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MBA Applications: Your Personal Marketing Message

By Paul S. Bodine, Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting

Paul Bodine, Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting

Paul Bodine, Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting

Writing essays for business school admission begins with introspection; there’s no short-cut around it. Before you begin writing, even before you know the questions your target schools ask, begin developing a short personal marketing message or “handle” that integrates the key themes (strengths, values, experiences, interests) you want your application to communicate. Since business schools are providing less and less space for essays, you can’t give them your life story. Everything you say must communicate a compact multidimensional message that’s distinctive enough to gain traction or ‘stickiness’ with the admissions committee. Take your time, cast your net widely, and ask friends and family for their input so the handle you devise reflects the key uniqueness factors from your professional, personal, community, and academic lives.

As a rule of thumb, construct your self-marketing handle out of four or five themes, each one rich enough to build an essay around. If you come up with “I’m a natural leader with strong analytical skills and a social conscience” you’re thinking way too broadly. As an exercise in concision, try reducing your self-marketing handle to one tweet–140 characters. If your handle runs past a sentence or two, unless it’s truly scintillating, business schools may garble it or lose it in the crowd. Your set of themes should emphasize your multidimensionality, who you are professionally, personally, and in the community. In other words, you’re not only a Testing Team Lead at Qualcomm, you’re also a Norwegian-American raised in Ecuador who also loves taxidermy and tutoring immigrant kids for The Knowledge Trust Alliance.

MBA Essays Tips - Market YourselfSimply telling the admissions committee that you’re a banker or a marketing manager will trigger all sorts of valid assumptions about your skills and professional exposures.  If you’re applying from a traditional MBA feeder profession like consulting or investment banking, for example, your handle will come equipped with analytical and quantitative strengths. So round it out distinctively by including themes that B-schools don’t automatically associate with your profession, such as creativity (e.g., your lifelong devotion to basket-weaving), social-impact causes (e.g., that stint training subsistence farmers in Malawi), or out-of-the-box professional experiences (e.g., your first career as a geography teacher).  Or look for unusual childhood or family experiences, distinctive hobbies, or international experiences that offset the predictability of your professional profile—and incorporate these in your handle.

Conversely, if your profession is unusual (e.g., non-profit or creative) B-schools will already be giving you points for distinctiveness, so balance your handle with themes that show them that you also have the quantitative, analytical, or business skills they automatically associate with consultants and finance types. Instead of “The award-winning African-American photographer who grew up in Portugal and organized her church’s choir” pitch yourself as “The Lisbon-raised African-American photographer who runs her own five-person media studio and handles her church’s finances.” Like the consultant or finance professional, your goal is a handle that communicates multidimensional balance, but one that also reassures schools that you’re MBA caliber (in addition to being unlike anyone they’ve encountered before).

One of America’s most experienced admissions consultants (serving clients since 1997), Paul Bodine has helped hundreds of applicants worldwide gain admission to such elite business schools as Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Columbia, Dartmouth (Tuck), Berkeley (Haas), Michigan, London Business School, INSEAD, Yale, NYU, Duke, Cornell, and Virginia, among many others. Click here for more information about Paul Bodine Admissions Consulting.