Last Updated on January 30, 2023 by MBA Gateway Team
Personal Brand Statement
If you had about twenty-five words to describe yourself, what words would you use? Many people refer to this as your one-minute introduction or elevator pitch. We refer to it as your personal brand statement (PBS). The PBS is important because it summarizes who you are in a memorable way. To improve your chance of writing a focused application that reinforces the core of your brand, it is important to have a clear PBS.
The PBS is made up of three parts,
- Who you are
- What you have done
- Where do you plan to end up
Here are some PBS examples of MBA candidates who have gained admission to top programs:
• Gutsy Asian female with a passion for empowering women who plans to transform family business by infusing fair-trade practices
• Athletic, team-driven leader with passion for investing who plans to leverage international investing experience to build a world-class investment management firm
• Midwestern energetic female with accelerated cross- functional leadership roles at media company who plans to run an entertainment company focused on educational programs for children
• African American bootstrapper with significant leadership track record who plans to create and run a VC fund to help revitalize inner-city communities
Why is PBS important?
The MBA Board reads thousands of pages of applications and has the challenge of distilling a candidate’s information into a descriptive summary, the equivalent of a PBS. After wading through countless application pages, the Board needs to be able to point to a clear takeaway of what they think is distinctive and memorable about you.
When candidates start out with a personal brand statement, it serves as a road map for their application. They are able to ask themselves whether each story (essay) reinforces their personal brand statement. Given the limited space allotment of admission essays, a personal brand statement allows you to maintain a laser-like focus when selecting topics to write about as you position your story. Also, by having a clear sense of your PBS before you complete the application, you will be able to refer back to it at each step of the application process to determine whether your essays, recommendations, and even the answers you provide in an interview reinforce your personal brand. So now that you know how important it is to complete a PBA to understand your brand, you know what brand themes look like, and you have reviewed PBS examples, let’s practice. Try summarizing your story in one sentence (your PBS), keeping in mind that although there may be different things that you would like to cover, the law of focus is critical.
Your Personal Brand Statement
After you have developed your PBS, continue to refine it and work on keeping it succinct (about twenty-five words). Once you have completed this entire branding process, you are now ready to tackle the application. In a couple of chapters, I address the selection criteria used by Admissions Boards at leading business schools to evaluate candidates. But before we leave this branding chapter, we want to share a few thoughts on Career Changers.
No applicant is more in need of personal branding than career changers. Applicants in this category have to convince the MBA Board that they need an MBA and that the new career goal makes sense given their current experience.
Although MBA Boards welcome career changers to apply, the expectation is that there should be a strong connection between who you are, what you have done, and what you wish to do in the future. A derivative trader, for instance, with little to no community service experience helping nonprofit groups who simply says that she wants the MBA so that she can run a nonprofit organization is going to have an extremely difficult time convincing the MBA Board that her goals are authentic.
The immediate questions in the mind of the MBA Board are, how realistic is the goal and does the applicant have elements in her background that reinforce her identified passion for nonprofit management?
Many career services offices have come under fire in the past few years regarding the placement statistics of graduating students. It is not enough to show interest in a new career; applicants today must keep in mind that they will need to find a job in the new career at the end of their program. The bigger the gap between your experience and future role, the tougher it is to convince recruiters to hire you in the new career. Career changers are likely to be rejected if their goals are inconsistent and don’t seem credible. I address the consistency and credibility issue in greater detail in the chapter on essay fundamentals.
The first step career changers should take is to find ways to begin incorporating their passion into their lives. If you find that there is a gap between what you want to do and what you do currently, you may be able to create credibility for your goals by using your extracurricular activities and community service involvement to establish a track record of commitment to the new career. Doing this will create more synergy between your passion and your actions.
Successfully positioning yourself as a career changer requires planning, time, and a good dose of patience. Simply stating that you are an engineer who wishes to make a switch to finance will not cut it. It is a huge career leap. Why does a career in finance matter to you? How will you use the new career to effect change? Career changers need to be very specific when making a case for a new career. They have to demonstrate specific knowledge about the new career so that it is clear that it isn’t simply a passing fancy. In addition, having congruence between your personal life and your professional life is equally important. The following cases illustrate the importance of creating consistency in one’s brand.
