In Part One of our Resume course, you'll learn that creating an effective strategic plan for your resume is key to creating a resume that will differentiate you from the competition. Until you have a clear plan of what you want your resume to communicate about you, you shouldn't start writing one.
To help you define your resume strategy, we will examine the key strategic building blocks that go into a top notch MBA resume. We will also provide examples to show you how to craft your own resume strategy.
An MBA Application resume is only as good as the candidate it represents, but it's certainly possible for an otherwise great candidate to create a mediocre resume. Believe me I've worked with some exceptional candidates over the years, but you would have never known how outstanding they were based on the resumes they initially submitted to me.
Most resume prep resources out there are were written from the point of view of creating a resume for a typical job search. What makes MBA Prep School's course different is that we've designed a resume lecture with the admissions officer in mind – we'll help you understand exactly what admission officers are looking for in an MBA application resume. The resume strategy and tactics you'll learn in this lecture are designed to move you one step closer to earning an acceptance letter at a top-tier MBA program. If you follow our step-by-step process, I believe you'll be able to create a resume that really stands out from other applicants.
So let's get started.
Every year, I see many candidates create a resume for their MBA applications at the very last minute. They focus most of their energy and time on the essays, and do a rush job on the resume with little forethought as to what they want their resume to achieve, and how it fits strategically with their overall application. This is a definite mistake. As you'll see in this course, your resume plays a very important role in a complete application strategy. I would actually argue that The MBA Application Resume is more important than it's ever been. Let me explain why.
The resume has always been a critical marketing tool for candidates to simply and clearly communicate what they've achieved and what makes them different from other applicants. But an increasing number of schools, including Stanford, Wharton, and Columbia, are now conducting blind interviews as a standard element in their admissions process. In a blind interview, your interviewer will only have your resume and will not have been permitted to read your application and essays at all. At these schools, your resume will be the sole basis for your interview; so a weak resume is likely to lead to a weak interview.
We'll talk at length about what I mean by a "weak resume," but generally speaking, a weak resume tends to list generic roles and responsibilities, and fails to highlight the qualities that MBA schools value most. A weak resume leaves the impression that the applicant did not really impact their organization in measurable ways and brands the applicant as a supporting player not a leader.
Our goal with this lecture is to teach you how to build an exceptional resume that will make the admissions committee remember you and recognize your leadership potential.
In this lecture, we will take you through the two phases of building an excellent MBA application resume: resume strategy and resume tactics.
As you'll see, formulating an effective strategic plan for your resume is key to creating a resume that will differentiate you from the competition. Until you have a clear plan of what you want your resume to communicate about you, you shouldn't start writing one. A resume can be a powerful marketing tool, and just like a Marketer, you need a marketing strategy before you can implement marketing tactics.
Unless you've been out of school for many years, a resume should only be one page. Distilling all of your achievements and interests to one page is not easy, and your resume strategy will help you decide how to best allocate that precious page real estate to make the most impact on the admissions committee.
To help you define your resume strategy, we will examine the key strategic building blocks that go into a top notch MBA resume. And we will take you through some practice exercises to help you craft your own resume strategy.
In the second half of the lecture, we'll turn to resume tactics, and you'll learn how to use your strategic building blocks to create a highly professional, strategically sound resume. We will take you through the resume, section by section, going over recommended resume styles, formatting tips and best practices developed over years of advising MBA applicants.
The first step in creating an outstanding MBA Application Resume is to get into the mindset of the people who will be judging your resume – Admissions Officers. What exactly are they looking to learn about you through your resume?
Without a doubt, the most important thing admissions officers or an admissions interviewer will be screening for is evidence of your leadership capabilities. The contents of your resume, right down to the action verbs you use in your bullet points, will all say a lot about whether you've been a leader or a follower.
Second, in addition to leadership potential, every top tier MBA program is looking for certain common qualities and skills, such as proven academic success and quantitative reasoning. We call these "valued qualities". While certain qualities are valued by every program, each school has a collection of qualities that they value most, and we'll refer to these as the school's "Fit Qualities." Your resume needs to feature these qualities in order to prove to admissions officers that you're a great fit.
Next, the Admissions officer is interested in the reputation and quality of the organizations on your resume. If you have worked at Pfizer or McKinsey, your resume building efforts are a little easier given the notoriety of these firms. If the companies you've worked for are less well-known, you need to be sure to provide a complete and compelling description of those firms
Where you've worked matters but what you've accomplished matters even more. Admissions Officers will be looking to see what exactly you have achieved, how broad your responsibilities have been, and whether or not your responsibilities have increased over the course of your career. Demonstrating that your skills span different organizational functions will give you an advantage when applying for an MBA.
Another important aspect of achieving the right mindset is to realize that an MBA application is actually, in part, a job application. When you're applying for an MBA you're applying for two jobs simultaneously:
First, there is the quote/unquote "job" of being an MBA student.
And second, the job you will take right after graduating.
An admissions officer is going to review your resume with your career goals essay in mind and ask if the skills, knowledge, and experiences on your resume support your career goals or not? How will you be viewed by recruiters in the field you want to work in?
