The tangible parts of an MBA – such as the skills, the connections and the diploma – are important.
But according to Kelly Barger, graduate enrollment and brand manager at the College of Business and Innovation at the University of Toledo in Toledo, and Walter Simmons, associate dean of the Boler College of Business and professor of economics at John Carroll University in University Heights, building one’s professional brand is equally important.
Building a personal and professional brand starts with school choice.
“People are looking for some form of distinction and we have to distinguish ourselves when applying to school,” Simmons said. “It’s about making a difference by being creative. What makes you stand out? It’s what makes you what we call a responsible business leader.”
Barger agreed, saying students should select a school that reflects their interests and values.
“Although the MBA program is very common among institutions, typically the programs have different assets, characteristics and benefits they’re able to offer,” she said. “So, the values are important as well as if the school can help you in the areas you’re looking for. The school you attend is important.”
Barger said building a brand extends into the admissions interview.
“This is where they get their questions answered, but the institution is doing the interview to make sure the student is prepared for the program, as well as if they are going to represent themselves with their brand, which should be similar to what the university is looking for,” Barger explained. “When I’m interviewing applicants, I’m making sure they have the tools to succeed in the program and they have a realistic expectation of what this is going to be.”
While in school, Simmons said students should be aware of their brand and how that works into their education and experience.
“Students come to get their MBA to enhance their job performance but you can get that from many other experiences,” he said. “So, for a student, the expectation is you’re coming to get a degree but you’re also able to navigate yourself. This is how you should present yourself in an interview, which shows that you can be a good leader.”
Post-graduation, both professionals said a personal brand is key. Continued development of said brand can lead to opportunities.
“With an MBA, people are looking to position themselves in their company to make a difference,” Simmons stated. “75 percent of our graduates tell us that the leadership aspect of an MBA really connects well to their job because of the human component. It’s the mindset and keeping up with any changes that take place. That part of a personal brand is key.”
Barger added many schools offer post-graduate opportunities to further develop one’s personal and professional brand. For example, the University of Toledo offers experiences with the school, alumni and other related networking events.
“This will not only help you be a professional, but you’ll eventually get into the position to help someone else,” she said. “Eventually, this brand building will allow you to gain knowledge to give back and help someone in the same position. It’s about paying it forward. It’s about finding that role and continuing that within your professional brand because who you are will stay with you throughout your career.”
Simmons and Barger said personal brands are a big part of higher education in general.
“It’s about showing that you’re adaptable to changes and that you can roll with those changes,” Simmons noted. “Higher education poises you to be prepared for those situations, whether it’s professional or personal. It’s about being able to survive in this competitive world.”
Barger added, “One of the things we try to do here is to instill this mindset of lifelong learning and the can-do attitude. When you get to an issue or a problem when we have instilled those values, you’re going to have faith in yourself and overcome that and you’re always going to have the skills to do that.”