Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

December 31, 2007

Play it smart, but be real: The Limits of Self-Marketing

While I most certainly believe in the importance of effective self-marketing when applying for an MBA or actually any kind of degree, I believe more in the truth.

For obvious reasons, MBA applicants in particular are easily drawn into the traps of the pure self-marketing strategy, but this can be the case with anyone applying to any sort of graduate school program. Here are some traps to avoid:

1. Essays that are merely branded abstractions that contain no substantial details. No example will be provided just assume a story that contains few details,but frequently mentions words like teamwork, leadership, responsibility, and decision making. At the point where you are merely engaged in using keywords that are not backed by substance you can pretty much assume you are either boring or annoying your reader. God help you if that reader decides you are the guy who has done it too much. I am all in favor of using such words, just tie them to specific actions that demonstrate the label you are applying. When the brand image and the reality behind the brand image coincide the reader will not only believe you, they are more likely to endorse your candidacy.

2. Essays that impose overt business language on activities that demonstrate other strengths that an MBA program is looking for: "My decision to major in both Economics and Biology demonstrates my commitment to being a change agent." Well maybe, but it might actually be better stated as a demonstration of one's potential for thinking about a variety of complex systems in two very different academic fields, which is certainly the kind of academic potential that schools are looking for. In other words sell your experience based on your real merits. Depending on the schools essay topics, these need not be expressed within the limited confines of teamwork, leadership, and/or accomplishment, but also such categories as intellectual abilities, ethical values, and creativity.

3. Essays that brag: Are you really the greatest, the best, most important, only one could do it? Are you sure? Compared to who? Do you know them all? A little humility will make you human. Lack of it is likely to make you look like a bragging egoist. You should stress your accomplishments, but should state them in a manner that does not overplay their value.

4. Essays that lie: I am all in favor of telling the best version of a story that you can, provided it is also believable. Bad self-marketing is frequently based on lies that can be seen through. I have met many admissions officers and while not all of them were brilliant, all the good ones had finely tuned "bullshit detectors." If your essays have a seemingly tenuous relationship with reality, you are likely to be setting yourself up for a ding.

5. Essays that lack even an informal logic based on cause-effect relations or chronological sequencing: In some marketing, say TV ads for cars or children's toys, logical explanations are not important. However, if your audience is highly scrutinizing what you are selling, such a non-rational approach will not work. Instead, you must make a rational argument. Marketing is often as not about analogy, feeling, metaphor, and innuendo. And while all of these have their place in your essays and in fact can be at the heart of certain types of essays, they can also undermine your ability to clearly state what happened and the real potential demonstrated by your actions. Cause-effect relationships should not be merely implied where possible. Especially when applying to MBA schools like Stanford, MIT, and Michigan that specifically have essay questions that ask for stories related to the detailed process behind your actions, it is very important to show how these things actually connect together. As I suggested in my analysis of leadership essays (applicable for both MBA programs like HBS and public policy programs like the Kennedy School of Government), showing your actual action steps is critical. A full explanation might be impossible because of word count, but if you tell things in sequence, it usually provides that explanation.

In closing, this will be my last post of 2007. My New Year's Resolution: More and better posts in 2008! (Also I need to go on a diet...)

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス
MBA留学 ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング エッセイ
Real Time Web Analytics