Points of Difference or “PODs” is a marketing term that refers to the positive ways in which a company’s product differs from its competitors. In the MBA application context, your PODs are the things about you that will set you apart from the thousands of others who are applying.
In this free sample video from our complete How to Apply for an MBA online course, you will learn how to discover your own “Points of Difference.” Your top five PODs will provide a powerful set of Content Building Blocks that you will use in your resume, essays, recommendation letters, application forms, and interview answers to prove to admissions officers that you will enrich the class if accepted.
Action: Complete the “Points of Difference” Exercises
In the Points of Difference exercises, you will identify and prioritize the positive ways that you are different than other applicants. Our PODs exercise is essentially a guided brainstorming exercise to generate Content Building Blocks that you will use later in your essays, resume, recommendation letters, and interview answers.
Related Tools & Templates
You may need to right-click the following links and select Save Link As to download the file to your computer.
- Download: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes
- Download: Points of Difference Exercise
- Tool: Prioritization Grid
- Tool: Prioritization Grid (Online Version)
One of the secrets to developing powerful MBA applications is starting with a thorough understanding of who you are, what your strengths are, and what you have to offer the schools you’re applying to. Directly and indirectly, admission committees will be asking: “How can you enrich our community?”
In this course, we’ll be introducing you to a powerful “Points of Difference” exercise to help you answer this question. Points of Difference or PODs is a marketing term that refers to the positive ways in which a company’s product differs from its competitors. In the “Points of Difference” exercise, you’ll identify the positive ways that you are different than other applicants.
As you know there are more qualified candidates applying than there are seats in the class; so the admissions committee wants to know what you can bring to the table. You can use the PODs to highlight the ways that you can contribute to and enrich your class if accepted. PODs capture the essence of who you are, what you’ve experienced, what you stand for, and what you can contribute to the class. Identifying, your top five PODs will provide a great set of content blocks that can be used for your essays, recommendation letters, and interview answers.
So let’s get started with the Points of Difference Exercise! Your lecturer for this class is Tyler Cormney.
Differentiation — What do you bring to the table?
“Differentiation” is key to a complete Application Strategy – and the Points of Difference Exercise will help you develop a plan for differentiating your candidacy from the many thousands of applications that each top business school will receive this year. We will refer to your differentiation messages collectively as your Points of Difference or PODs.
Your POD’s capture the essence of who you are, what you’ve experienced, what you stand for, and how you can contribute to an enrich the MBA community at the school you’re applying to. They should be the things that are so important, so core to who are you are, that without them the admissions committee won’t have a complete picture of who you are and what you bring to the table.
Our PODs exercise is essentially a guided brainstorming exercise to generate content blocks that can be used for your essays, recommendation letters, and interview answers.
Now, that you understand the concept behind PODs, let’s look at some of the categories that my private coaching clients have found useful when trying to brainstorm their own PODs.
Eleven Categories: Points of Differentiation
The slide shows eleven (11) areas that might help you in your brainstorming for Points of Difference. This list is not meant to be exhaustive. This list has, however, proven to be a powerful starting point for my clients to trigger ideas for the things that are extraordinary about them. More often than not, when we talk through this list something unique about them that they hadn’t thought to mention emerges. If there are other categories that come to mind for you or things about you that don’t fit neatly into one of these categories, go ahead and use them!
Let’s look at an example in each category to help you see what the categories mean and the kinds of PODs that emerged when my clients used them in their brainstorming efforts.
Important life experiences include those moments, experiences, and situations that are literally “life changing”.
One of my candidates had served as a special forces soldier in the US military. The collection of experiences he had during this period of his life forever changed his outlook, goals, beliefs, and dreams. That was obvious on the surface but by digging deeper into some of those experiences we came up with some amazing subject matter for his essay including the contributions that he and his combat unit had made to providing security for Iraq’s first free election.
In the Leadership Story Analysis you identified your most important leadership achievements – This POD category covers the significant individual achievements that you are extremely proud of. One of my candidates immediately reacted to this prompt with the statement “my first born”. He was referring to the harrowing time he and his wife had gone through when their first baby was born two months premature. His child had to spend the first six weeks of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit and the degree of stamina and sleepless nights that he (and his wife endured) leading up to the day when they could bring their son home was his proudest moment and proudest personal achievement.
