Why ‘Professional Presence’ Matters for MBA Candidates

January 30, 2019 | by Brittany Maschal

Leading up to a recent application deadline, a fellow coach at Fortuna Admissions found herself in a quandary.

She was working with a strong candidate who had a noticeably untidy level of grooming, and felt apprehensive about how this might be perceived in the MBA admissions interview. Given her robust background in M7 admissions, she was accustomed to traversing complicated, sensitive subjects while helping applicants reveal their aptitude to become future leaders. That said, anything in the realm of personal appearance is delicate, with the potential for unconscious bias, misunderstanding or hurt feelings. This concern wasn’t about the MBA-to-be fitting into a particulate mold, but rather something bigger.

While thinking about this dilemma, I noticed an article author Karen Gray published on the Columbia Business School’s website on the topic of cultivating “professional presence.” With cited research from Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Gray classifies ‘professional presence’ as a combination of gravitas, communication and appearance. Appearance is not tied solely to how we look, but represents how we presents ourselves to the world.  “The interior life of a person and their external presence are deeply connected,” Gray explains. “When people pay more conscious attention to this connection and embody presence, they can expose their unique talent to the world in ways that will enhance their happiness and success.”

In many ways, relaying ‘professional presence’ is the crux of any compelling application to business school. Every articulation and interaction – in writing and in person – should be viewed as an opportunity to make a positive impression, authentically conveying your professional tone, competence and reliability. Grey notes, ‘Presence is letting the most powerful version of yourself shine through.” Which is exactly what an excellent MBA application should do.

Want to better understand the three aspects of professional presence and how to cultivate them? Read my full article for Poets&Quants: Why ‘Professional Presence’ Is Key To Your MBA Candidacy.


Brittany Maschal is an expert coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions and a former member of admissions teams at Wharton, Princeton & Johns Hopkins.

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