Most resume guides are for job applicants, not for MBA applicants. If you are applying for an MBA, read on to learn proven strategies and tactics for creating an MBA application resume that will stand out from the crowds applying to the world’s top business schools.
An MBA candidate who has sketchy academic credentials, sparse extracurricular activities, and limited work experience won’t be capable of producing an impressive MBA application resume.
On the other hand, exceptional applicants miss one of their most significant opportunities to shine because they don’t understand what admissions officers are looking for when reading your curriculum vitae (that’s just a fancy term for resume!).
To help you formulate your resume strategy, we will first examine the critical building blocks that go into a top-notch MBA application resume. We will also spend some time discussing how to assemble your building blocks into a highly professional, strategically sound resume.
What Admissions Officers Look For in an MBA Application Resume
The first step in designing an outstanding MBA application resume is understanding the needs of your reader — the admissions officers at the top programs. An effective resume provides a synopsis of what you’ve accomplished, the skills you possess, and what’s “gone down” in your academic and career journey so far. This power-packed document needs to feature your most meaningful achievements professionally, personally, and academically.
- Employer Reputation
- Management Potential
- Fit Qualities
- Points of Difference
- Communication Abilities
Without a doubt, the most important thing admissions officers will be on the lookout for in your MBA application resume is evidence of leadership. Admissions officers are in a fevered search for the MBA candidates who have made a “habit” of leading. They want to find evidence in your resume that you have led people across academic, extracurricular, and professional settings.
Applicants can display leadership through their resumes in any number of ways, whether it be solving a long-standing problem within an organization, persuading superiors to move in a new direction, or forging a partnership that fueled the organization’s growth.
While it is helpful to list your leadership titles, the key is to show admissions officers that you harnessed the energy of others to achieve something meaningful within your organization or community.
Admissions officers can’t help themselves: they care about the names of the employers on your resume. If a blue-chip company hired you and you emerged as a top performer in your start group, then you’ve been tested in ways that the GMAT exam just can’t measure.
If you’ve worked at name-brand firms like McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Apple, or Amazon, you will have a leg up on the competition from the companies no one has ever heard of. Suppose you have not worked for well-known firms. In that case, you will just have to work harder to convince the admissions committee that the quality of your professional experience measures up to candidates who have worked for the name-brand firms with a long history as “feeders” to the elite MBA programs.
Where you have worked matters, but what you have accomplished on the job matters even more. Admissions officers are trying to determine if your responsibilities have expanded over time with an employer. To be admitted by a top business school, you want your resume (and reference letters) to provide evidence that your superiors think you are management material.
Employers love deep functional knowledge and technical expertise. Admissions officers care more about breadth than depth. They are looking for evidence in your resume that you can work effectively with people from various backgrounds and rapidly adapt to the challenges that come with being catapulted into an unfamiliar setting.
Whenever possible, your resume should show that you have worked cross-functionally. Be sure to highlight a cross-section of professional experiences. Admissions officers love to see promotions, particularly when a promotion put you in a position to manage junior employees.
When applying for an MBA, you are also, in a sense, applying for the job you aspire to take once you graduate. MBA programs are ranked, in part, based on the percentage of graduates who are hired before (or very soon after) graduation. This statistic means that admissions officers are highly motivated to ensure that you will be employable upon completing your degree. The admissions committee is going to gauge your “employability”– whether your skills, knowledge, and experiences to date are a match for the industry you say you want to work in after you’ve completed your degree.
Admissions officers will read your application resume with your career goals essay in mind. For that reason, you’d be wise to feature some of the capabilities that companies in your future profession recruit for. Although admissions officers understand you are seeking an MBA precisely to gain skills you will need for your next career, they also need assurance that you have realistic career expectations. If they imagine recruiters will love your MBA application resume once it has their school’s name stamped on it, then they will love your resume too!
Top-tier MBA programs are looking for many of the same strengths and personal qualities in this year’s applicant pool. Analytical aptitude and a team-first attitude, for example, are universally prized by business schools around the globe. Nevertheless, individual schools tend to have their favorites. We call those particular attributes a school’s “fit qualities.”
In another MBA Prep School article, we discuss fit qualities at great length. In this article, we will simply say that your MBA application resume should supply evidence that you possess those traits or abilities, thereby proving to the admissions committee that you are a great fit with their institution.
Points of Difference
MBA admissions officers at the best business schools know they will run out of seats in the class before they run out of applicants. Their mission is to assemble a class of students with diverse passions, interests, and hobbies. Your mission in every element of your MBA application is to showcase how you are unique, and your resume is no exception. At MBA Prep School, we refer to these standout elements as a candidate’s “Points of Difference,” or PODs for short.
PODs capture the essence of who you are, what you’ve experienced, what you stand for, and what you can contribute to the class. They should be the things that are so core to who you are that the Admissions Committee won’t have a complete picture of you without them. PODs are so important that we wrote a brilliant article to help you discover and define your Points of Difference. You can thank us later!
Things you have created, causes you care about, and your most fascinating quirks deserve some real estate on your MBA application resume. Although corporate recruiters might not care that you are an elite-level restaurant reviewer or a published poet, admissions officers do. Once you have identified your PODs, look for opportunities to illustrate those “uniques” on your MBA application resume.
As with your essays, your MBA application resume is another way you can convince the admissions board that you have a talent for telling a compelling story in a limited amount of space. Admissions officers will appreciate a document that is well crafted, crystal clear, and engaging. Many candidates think a resume is nothing more than a boring list of facts and dates. We feel sorry for them. A resume is a chance to tell an exciting story about where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, and how you’ve made an impact. Your communication abilities will be on full display in your resume, so make sure you design and build an MBA application resume that will wow your reader.