Cross-cultural experiences are those times you’ve ventured outside your comfort zone and relied on your adaptability, empathy and communication skills to navigate those differences effectively. Think about times when you have been in unfamiliar cultural situations – do any stand-out as particularly interesting, positive, and/or distinctive?
One candidate spent 18 months earlier in her career living in Indonesia as an exchange student and English language tutor.
This experience was a major influence on her career aspirations, and she ultimately founded a non-profit organization focused on helping ensure improved access to high quality public education in south-east and central Asia.
Talents are another fertile area to explore when brainstorming PODS. Expand your search beyond those talents that you think are business-oriented or work-related. The definition of a talent is consistent near-perfect performance in an activity that you truly enjoy.
One of my former clients had spent a year between college and her career as a management consultant as a professional dancer on Broadway. In her time outside of the office, she founded a non-profit organization that taught ballet and dance to young children in the inner-city schools in New York.
Similar to talents, areas of deep expertise don’t have to be professionally focused. Another candidate had a long-held fascination with archaeology and ancient history culminating in his participation in an archaeological dig in Egypt.
Ultimately, he wrote a very interesting essay about this passion for archaeology and how the things he’d learned as an archaeologist would make him a more effective business leader.
The category “Things you’ve started” could include anything from an entrepreneurial experience in high school to launching a book club in your spare time after graduation because you were alarmed that most of your friends hadn’t opened a book since college. The key element here is that you had an idea and that you turned into something real.
During a period in her life when her brother was battling a drug addiction, one of my clients started an addiction recovery support group for families in her community who had a family member with a substance abuse problem. This leadership experience was on a small scale but it had a huge impact on the families that took part in the group she created.
Things you’ve created might be anything from a product you patented to a book you self-published. The key here is to highlight a time when you were innovative and imaginative and drew on your talents to produce something you’re proud of.
One candidate wrote a symphony that her home-town symphony orchestra performed on tour.
Passions and interests relate to things you do for enjoyment and relaxation.
One of my clients had a passion for cinematography and video-editing. At first blush, she wasn’t sure why business schools might want to know about this. She ultimately positioned this POD as being valuable to her class because she could be the classes videographer, capturing the “key moments” of their time together.
Honors and awards are a good trigger not because you plan to brag about them but rather because they are good reminder of ways that you’ve excelled at various points in your life.
One of my clients wrote an award winning economics thesis on US investment in China – talking about the project reminded her about how much she enjoyed research and her talent for identifying and communicating important investment trends – recounting this experience helped her to realize that she wanted pursue equity research as a career and to focus on China’s capital markets.
Causes and/or communities that you care about are of interest to the admissions committee because they are looking for the kinds of leaders who devote time and energy to the communities that matter to them. Think about the communities you’re a part of and how you have made those communities stronger.
One of my clients cared deeply about the shift to clean energy and worked with an organization that helped educate homeowners on cost-effective ways and government programs for installing solar energy panels in their homes.
Finally, the “friends in high places” category isn’t about showing off your elite rolodex – You want to think in terms of how your relationships might be valuable to your future classmates – for example arranging for one of the luminaries you know to come to campus and enlighten your classmates.
One of my candidates was from a prominent political family in China and was able to take his interested classmates on an insider tour of China.
So hopefully these examples give you a sense of the wide range of possibilities you might feature as your Points of Difference. Now it’s your turn to identify and prioritize your own Points of Difference.
There is a PDF file in the self-study resources below this video that lists the categories we’ve just shared with you. Please download and print this file for your reference.
The first step in our exercise is to work through each category and write down all the ideas that are prompted by the category and examples we’ve just covered. You want to suspend judgment at this stage and come up with as many things as you can.
Once you identify a long list of possible PODs, you want to decide which will be your “Top 5.” To help you we’ve provided you with a prioritization tool.
Ultimately you want to feature the “best of the best” of your PODs in your application essays, recommendation letter, resume, and interview answers. Again, you are looking for about five items that are central to what makes you unique and without which the admissions officers picture of you would be incomplete.
So the final step in the exercise is to take a step back from your work and choose your Top Five PODs. You will be asking yourself: “If I could only tell the Admissions Committee one thing about me, which would it be? Item A or Item B?”
We have two different ways for you to complete this exercise: one using paper and pen, the other using a web-based tool via a website. For those of you who prefer pen and paper, download the Prioritization Grid PDF file from the self-study area.
Alternatively, we have also posted a link in your self-study materials to a website that provides an electronic version of this grid.
Good luck and Prepare to be Accepted™!