Applying for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree isn’t actually that much like applying for a job, even though your success with both rests in part on the quality of your resume.
The thing is, the resume you use for an MBA application is a pretty different animal from the type of professional resume you’d use to apply for a job or gig. MBA resumes have to show off your candidacy, providing the admissions committee with an engaging snapshot of your career and life since the time you enrolled in college.
What, exactly, does that look like? And how should you go about transforming your professional resume into something that will work for MBA admissions success? At The MBA Exchange, we know a thing or two about that! Here are our top tips on how to write an MBA resume that will really knock their socks off.
What is an MBA resume?
To start by defining terms an MBA resume, sometimes called a CV (curriculum vitae) is a document that’s usually 1-2 pages in length. Your resume needs to impress MBA admissions committee members at a glance, while still providing enough in terms of depth and detail.
Importance of an MBA resume in a business school application
Your MBA admissions resume serves as a preview of your candidacy, the first glimpse of you that B-school gatekeepers such as admissions professionals, student, and alumni volunteers get. In fact, resume screens are often used to decide whether or not to read an entire application. Learn more about MBA admissions facts before you apply!
Without a top-notch MBA resume, your other application materials might not even make it in front of adcoms. And, if you make it to the coveted in-person MBA admissions interview stage, your MBA resume might be all your interviewer actually sees.
How MBA resumes are different from professional resumes
With business-school application season already underway, NOW is the time to start updating and refining your resume. If you’re like most busy professionals, you probably haven’t looked at it since you interviewed for your current job. But a resume that’s targeted towards gaining admissions to a top business school can and should look different than the one you used for your job hunt.
Why? Because MBA admissions resumes are used in different ways than professional ones. B-school gatekeepers such as admissions professionals, student and alumni volunteers often conduct a “ resume screen” before reading an application in its entirety. Your resume serves as a “preview” of your candidacy, determining how competitive you are and dictating who reads your full application, including those essays on which you worked so hard.
And, if you secure a coveted in-person admissions interview, your interviewer may not have even seen your full application – so your resume must stand on its own in showcasing your candidacy as impressively as possible.
That’s a tall order for any 1-2 page document. So, here are a few important tips, from tactical advice on how to structure your resume to strategic guidance on what to include:
1. Ditch your “career objective.” MBA adcoms consider this to be a waste of space. Besides, you’ll most likely be asked to discuss your career goals elsewhere in the application.
2. Eliminate or at least minimize industry jargon. The deep expertise and specific technical knowledge that impressed your current company will only irritate an MBA adcom. Your priority now is to explain what you do in layman’s terms, which is the exact opposite of what you were trying to demonstrate in a professional resume.
3. Selectively self-promote. If you earned a faster-than-average promotion or are being sponsored for your MBA, say so in your resume. If you received an exclusive academic scholarship, were accepted by a prestigious organization or were appointed to a leadership position over many other qualified candidates, write it down. The same goes for very high GPAs and test scores. Be succinct, but definitely include such achievements, honors and awards in your MBA applicant resume.
4. Focus on quality over quantity. Lose the laundry list of cases you worked on, deals you closed or research you published. Instead, choose a few items that showcase a range of skills from leadership to teamwork to analytic horsepower. Make each example impactful – use action verbs, quantify results and relate it to a relevant business application.
5. Make it personal. Instead of trying to “wow” the adcoms solely with your technical prowess and amazing computer skills, reveal your personality. List a quirky hobby, intriguing affiliation and/or challenging volunteer project that gives the b-school reader a sense of who you are outside of work.
6. Leave them wanting more. You can’t cover your entire life story in this document, but you can give the adcom just enough to get them excited about reading your essays and wanting to meet you in-person.
What is the best MBA resume format?
Once you’ve selected the right MBA programs for you to target, it’s time to turn your eyes to your resume, and start making some changes!
Start by conceptualizing your MBA resume as an at-a-glance document. Graphic design is gonna matter. You can browse MBA resume examples to get an idea of what to do and what not to do.
The best MBA resume format is clear, without clutter, and with strong headings that quickly guide the eye to the most important info. And, your MBA resume should tell a clear story that shows your ongoing progress toward concrete goals.
