Resume Development for MBA Applicants

by Jessica Burlingame

Jessica Burlingame is a Senior Consultant at The MBA Exchange. Since her MBA graduation from Columbia, she has guided a wide variety of applicants in gaining acceptance to major business schools worldwide.

At its best, your MBA admissions resume will highlight your key accomplishments, attributes, and interests in a way that leaves your reader – whether an adcom reviewing your application, an interviewer assessing your fit with the school, or a current student or alum of your target school with whom you’re networking – eager to know more about you.

With that in mind, here are some principles to keep in mind as you write:

What an MBA admissions resume is NOT:

A complete biography. An MBA admissions resume shows you at your best: examples of specific times and places when you learned the most, shone the brightest, had the greatest impact. Since the target deliverable is, for most clients, a one-page document, you can’t include everything – so make everything you do include count! Some content to exclude: high school honors and activities (these are too far in the past to be worth highlighting, makes you seem “desperate”); non-leadership roles in college (if you didn’t actually lead others, then you can still mention your active membership and impact in substantial organizations); and the phrase “responsible for” (if you did something important, then state what you actually did, starting with an action verb.)
A list of all your official job descriptions to date. Avoid the mistake of describing your jobs rather than yourself. If you’ve had a “traditional” pre-MBA career (e.g., consulting or financial services), the AdCom will know the basic parameters of your job already, and your task will be to demonstrate how you made your mark in the role. If you’ve pursued a less traditional career path, you’ll need to show how the skills you’ve drawn on and cultivated professionally correspond to the Six Pillars, the demands of a top b-school curriculum, and – crucially – the rigors of the MBA internship and full-time job market.
A document to support a job search in your current industry. Avoid industry jargon, period. If your reader knows your industry, using jargon won’t distinguish you from the hundreds (or thousands) of other applicants with similar backgrounds. If your industry is less familiar, the jargon may be incomprehensible – and therefore alienate your reader, who likely won’t appreciate technical terms s/he doesn’t understand. Strive to state your impact in language that most well-educated professionals in most industries can relate to. (A tall order, yes – but a worthy goal that your consultant can help you achieve.)
What an MBA admissions resume IS:
A heat-seeking marketing missile. In many cases, a resume is the first piece of information a reader will see about you – and in the case of a “blind” admissions interviewer, it’s the only one! Your resume should include only information that answers the question, “What makes my candidacy truly unique and offers significant value for MBA classmates and this school?” If a piece of information doesn’t pass this test, consider leaving it off your resume.
A “teaser” document; a conversation starter. “Leave them wanting more” is another good mantra for resume writing. Ideally, each line on your resume will be the kernel of a story that a reader will want you to elaborate. Your opportunity to do so comes in the rest of your application and during your interview. (See “a complete biography” above.)
An accounting of all your time between the beginning of your undergrad studies and now. Leave no time unaccounted for on your resume. Periods of unemployment, travel, school, working on a startup, and so forth are okay; unexplained holes aren’t. Talk to your consultant about any questions you have on this front.
The MBA admissions resume poses unique challenges. However, the time and thought you invest upfront in distilling, prioritizing and presenting your most meaningful achievements will pay off during the rest of the application process.
Drawing from our 18 years of experience in resume development, we provide feedback to serious applicants who upload their resume when requesting a free, preliminary evaluation of their MBA candidacy.