How to Make Your Resume “MBA Ready”

The resume you used to get your last job is not the one you will use to apply to business school. I know, it’s frustrating! You perfected your resume to land a job, only to find that you’re going to have to rework it for your MBA application. I promise you, it’s a worthwhile time investment!

What makes a job search resume so different from an MBA application resume? There are several key distinctions:

1) Your MBA resume will be higher level and contain less industry jargon.

From your one-page resume, the admissions committee should be able to get a sense for what you do, what is unique about you, and what experiences you will bring to the classroom.

However, they can’t do that if they don’t understand what they’re reading! Here is a trick: take a step back and ask yourself “is this how I would explain my job to my best friend’s mom or dad who works in business but maybe not my exact field?”. You can assume they have some understanding of your field, but keep your descriptions high level so that anyone, regardless of background, can “get it”.

Note that I’m not saying to dumb down your accomplishments just because they are complex. You can include names of programming languages and complex financial products in a way that is understandable across audiences – it usually just takes a few extra words.

2) Your MBA resume should focus on storytelling and accomplishments.

Think of the MBA resume as more of an elevator pitch than a checklist of skills. A potential employer scans to see what types of things you’ve been exposed to so they can assess how quickly you can hit the ground running in a new role. Admissions committees at top MBA programs look for leadership potential, demonstrated teamwork, problem-solving skills and career progression.

We ask our clients to write no more than two bullets describing “what they do” for each job. This maximizes the space available to explain “what they have accomplished” in short, two-line stories. These quick stories help them picture you – what you’re like to work with, what type of initiative you take, and how you are crushing it and being recognized as a rock star in your company.

As an example, here is a bullet that a past client used to describe “what he does”:

“Manage a team of 2-5 analysts and associates on workstreams to advise clients in the tourism, retail, and private equity industries on key strategic issues including M&A, organic growth strategy, and value creation.”

In contrast, here is a bullet he used to described “what he has accomplished”:

“Spearheaded strategy to improve the performance of ancillary products by optimizing digital customer touchpoints, resulting in expected incremental revenue of over $100M annually.”

See the difference?

3) You’ll include more interests and hobbies than you have now.

In addition to the requisite skills described above, the adcom also wants to see that you are a well-rounded individual with dynamic interests. Top MBA programs are not looking for people who just eat, sleep and work. They want to recruit leaders who have people skills and will thrive in the highly social MBA environment.

I often hear people say that they don’t have any extracurriculars; that’s generally not the case when we get down to it. Extracurriculars aren’t just volunteering and junior boards. Maybe you haven’t had time to really engage as a volunteer because you travel every week (or did pre-COVID!), but perhaps you play in a recreational tennis league every Sunday. That absolutely counts and should be a bullet under “community and other” or at least in the “interests” section. Your next employer may not care what you do outside of the office, but MBA programs most certainly do.

4) You’ll pick and choose more.

You simply don’t have the space to tell the same type of story over and over in your MBA resume. If you built financial models for six IPOS, don’t give each one a bullet (bankers – in general I don’t like the exhaustive transaction experience list that you likely use for work – pick a few of the best).

Boil your experiences down to the main accomplishments and show a good balance of leadership, analytical, teamwork and problem-solving skills across your resume.

Some closing thoughts…

This goes for work resumes too, but formatting, spelling and grammar are very important. Admissions directors notice, especially on the resume. Be a crazy perfectionist when it comes to this!

And finally, get feedback. Have people from different industries and backgrounds read your resume and tell you how they interpreted what you’ve done. We recommend doing this a few times as you’re finalizing your resume in order to feel like you’ve gotten a diverse array of perspectives.

For further reading on what makes a strong MBA resume, see this article: These Three Bullets Should Be On Your MBA Resume

If you’d like personalized coaching on your resume or even resume analysis done by professionals, or other parts of your MBA application, click here to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.

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