There is always a debate in the MBA admissions community as regards the benefits of applicants “selling themselves.” On the one hand, some say the applicant is like one among dozens of cereals in the supermarket aisle, and so has to work to actively pitch him or herself to the Admissions Committee to stand out.
Others say the applicant should not do a sales job. Any form of selling takes away from the “authenticity” of their voice, which is what Adcom really wants to hear.
As in many things, the truth is somewhere in the middle. You can’t afford to be naive. Companies spend millions on marketing and sales because it works. Admissions to elite schools is very competitive, and if you pitch an admissions message that is tightly designed and produced to meet and beat Committee expectations, that will advance your admission chances.
On the other hand, if you come across like a used-car salesman with a cheesy grin, that’s obviously not going to help you at all. If you’re going to sell yourself in any way, you must sell yourself as an authentic, reflective voice imbued with “humble confidence” in your leadership skills; as a manifestation of ambition-with-integrity; as a persistent force for innovation; and so on.
If you can package yourself this way, then selling yourself will work for you. And when selling yourself, don’t forget what is perhaps the very essence of a market proposition that works in the world — a unique selling point (USP.)
In other words, just as a venture capitalist will ask the entrepreneur of a new product: “what’s its unique selling point?” which is to say, what’s so different about this vs. all the other competing offerings in the market, such that the consumer is going to buy this one? So you should ask yourself: “what’s my unique selling point for elite MBA admissions?” What is going to make Adcom pick me?
Two things come together in a USP — uniqueness and value. Uniqueness is what’s different about you compared with the general applicant: the things in your personal and professional experience that are not common. Value is what the Committee sees as valuable in an applicant: what they think you will contribute to the program and the b-school, both while at school and in the future.
I’ve written in other posts about what makes up applicant admissions value, and this topics is also handled in depth in my book. My point here is to say: look for attributes that combine uniqueness and value, and if you find that, you’ve found your USP.