Building your Business School Application: The sum is always greater than its parts

Einstein theory of special relativity

A holistic approach is key to every successful admissions campaign. You must ensure that all of the pieces of your “story” — academic, personal and professional — are tied together. A strong GPA and stellar GMAT will never compensate for the lack of a cohesive, compelling story about your past, present and well-planned post-MBA future. And, conversely, a great story won’t offset poor grades or lackluster test scores.

A comprehensive consultation with The MBA Exchange will help you “mine” your background and then deliver a cohesive story by maximizing each component of the application: resume, recommendations, essays/video statements, and application materials and interviews. This blog series highlights each of these components. Up first … your resume!

Part 1: Your MBA Resume

The first exposure that a business school gets to your candidacy is usually your resume — (otherwise called a CV, curriculum vitae). Typically 1-2 pages in length, your resume provides the admissions committee with an engaging snapshot of your career and life since the time you enrolled in college.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, the reality is that some MBA applicants misunderstand or even misuse the resume in ways that reduce their chances for admission. Here are 6 key points to keep in mind when developing your resume for a business school admissions audience:

  1. Present substance with clarity and precision
    Unless the school’s application instructions specify a “1-page limit,” you should not delete core content that puts your candidacy in positive light. However, this also means that you should not just fill the space with extraneous details. Reading a 2-page resume that should have been a 1-pager is not going to endear you to an overworked admissions staffer with a stack of apps sitting on his or her desk! So, make every word count. Hint: we encourage our clients to minimize the use of “articles” — a, an, the — as they add little value.
  2. Balance professional – academic – personal
    Traditionally, the resume of an MBA applicant devotes more space to job-related topics than education and activities. This makes good sense since one’s career tends to be more “unique”– and require more detail — than the other aspects. But the objective is to help the reader feel like he or she knows you before you even meet. So, be sure to include enough description of your college and personal background as well as non-work pursuits to paint a complete picture.
  3. Use action verbs and active voice
    Given the constraint of length limits, the style and tone of an MBA resume should be telegraphic. Rather than a passive description of your various responsibilities and activities, emphasize what you’ve actually accomplished by starting each statement with an action verb — “led, planned, drove, directed, produced.” That conveys the kind of impact and confidence that truly resonates with an adcom.
  4. Show quantified results and tangible outcomes
    Business schools like applicants who make a measurable difference. This can be a particular challenge to individuals who hold support positions or analytical roles. However, regardless of your job, it’s likely that you are adding some value to a process that eventually has a quantified result and/or tangible outcome. While you should never take sole credit for an accomplishment that reflects the inputs of others, likewise you should not shy from describing a specific deliverable that benefitted from your contributions. Also, if you’re relatively new to your current job, it’s fine to include estimated, projected or expected results and outcomes for the work you’re currently doing. And be sure to minimize the use of jargon or nomenclature that most adcoms will not understand nor take the time to research.
  5. Avoid unexplained gaps in employment
    Regardless of the reason, if more than 60 days passed between jobs, you should explain that gap in your resume. Don’t try to avoid the issue by stating only years of employment. MBA applications usually ask for a “work history” with specific start and end dates for each position. So, the resume must be consistent. Otherwise, the adcom may conclude that you’re trying to fool them — and that’s never a good thing to do.
  6. Convey growth and development
    In addition to presenting facts and figures, the “story” that you want to tell through your resume is how each item listed has contributed to this robust, high-potential MBA candidacy. This can be difficult if job titles don’t reveal an obvious progression or expansion of responsibility. So, be sure to describe your current position with evidence that you’ve earned advancement from previous roles and are achieving things that leverage the skills, experience and success that define your past.

    One quick and easy way to confirm that your resume is contributing to your MBA admissions campaign is to get some expert feedback. If you’d like our review of your strengths and vulnerabilities, just upload your resume when you request our free evaluation of your candidacy! As former MBA admissions professionals and interviewers, we can help you determine if your resume maximizes – or minimizes – your chances for admission.

Up next … recommendations!