Human beings naturally tend to categorize things. We sort things mentally into groups, and react to them based on those groups.
Personal branding is a way to overcome this human habit of categorizing. Admissions committees have thousands of applications to pore over each year; it's only natural that they narrow them down, however unconsciously, by categories of students they want and don't want.
What is a personal brand?
In the business world, branding is easy to understand – it's a way of summarizing what a company does. For example, you might think of Apple's brand as “high-quality, easy-to-use computers and phones,” or of Nike's brand as “sports shoes and apparel for everyday wear.”
In both cases, it's important to note that the branding doesn't sum up absolutely everything about the company. There is certainly a lot more to be said about both Apple and Nike! Branding is just supposed to provide a snapshot of what the company is about.
Personal branding works the same way. Many MBA applicants get hung up on trying to summarize their entire life with their personal branding. That's not necessary, and in fact will dilute the effectiveness of your brand.
Instead, a personal brand should highlight what you most want people to know about you. Imagine the admissions committee telling someone else about you after reading through your MBA application materials. What would you want them to say? How would you want them to describe you in just a sentence or two?
How do you create a personal brand?
When you are thinking about what you want your personal brand to convey, remember that it should be a statement about who you are – not just what you've done. A personal brand shouldn't just be a list of your accomplishments. Instead, it should reflect what those accomplishments say about you and why they matter to you.
Crafting a personal brand is not something you can knock out in an afternoon. Although it is short, a personal brand statement says a lot about you, and a lot of thought should go into creating it.
Give yourself some time to brainstorm. Think about the values that are most important to you, the accomplishments you are most proud of, the goals you most hope to achieve. What do all of those things say about you? How do you go about achieving your goals?
Once you've given yourself some time to think, write out several possible personal brand statements. Set them aside for a day or two before coming back to see which one resonates with you the most, and revise as needed. Ask trusted friends, colleagues, or family members to review them and offer their opinions. Through this process, you will create a personal brand statement that truly feels like an expression of yourself.
Why does personal branding matter?
When you take the time to understand your personal brand, and then communicate it clearly and effectively through your MBA application materials, you make it harder for the admissions committee to categorize you incorrectly and, as a result, push your application to the reject pile.
Instead, you'll be clearly proclaiming, “This is who I am, and what I bring to the table, and what I want to achieve with my MBA.” It's a much stronger – and more memorable – position to start from.
A well-articulated personal brand will serve as a road map for your MBA application and will ensure that you submit an application that is both memorable and authentic.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.