Make sure you’ve got sufficient margins and spacing, or you risk readers bouncing off an inaccessible wall of text! Bullet points are a great way to condense and consolidate information that can otherwise clutter up your resume with repetitive text.
Choose a proper MBA resume template
Start with a clean, clear design concept for your MBA resume template. You want to maximize readability, with separate sections for your education, work experience and other skills or affiliations.
Unless the school’s application instructions specify a 1-page limit, don’t go wild with deleting core content that puts your candidacy in a positive light. But, conversely, don’t 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, and you don’t want to annoy the adcom. So, make every word count.
What to include in your MBA resume?
Your resume for MBA application needs to give the basics of your education, career, and skills. Include graduation dates and other key time markers, and stack your promotions and advancements to demonstrate growth.
We encourage our clients to minimize the use of articles “a,” “an” and “the” as they add little value. We also suggest that you ditch your “career objective” header, as many MBA adcoms consider this to be a waste of space. Besides, you’ll most likely be asked to discuss your career goals elsewhere in the application.
A good example of an MBA resume template might begin with your personal data (name, address, etc.).
Then, list your education, major, and GPA. Even if you’re not sure you have the GPA you need for MBA admissions success, you need to include this info. The MBA Exchange team has other techniques that can still help you succeed with a low GPA.
A resume for an MBA application typically devotes more space to job-related topics than education and activities. This makes sense since your career is probably going to be more unique than the other aspects of your profile.
But, the objective for MBA resumes 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 to paint a complete picture.
Next, you want to present your current work experience followed by your previous work history. Include details of your position, specific quantifications of your contributions, and active statements of your accomplishments for each position you’ve held.
Avoid unexplained gaps in your documented employment history. Regardless of the reason, if more than 60 days passed between jobs, explain that gap. Don’t try to avoid the issue by stating only years of employment.
MBA applications usually ask for 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.
In addition to presenting facts and figures, you want your resume to tell a story about 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.
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.
Lose the laundry list of cases you worked on, deals you closed, or research you published. Instead, choose a few items that showcase a range of skills from leadership to teamwork to analytic horsepower. Make each example impactful use action verbs, quantify results, and relate it to a relevant business application.
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 shouldn’t take sole credit for an accomplishment that reflects the inputs of others, likewise, don’t shy away from describing a specific deliverable that benefitted from your contributions.
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. But be sure to minimize the use of jargon or nomenclature that most adcoms will not understand or take the time to research!
Skills and certifications
Close with active statements of your relevant skills, affiliations, and certifications. Make it personal!
Instead of trying to wow the adcoms with your technical prowess and amazing computer skills, reveal your personality. List a quirky hobby, intriguing affiliation and/or challenging volunteer project that gives the b-school reader a sense of who you are outside of work.
How to create a strong MBA resume
Selectively self-promote! If you earned a faster-than-average promotion or are being sponsored for your MBA, say so. If you received an exclusive academic scholarship, were accepted by a prestigious organization or were appointed to a leadership position over many other qualified candidates, write it down.
The same goes for very high GPAs and test scores. Be succinct, but definitely include such achievements, honors and awards in your MBA applicant resume.
Finally, leave them wanting more. You can’t cover your entire life story in this document, but you can give the adcom just enough to get them excited about reading your essays and wanting to meet you in-person.
Make sure you have your MBA resume polished up and strong by MBA decision dates!
Eliminate or at least minimize industry jargon in your MBA resume. The deep expertise and specific technical knowledge that impressed your current company will only irritate an MBA adcom. Your priority now is to explain what you do in layman’s terms, which is the exact opposite of what you were trying to demonstrate in a professional resume.
Given the constraint of length limits, the style and tone of your MBA resume should be telegraphic. 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.
How to improve your resume for MBA success
Need some additional guidance and support to make your resume as powerful as it possibly can be? Then let one of the top admissions consultants here at The MBA Exchange assist you. As a first step, we invite you to request a free, expert evaluation of your MBA candidacy. (And, yes, be sure to upload your current resume!)