Two MBA students walking along in conversation outside.

Giving your personal brand your personal best

9 November 2020

The article at a glance

Your MBA year gives you the time and space to define and refine your personal brand. Here’s how to create a personal brand that will work hard for you in all aspects of life post-MBA.

Your MBA year gives you the time and space to define and refine your personal brand. Here’s how to create a personal brand that will work hard for you in all aspects of life post-MBA.

With sporting fixtures playing behind closed doors for the time being, we will still be hearing a fair deal about PBs – personal bests.

But every time you hear it, it should be a reminder that there is another PB – your personal brand – and one in which you should be going for gold.

So, what is a personal brand, how do you create it and how can your MBA year help?

Yenson She.
Yenson She

For Yenson She (MBA 2014), Head of Business Innovation at the Hong Kong based New World Development Ltd Company, and an alumnus who has worked in branding for many years, the definition is simple:

“Branding, whether for a company or an individual, is all about perception – the image that comes into someone’s mind when they think of a business or a person. Think of Steve Jobs and what flashes through your mind? Apple, turtlenecks, trainers, a strong personality – these are all parts of the personal brand he created. You want to shape your personal brand so that the perceptions people have of you accurately reflect who you are and what you have to offer.

“Practically speaking, you project your personal brand through your personal interactions, your online persona (website, social media, career profile), your speaking and writing engagements, the day-to-day example you set through your work – in fact, everything you do.”

How can the MBA year help?

“Your Cambridge MBA brings you together with talented people from different fields, building and expanding your personal network globally. These can be future great friends and business partners, and also potential employers. As the Cambridge MBA year progresses, it requires you to develop a strong self-awareness, to be crystal clear of your MBA objectives and constantly reflect on yourself. Your personal brand will evolve along with this process.”

Yenson recommends six key elements to building a strong personal brand:

1. Understand yourself

The first step in building a personal brand is to take time for self-reflection and build a real understanding of yourself – your own character, strengths, weaknesses, what’s important to you, what values and standards you hold dear. It’s vital to be very honest about yourself and put time into understanding who you really are. You need to keep this self-awareness going throughout your career and make it one of the bedrocks of your personal brand.

2. Be authentic

This follows naturally from understanding yourself. You may aspire to be personality A but if the real you is personality B then that’s who you’ve got to be. Authenticity is fundamental to your personal brand. If you try to project something you wish you were, rather than the person you are, people will know you are faking it and that is fatal for personal brands.

3. Be distinctive

This also flows out of self-reflection. Understanding yourself means understanding the unique proposition that makes you you. All of your talents and experiences come together to make someone with a totally unique offering, so take time to pull together all the strands that make you, and what you offer, distinctive and memorable.

4. Be alive

Remember that, just as you are a living entity, so is your personal brand. It has to change and develop as you change and develop. Each new experience, job and skill should all feed into the constant evolution of your personal brand.

5. Be consistent

While keeping your personal brand alive, make sure it is founded on fundamentals that don’t change and that you always come back to as the foundations of your authentic self. These are your values, standards, ethics, core beliefs. These need to run consistently through all elements of your personal brand and the ‘living’ element needs to fit with and reinforce these. Lack of consistency can undermine your personal brand very quickly and create a confused perception in others, so keep going back to your core values and asking – ‘does this fit with them?’. And remember to drive this consistency through both your virtual and real personas – even small things like the colours you use for your website and what perfume you wear should reflect your personality. These are all signals you are giving the world and they all say something about you. Make sure they are telling the truth!

6. Be open

Building your personal brand isn’t just about you. Others are crucial to helping you and you should let them in. Don’t do it in isolation. Your Cambridge MBA year is a great time to do this, so use your mentors, professors, classmates, even friends and family to help you fine-tune your personal brand by giving you feedback, helping you work through doubts and insecurities and, ultimately, letting you know if the personal brand you think is you, really is how they see you. If you think you are projecting X and they are perceiving Y, then that’s very valuable insight. This openness is another element to keep with you as you grow and develop your personal brand – seeking that feedback and insight is both powerful and necessary.

Finally, says Yenson, enjoy the process!

“Follow the six key elements above, but also be open minded, creative and not afraid of making mistakes. Your Cambridge MBA year is a perfect playground to explore opportunities within yourself and develop a personal brand that is really you.”