Case Studies: Pre-MBA Career Changers
Ann: Auditor to Real Estate Entrepreneur
Ann had been working as an accountant and auditor for a somewhat obscure company and felt quite dispassionate about her career. She enjoyed numbers and studied accounting at the university and shortly after became a certified public accountant (CPA). After a few years as an accountant and auditor, she noticed that despite having mastered her responsibilities and having received multiple promotions, she was beginning to plateau in her professional development. More than that, she realized that as she ascended her career ladder, she was becoming more specialized, leaving her less excited about accounting. Ann began to question what was missing. Why was she not excited about the prospect of another potential promotion? Why was she more interested in closing the next real estate deal for her sideline “hobby”? For the past two years, Ann had been dabbling in buying real estate, but she always considered it a hobby, not her bread and butter. After completing a brand audit, Ann realized that her true passion was indeed real estate and that an entrepreneurial track was what was missing in her current role, where there was limited room for innovation. Further reinforcement came through her brand audit as she began to recall early memories of tagging along with her real estate entrepreneur uncle as he made his Saturday rounds to review his development sites. Delving deeper into what attracted her to real estate, Ann discovered that she enjoyed the research involved in locating the right deal, structuring the financing, negotiating with lawyers and sellers, and managing the overall process. Ann carefully saved enough money and eventually quit her job to focus on real estate full-time.
Because her passion and brand are intrinsically tied to real estate, Ann also became involved in community service organizations to help low-income residents access affordable housing. Ann has successfully rebranded herself as a real estate entrepreneur in a consistent and credible way. Her passion and goals come from the heart and are clear to anyone who meets her. Her community involvement isn’t simply to check off the box on the application but is a result of what matters to her. If she decides to apply to business school in the future, she will have the advantage of applying with a clear and distinctive brand, which will likely lead to a successful application. Jenny and Scot: Bankers to Nonprofit Managers Not all career changers will have the luxury of quitting their jobs and starting a business they are passionate about. So what else could a career changer do to strengthen his or her application? Take Jenny, an investment banker who had decided she wanted a career in nonprofit management. Her challenge is that she does not have community service experience and her extracurricular activities boil down to some social events that she planned through her sorority in college. Given her lack of track record in volunteering for nonprofit organizations or any related activities, Jenny’s goal of starting or managing a nonprofit organization most likely will not pass the credibility test in the application. If Jenny applies without developing a track record at a nonprofit group, her brand will be strongly tied to finance and it is unlikely she will be offered admission at a top-tier MBA program.
Contrast Jenny with Scot. Scot, too, is a banker who wants to run or start a nonprofit organization in the future. He has spent most of his professional career working as an investment banker. However, his extracurricular involvement, both while he was in college and currently in his community, is strongly tied to nonprofit leadership. Scot’s track record of having started several socially conscious organizations in college and beyond enables him to pass the credibility test. Clearly, an MBA Board is more likely to admit Scot over Jenny because his socially responsible interest is strongly tied to his brand and he has solid evidence of having started organizations in this area. In fact, Scot gained admission to Harvard and Stanford Graduate Business School!
The lesson here is: if you want to change your career and rebrand yourself, it is best to show a track record through work or outside activities. Are there skills that you currently use in your career that are transferable to your new career? Highlight them in your application. Are there opportunities to work part-time or as a volunteer in the new career? A consultant who discovered that her passion is in the restaurant business spent most of her weekends working in a restaurant. She didn’t simply fall back on the fact that she worked long hours. She invested the time to gain some exposure to the new career. Some may think this is too extreme, but it made the difference in her acceptance to her top MBA program.
But what about after you gain admission to business school? Career changers still have a tough road ahead of them in transitioning to a new career. The two-year MBA program is ideal for a career changer because there is more time built into the curriculum to allow for hands-on experience in the new career.
Felix: Engineer to Investment Banker
Felix was an engineer for five years and was interested in switching to investment banking. After his first year in business school at a top program, he interned for a financial advisory firm during the summer. This experience enabled him to land a position in a small private equity group in his home country. His ties to his country coupled with a name brand institution gave him an advantage in securing this position. His goal is to build up his private equity experience to develop a track record before making a move into a larger, more established private equity shop.
Valerie: Nonprofit Manager to Marketing Associate
Valerie is another career changer who used the MBA to land a job at a leading firm which is her passion. She had worked in the nonprofit sector prior to attending business school. She knew from the minute she arrived in business school that she wanted to change careers and set out to build skills and gain experiences that would make her competitive in her career search. Her goal was to switch to marketing. Instead of targeting the summer for internships, she realized that she needed marketing experience to land a coveted internship. She joined the marketing club and began networking with classmates with marketing backgrounds and met with marketing professionals visiting the school. During the winter break, instead of going on a leisure trip with friends, she secured an internship with a consumer goods company. At the company, she made sure to network with key individuals in the marketing and business development group. Her focused efforts paid off as she received a summer internship at the firm. When she graduated from business school, she had multiple offers from top consumer goods companies.