rather than just doing so yourself in a resume or essays.
3. How did I produce this outcome?
Describing the various options you considered, the path you took, the challenges you overcame, even the errors you made, reveals skills, confidence and determination. Adcoms want to get an insight into how you think, make decisions, leverage available resources, rebound from mistakes, and persevere until the end. Don’t overdo the jargon, but do explain your process.
4. What was my vision and motivation?
Even the greatest outcome can be the result of good fortune – being in the right place at the right time. So, be sure to describe what you had in mind before undertaking a particular mission. Convey how you felt before, during and after you accomplished it. This kind of introspective content showcases your leadership approach and potential.
5. Who has benefited from this achievement beyond myself?
A big year-end bonus. A scholarship. A standing ovation. Most big achievements benefit the one achieving them. However, accomplishments that deliver value for fellow employees, classmates, the community, etc., have even more meaning when it comes to defining and communicating your personal brand. Sincere empathy, humility and selflessness score big points with adcoms.
6. How will this accomplishment add value for others in the future?
Presenting a distinguished past and differentiated present is essential. But business schools also want to know what admitting you will mean for them. Describing how you intend to share and leverage your achievements, skills and values – as a student and later as an alum – will resonate with the gatekeepers comparing your candidacy with those of other high achievers.
By going through this exercise — thoroughly and thoughtfully answering each of these questions — your personal brand will emerge. You will capture the results, rationale and relevance of your candidacy. As a result, you’ll be able to describe what makes you special, valuable and worthy of admission to your dream b-school. You can and will become the brand of choice among MBA applicants.
The first step in this process? We suggest getting an objective, expert evaluation of your b-school candidacy. Only by understanding how your current brand is perceived today can you understand what is needed to optimize it.