Applying to business schools for an MBA program can be a daunting task and includes presenting a resume that aims to capture the attention of the admissions committee. The best MBA resume tells the story of applicants’ accomplishments, work experience and what makes them a valuable addition to an MBA class, experts say.
“The normal process is someone applies to the school, the admissions representative reads their profile, which consists of resume, transcripts, essays,” says Jason Rife, senior assistant dean of the Career Management Center and Graduate Admissions for Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Texas. “They are making a determination: Am I going to interview this person? Is this person strong enough and does this person have a reasonable enough chance that they are worth an interview?”
That admissions representative may want to recommend acceptance, Rife says, “but now they have to convince the rest of the committee. So, the more easily digestible that resume is, the easier it is for someone else to sell you and advocate for you.”
Here are 10 tips from experts to help you craft a stellar MBA resume.
Be Informed Before Applying
“It’s important to remember that not only are you looking to see if a school is the right fit for you, the school is also looking to see if you are the right fit for them,” Lily Bi, president and CEO of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, also known as AACSB International, wrote in an email.
“Doing your research on the AACSB-accredited institution of your choice and providing examples of how their specific programs and extracurricular offerings will help you reach your goals will show admissions officers that you are invested in the school – and invested in yourself,” Bi says.
Natalie Grinblatt, a senior admissions consultant at Accepted.com – a company that helps prospective students gain admission to MBA and other higher ed programs – agrees. “Tailoring the resume to the school can be helpful in connecting with the committee,” she wrote in an email.
Use Numbers to Show Your Value
The best way for MBA applicants to add value to their resume is to quantify their impact. An MBA application resume should be oriented around achievements more than responsibilities, so the applicant needs to measure and describe their impact on revenue, costs, market share, efficiency, stakeholder value, customer satisfaction and the other ways business success is measured, Grinblatt says.
“Don’t just say you were in charge of a new platform,” she advises. “Instead, indicate that you lead a team that created a new platform, increasing efficiency by 50%.”
When experts advise you to provide clear, measurable results in your resume, what they’re really asking is for you to explain your impact on your teams, your projects and your company, says Maya Parikh Gandhi, a senior admissions consultant at Menlo Coaching, an admissions and test prep company in California.
“In the early stages of your career, it’s tempting to overstate your involvement,” she says. “Chances are you aren’t leading many client engagements, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an important role. Point out if you led research, interacted with senior leadership or met regularly with important stakeholders.”
And remember that your impact won’t always be external. Creating an onboarding program, taking the lead on training initiatives or developing ways to improve company culture are examples of internal impact that will work well on your resume, Gandhi says.
Numbers jump off the page, Rife adds. “Giving a sense of scope and scale is tremendously useful. It helps the committee understand what you’ve done.”
Limit Resume Length
It’s best to keep general MBA resumes to one page, and resumes for an executive MBA to no more than two pages, Grinblatt says.
She recommends choosing career highlights rather than listing everything that has transpired throughout your career, keeping in mind that admissions officers often have no more than a minute to look at your resume and may not get beyond one page.
“There is such a thing as diminishing returns,” Rife says. “We’ve got GRE, SAT, GMAT, ACT scores and some of them are good. We don’t need five or six and we don’t need every club you’ve been a part of, just the ones where you were president, vice president or treasurer, and describe the impact you’ve had.”
Remember that leadership and analytical abilities are foremost, but don’t be repetitive, experts say.
Leadership is an important quality for MBA programs, so your leadership experience should be easily detectable on the resume, Gandhi says.
Even if you don’t lead a team, she says, it’s possible that you’ve overseen the development of a recruit or an intern. Maybe you’ve been in a leadership position in an extracurricular activity, led the fundraising efforts for a charity you’re passionate about or proposed a small change in a process that saved the company time or money.
Hard leadership experience is a bonus, but think widely about where you’ve taken the reins.
Demonstrated leadership is important to business schools that are paving the way in innovation and societal impact and pride themselves on helping the next generation of leaders learn how to “lead boldly,” Bi says.
“Business school students are the future leaders of tomorrow, so I suggest sharing the way you plan to impact the world, and why a degree from the school you’re applying to is necessary to help you achieve that.”
“Be careful on acronyms, titles and word choice that may be in your everyday vernacular,” Rife says. “Explain your job as you would to a grandparent. All too often, people want to sound sophisticated. It’s much better to use plain, clear language.”
It’s also important to not just list job titles, but also describe the work, he says, so that employers don’t have to guess.
“If you’re transitioning out of a role, such as the military, with nomenclature that may not be well known within the business world, it’s important to provide context,” Rife says. “Instead of saying, ‘Briefed the brigade commander on the unit’s operational readiness scores,’ you could provide a little more background with, ‘Presented operational performance metrics to the commander of the 800-person organization.’”
Tailor Your Resume to the School
“Try to use your target school’s template,” Rife says. “A lot of times, careers centers will post their templates on the website. There are a lot of examples out there on the web. Make sure it’s current.”
He also suggests looking at resumes on LinkedIn, where you can filter and search MBA programs to see resumes of current students and recent graduates.
“I would also say use your own network,” Rife says. “If you are targeting a top school, you should be trying to find people currently there, who went to your undergrad school or who currently or previously worked at your company.”
Highlight Career Advancement
“If you have been at a company and you had three different roles, you ought to make that very clear,” Rife says. “That allows a reader to see this person has been promoted since they’ve been with the organization.”
It’s important to be accurate about a current title, but be sure to include other significant roles, he adds. “Sometimes the applicants have done more than their resume indicates.”
Show Your Potential
To demonstrate potential, think of your achievements compared with your peers, Gandhi adds. If you have outperformed others at your level of seniority, highlight that on your resume, as it distinguishes you from other candidates with similar work experience.
Rife says extra responsibilities or rapid promotion indicate potential.
Gandhi recommends emphasizing on any instances where you took initiative, came up with an innovative solution, dealt closely with senior management or took on a fundamental role in a high-profile project.
Showcase Soft Skills
Grinblatt says leadership, teamwork, creativity and problem-solving skills are critical. She suggests applicants review the GMAC common letter of recommendation to see what skills are most important to admissions directors.
Sometimes people don’t consider themselves a true leader if they don’t have direct reports.
“But you actually are a leader because you have to get people to do things, and it’s even more challenging if you don’t have authority over them,” Rife says. “Being able to influence and persuade others is a soft skill.”
Tell the Truth
It’s critical that information in your resume is truthful, experts stress, since dishonesty or a serious inaccuracy can result in a rejection letter.
Gandhi says it’s important, for example, to use accurate verbs that demonstrate your contributions in a clear, honest way.
“If your resume claims that you ‘created’ a product that you were heavily involved in, consider whether terms like ‘co-created’ would be more appropriate,” she advises.