Next, admissions officers are filling precious seats, and they know that candidates who have a variety of interests and hobbies will make for more dynamic classmates, and will enrich their MBA community. Showcasing some of the things that make you a unique individual outside of office hours is definitely a good idea.
Last, always keep in mind that the design and quality of your resume is a reflection on you. The Admissions officer will be looking to see if your resume is clear, error free, consistent in style, and logically written. Strong business people are excellent communicators. If your resume is confusing or inconsistent or sloppy, prepare to be dinged.
Now that we've helped you get into the mind of the Admissions Committee members who will be reading your resume, we are going to show you five strategic resume building blocks, that you can use to craft a resume that will be an asset to your candidacy.
On this slide I've listed five strategic resume building blocks. You can think of them as key strategic inputs for your resume. They are: Valued Qualities, Leadership Capabilities, Functional Expertise, Points of Difference, and Career Readiness.
The first strategic building block, which is highlighted in red, is what we call "Valued Qualities". Theses are qualities and attributes that all MBA schools tend to value universally.
These valued qualities, which are listed on the left-hand side of your screen, include qualities like leadership, analytical intelligence, and self-awareness. The point is that these are qualities you must feature in your resume to one degree or another if you want to be admitted into a top tier program.
You can't just cut and pasted this list into your resume and think that'll do the trick. Just like great essays you have to showcase the qualities through the achievements and accomplishments you include in your resume.
But as we discussed on the last slide, proving you possess these valued qualities may not be sufficient. Each school has certain qualities that they feel set their student body apart from other programs—these might be called Admissions Criteria on a school's website; we call them "Fit Qualities" . If you want to truly impress admission officers, it's your responsibility to play detective for each school you're targeting, build a list of each school's Fit Qualities, and tailor your resume for that school's application so that it proves you possess that school's fit qualities. On the right side of this slide, you'll and see some examples of Fit Qualities for a few top tier programs.
Harvard's admissions website states they are looking for a habit of leadership, and HBS tends to choose leaders over quant jocks and will be searching your resume for evidence that your "Leadership Gene" expressed itself early on.
Similarly, some research on Stanford reveals that Stanford values a quality they call "Intellectual Vitality" which is a combination of collaborative nature, analytical and emotional intelligence.
INSEAD prides itself on having over 70 nationalities represented in each class, and favors candidates who demonstrate strong international awareness. If you are going to apply to INSEAD, your resume bullets had better include compelling examples of international work, travel, or research.
MIT Sloan values "Drive." And so on…
So your assignment for our first strategic building block is to study our list of valued qualities and compose your own list of fit qualities--- you'll need to have this in list in hand in the second part of this lecture when we help you construct your resume.
Leadership is such an important Fit Quality for all the top tier MBA programs, that we decided it deserves to be it's own Strategic Resume Building Block.
Leadership can be defined as the ability to rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal.
Although people sometimes refer to leadership as a single quality or capability, there are actually many different qualities that make-up leadership. To help you identify your own leadership capabilities we've created a dictionary of over 30 separate leadership capabilities. Such as:
--Leading by example.
--and Identifying and Managing Risk.
You'll find this dictionary in the self-study materials area for this course, and I've pasted an image of one of the pages from the dictionary on the next slide.
In Part 2 of this lecture, you'll brainstorm a list of your achievements for all your jobs, and you'll examine that list of achievements through the prism of these leadership capabilities. Since leadership is so important, your homework before we start Part 2, is to study this dictionary and begin to identify the leadership capabilities from the dictionary that you feel are your absolute strongest. Your resume must provide examples of your core leadership capabilities in action.
The third strategic building block for your MBA resume is functional expertise. To the extent possible you want your resume to demonstrate that your business skills and knowledge cut across organizational lines.
Some business jobs offer a an opportunity to build cross-functional expertise. Management consultants, brand managers, private equity associates and general operating managers need to draw on broad skills in order to excel. Other jobs, say, advertising account executives or software engineers, may have a more limited range of functional experience. If you're in one of those jobs, that just means you need to highlight the times when you did draw on skills outside of your primary discipline – even if it isn't in your day-to-day job. For example, an advertising account executive I worked with did some financial planning for his family business and included this experience in the other activities section of his resume.
Whatever your job function, your resume should show functional breadth. We've put a template in your self-study materials to help you to think through your cross-functional skills and experiences. Let's take a look at how one of my clients, a marketing manager at a software firm, filled out this Functional Expertise template.
Clearly, most of his expertise was in the marketing function, but upon thinking about it he realized that he'd worked extensively with the sales team—leading sales training on new product releases, managing partnership requests from resellers and distributors, and designing product sell sheets. He also had certain financial responsibilities in his role as a manager---like building P&Ls for his products and managing departmental budgets. Lastly, he was often called upon to help his peers in product management set priorities for future releases and carried out competitive analysis.
To demonstrate that you're ready for a top tier MBA program you need to show the admissions committee that you have strengths that extend beyond your primary discipline. If you haven't yet expanded your functional expertise, push for projects at work that expose you to other areas of the company, take a college course in a new area, or volunteer for a project outside of work that will require you to venture out of your functional comfort zone.
