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Personal Branding - Resilience

Resilience Personal Branding MBA
“Be Unique. Demonstrate your USP”

We have been guilty of such advice too. The Business School representative repeats it each time they meet you during MBA Info Sessions, and even during one on one correspondence via email. MBA applicants worry too much about USP that they forget one quality that by itself will be a USP – the resilience of their character.

We hear about this quality in different forms:

He accepts his failures without any insecurity

She is always thinking ‘what can I learn’ from the setback

He does not dwell on his failures


These qualities have been interpreted in the past as signs of confidence, or as character trademark of someone who looks at obstacles for life lessons. Instead of trying vaguely to map your reaction to life events with the resilience of your character, we have focused on five factors that define resilience.

1) Support System

This might seem counter-intuitive to many. The word resilience gives the impression that it is “I against the world,” but if you notice standout MBA Applicants, they have a network of well-wishers, mentors, and subject matter experts, who have helped them through various stages of their personal and professional life. These applicants don’t shy away from acknowledging this vital support system. If you are contemplating how to choose the recommender from a list of five recommenders, you have the right support system, but if the choice is between the “ex-boss that was not really fond of you,” and the “current boss who tolerates you,” then your story needs more work.

2) Perspective

Even the most academically gifted applicant lacks perspective. You have to understand and accept that it is impossible to avoid overwhelming problems, but it is possible to control how you react. What most applicants lack is the ability to articulate, “How their life will improve with an MBA”? The future that they envision through words in essays and one on one interaction are either unrealistic or timid. Researching about the school helps, but maintaining a resilient worldview that it won’t be easy to reach your short-term goals, but the journey with an MBA is worth the risk, will set you apart.

3) Acceptance

Essay Reviewers can easily spot someone who crumbles under pressure when 50% of the words in the Failure Essay is spent on explaining why they failed. Don’t dwell on your failures, but explain what you have learned from it. The reasons are usually circumstantial or subtly hint at the lack of judgement of someone else in the team. If you have not failed in your professional life, you have not aimed higher. I remember one assignment where I was so taken by the responsibility that I spent the majority of my time creating the most comprehensive solution instead of developing an efficient, workable solution. The project failed, and I was replaced. That was a professional setback, but my supervisor didn’t lose faith in me. Even though I was removed from the project, he didn’t fire me. Instead, he gave me another equally challenging assignment where my tendency to work on unique solutions was fully utilized. The supervisor's perspective on my strengths and weaknesses gave me a second chance. Accept your weakness, and acknowledge the contribution of those supervisors who kept you in a path of resilience.

4) Decisiveness

On retrospection, we know that Bush Jr. made a blunder by attacking Iraq, but if you remember the public perception in 2003-2004, you will realize that even the worst actions taken with firm determination found overwhelming public support. That is how we humans think. Decisiveness has a higher currency in Management, and in public policy than slow strategic thinking. In MBA Application, what you are capturing is a professional career that spans 3-5 years with projects that last between 3 months and 1 year. Strategic thinking does not fit with the narrative of decisive action in an ever-changing complex work environment where the stakeholder’s demands fluctuate with the market’s reaction. Your decisive action might have led your team to a setback, but you can never convey resilience when the Admission Committee does not realize the emotional toll each outcome had on you, and how you coped.

5) Optimism

Cautious Optimism has taken over blind optimism of the Dale Carnegie era. We are told to “Expect the best, but prepare for the worst,” but one factor that develops the resolve to meet the ever-demanding challenges of our professional lives is ‘Optimism’, not cautious or half-hearted optimism, but an optimism in our abilities, our vision of the future, and a stern belief that our short-term goals will be achieved. It will come across in the essay, through personal interaction, and in interviews. When you have genuine hope in the MBA program, the admission committee will realize your enthusiasm. No school wants a cynic. They want brand ambassadors who are doers, hopeful and fuel the enthusiasm of the class.

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