MBA Application Sample Resume Template
Now that you have a better grasp of what admissions officers are looking for in your MBA application resume, you are ready to create your work of art. This task sounds challenging, you might be saying. It is indeed, but it beats the alternative of not knowing what your reader expects or how to begin the resume-building process.
Distilling all of your academic, professional, and personal achievements into a single page (possibly two) MBA application resume is exceptionally challenging. How do you allocate the limited space you have on a single blank page to make the maximum impact on your reader?
Download MBA Prep School’s sample resume template to guide you!
Free MBA Application Resume Template
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MBA Application Resume Building FAQs
You will also want to refer to the Frequently Asked Questions below, in which we address some common resume-writing concerns that might arise when you are drafting your resume.
What format should I use for my MBA resume?
There are no universal resume layout and style standards to follow. If the schools you are applying to post guidelines in their application instructions, you should strictly follow them. While there is no rulebook to follow, there are some general guidelines we can offer you. Your resume should be simple to read and not so crammed with information that the density overwhelms the reader. There needs to be a reasonable amount of white space on the page. Keep the font size readable and avoid fancy typefaces. MBA resumes should be in standard fonts like Arial or Times New Roman. Whatever style you choose, you must stay consistent with margins and fonts from section to section.
How long should my MBA resume be?
Unless you’ve been out of school for several years, an MBA application resume should only be one page. Distilling all of your achievements and interests to one page is not easy. Use MBA Prep School’s guidelines to help you use that page of real estate to make the most impact on the admissions committee.
How should I group information in my MBA resume?
After your name and contact information at the top of the page, your resume should have three primary sections: Professional Experience, Education, and Community Involvement are three of the most common resume sections. A header should separate each section.
Do I use complete sentences in my MBA resume?
You will rarely, if ever, write complete sentences on an MBA application resume. Instead, you’ll use bullet points — short, descriptive phrases that convey the essential elements of each achievement or experience.
What makes a good MBA resume bullet point?
Strong bullet points are specific, quantifiable, results-oriented, and action-based. Distill your bullets down to 1-2 lines as a rule of thumb, approximately 30 to 40 words. Each bullet should begin with a leadership-oriented action verb. Flat verb phrases like “responsible for” don’t describe what you did, whereas verbs like “led,” “ran,” “spearheaded,” “managed,” and “directed” are powerful, active leadership verbs. Aim to quantify the scope and scale of the project and the results you achieved– sales increased, customers won, savings delivered are all the more credible and memorable when quantified.
How many bullet points should I include in each section?
As a rule of thumb, you will want to choose anywhere from 3-5 bullets per employer.
What should the Introductory Section of my MBA resume look like?
At the top of your resume, you will place your name and contact information. Your name will typically be in a larger font and probably in boldface. After your name, it is standard to list your contact information, including your phone number, email address, and city and state. A mailing address is often left off of an MBA application resume.
Should I include an executive summary, objective, or skills list?
Some resume coaches will tell you that you should include an introductory line or two that summarizes your career objective, ideal job, or top skill sets. We recommend you delete these from your MBA Application Resume. Your objective is obvious – you want to go to business school. Skills summaries are also not necessary. Your accomplishment bullets provide evidence of your skills and capabilities. Showing what you can do in action-packed bullet points is more convincing than supplying a list of skills.
How should I list my professional information?
Your employment history and professional achievements are the heart of your resume. We recommend listing your professional experience first in your resume. List your jobs in reverse chronological order, beginning with your current position and continuing to the oldest job on your resume. Reverse chronological order emphasizes your current position, which is the most important one to MBA admissions committees. Start with the name of your most recent employer, adding your job title, the city in which you work, and the dates of that specific job title from your start date to the present. Year or month and year are usually sufficient.
Each organization you list should also have a 1-2 line description. If you have not worked for companies that are household names, a description is a must. If you’ve been promoted, you may want to group your bullet points under separate job titles to show admissions officers at a glance that your responsibilities have increased over time.
How far back should I go in listing my employment history?
You should list all the jobs you have had since college, no matter how brief. You do not want to raise any red flags by having timeline gaps in your resume. You can list high-profile college internships if you think they will impress the admissions committee or are highly relevant to your post-MBA career goals.
What degree of “bragging” is acceptable in an MBA resume?
Modesty is not a virtue when it comes to your MBA application resume. Just be sure to back up your claims with measurable results. Definitely share awards, accolades, and promotions. While it’s OK to aggressively self-promote, don’t pad your resume and never stretch the truth. Admissions officers have finely-tuned B.S. detectors, and they also have your reference letters from supervisors to sanity check the achievements you claim in your job. A single bullet point that doesn’t ring true could undermine the credibility of your entire application.
How should I list my educational background?
Your education information section should follow your employment history. As with professional experiences, your educational institutions should be in reverse chronological order. List the school’s name in boldface font and include the school’s location, the degree you received, major or concentration, and graduation year. You can also list bullets to feature any academic awards, prizes, recognitions, or scholarships. These would include making Dean’s List, Phi Beta Kappa, Honors in your major, a fellowship, or being chosen to address your graduating class.
Should I include my GPA on my resume?
If your GPA is 3.5 or above, then it is a good idea to include it. Similarly, if you come from a country that does not use the GPA system, you could note being a top-ranked graduate, ideally in a quantifiable way (e.g., Top 10% of the graduating class).
Where should I include my extracurricular activities or volunteer work?
The Community Involvement section is the place to feature leadership outside of the office. Board positions, books published, patents registered, courses at a famous cooking school, popular blogs you’ve written, appearances on television or the radio might all be fair game. Did you play a Varsity sport, manage the acapella group, or run a mentoring program for high school students in the neighboring community? Don’t mention every activity and club to which you belonged. Choose the ones that spotlight a fit quality, leadership capability, or point of difference.