In your course self-study materials, you can download a full list of these areas of functional expertise. How many of these can you credibly talk about on your resume? Compile your own list by job, just like this candidate has. You will use your list later when we build your MBA resume.
The fourth critical building block for your resume are your points of difference or PODS for short.
Some of you may already be aware of the term "differentiation" in the context of marketing or corporate strategy. Simply put, differentiation is the collection of positive ways in which a company's product or service differs from its competitors. Similarly, in your resume you want to share the positive ways in which you are different to the many thousands of applicants you're competing with.
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 important, so core to who are you are, that without them the admissions committee won't have a complete picture of who you are.
An example might help you better understand this resume building block:
One of my private admissions clients grew up in Canada on a farm. It turns out he had won a Cow Show – like a dog show but for cows. His Holstein heifers had been awarded "Best in Show." Now you may be saying to yourself why on earth mention Holstein cows on a business school resume?
My client was thinking the same way and was hesitant to showcase this somewhat peculiar element of his back ground. But, as I told him, the Admissions Committee really appreciate hearing about unique interests and expertise. And who else could tell this particular story but him?
After thinking about it, he had to admit his Holstein Heifer expertise had paid off at work -- he had convinced his boss at a private equity firm to invest some money in a small company that bred these types of cows. He ended up including this point of difference on his resume and writing an interesting essay about convincing his superiors to trust his expertise and make an investment. Well, he got into both Harvard and Stanford. Was it the cows? Of course not. But the Cows may have been a tipping point – [Pun Intended!]
On the slide you'll see Points of Difference categories that are intended to help you come up with a list of your own PODS.
Using these categories for brainstorming my clients have come up with a number of different points of difference including winning an employee spirit award, creating a T-Shirt business in college, and volunteering for a cancer awareness organization.
The point is that you should mention points of difference that are significant, have led to leadership roles, and have been a constant part of your life.
For example, putting on your resume that you can program in C++ isn't going to set you apart. But if you programming at the age of 8, and later redesigned the programming infrastructure for your company you have a great point of difference for your resume.
Your list of PODS will supply you with a number different options for impressing admissions officer with the breadth and unique nature of your interests and talents.
We've reached our last strategic building block. As we mentioned before, in your essays and during your interviews, you will be asked in detail about your future career plans—both upon graduation and longer term. Your post MBA plans are of particular importance to MBA Admissions Officers. When it comes to your resume, what you are planning to do immediately after your MBA becomes very relevant to an admissions officer.
Why is that? Well, MBA programs are ranked in part based on the percentage of graduates who get jobs after graduation. So schools are keen to know what you plan to do, and if that goal follows from your experiences and skill sets. Bottom line your employability matters to admissions officers, and candidates who have unrealistic career aspirations are for the most part filtered out in the admissions process. An admissions officer is going to be looking at your resume and career goals essay, side by side, to determine how realistic your Post-MBA Career plans might be.
To make this point about career readiness more clear, if you are going to talk about wanting to work as a Strategy Consultant at Bain or BCG after your MBA, you will want to showcase skills on your resume that prove you are up to the job --- bullets about carrying out market sizing studies, industry research, pro forma modeling, SWOT analysis, and other typical consulting activities. If your resume doesn't seem to fit the management consulting profile, admissions officers will wonder if your career goals are realistic.
The question admissions officers will be asking themselves is "Will your resume impress post-MBA recruiters?" It's your job to make sure the answer is a resounding yes. It's our job to show you how to achieve that with the next exercise.
So how can you make sure admissions committees decide that your post-MBA career plans and, for that matter, longer term aspirations are within reach? It's at this point that all of your strategic building blocks start to come together.
As an example, I had a client who wanted to work in Venture Capital after graduation. Through career research, she identified the leadership capabilities and functional expertise that a VC associate would need to succeed. You can see those listed on this slide.
In terms of leadership capabilities, successful VCs are strong in analytical decision making, they need to influence others up the chain in order for investments to be made, and they need to be innovative and creative in order to see where industries and technologies are going.
And with respect to functional expertise, VCs need to be strong in financial modeling, general financing structures for start ups, negotiations, and strategic marketing as they sit on the Board of their ventures and help steer the ship during market entry and penetration.
Her next step was to think strategically about how she could use her resume to highlight those skills and capabilities.
Your assignment before starting Part 2 of the lecture is to think about your post MBA desired job and make a list of the common leadership capabilities and functional skills one would expect to see in that type of position. You will use this list to ensure that your MBA resume proves you are ready for this career path.
Well, our strategy discussion is finished. Once you've completed the assignments and exercises from this lecture, proceed onto part 2, where we will cover resume tactics and show you how to build your resume section by section, and bullet and bullet.
As you're completing theses exercises, remember that MBA Prep School offers one-on-one private tutorials with me or another experienced MBA admissions consultants, to help you develop your resume strategy and craft your resume.
I'll see you in the next lecture.
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Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes
Reference: Leadership Capabilities Dictionary
Tool: Functional Skills Template
Functional Expertise Areas