Your resume can be a powerful marketing tool to differentiate you from the competition. Now that you understand what admissions committees are looking for in your resume, we will show you how to translate the output from the Discover Your Strengths MBA Prep Step™ into the building blocks for an outstanding resume.
Until you have a clear plan of what you want your resume to communicate about you, you shouldn’t start writing one. Distilling all of your academic, professional, and personal achievements into a single page (possibly two) is far from easy. Only through careful planning will you be able to decide how to best allocate that precious page real estate for maximum impact.
Your resume serves as an executive summary of your most significant personal and professional achievements. Those achievements provide admissions officers with important evidence of:
- General Management Potential
- Career Readiness
In the discussion that follows, we will help show you how to utilize the self-assessment work you have done thus far and to gather the Content Building Blocks for a resume that will impress admissions officers.
Evidence of General Management Potential
Traditionally, the purpose of a resume is to provide evidence that you are better qualified for a job than other candidates. Broadly speaking, your MBA application resume must provide evidence that you are better qualified for a successful career as a general manager than the other candidates who are applying.
To prove you have general management potential, your resume must persuade admissions officers that your business skills and knowledge cut across organizational lines.
Some pre-MBA jobs offer ample opportunity to build this cross-functional expertise. Management consultants, brand managers, and junior managers must draw on broad skills in order to excel. Advertising account executives, software engineers, and similar professions afford fewer natural opportunities to exercise cross-functional skills. If your position falls in the latter category, we strongly recommend that you take proactive steps to bolster this aspect of your resume – push for projects at work that expose you to other areas of the company, take a college course in a new discipline, or volunteer for a project outside of the office that will require you to venture out of your functional comfort zone.
Your general management potential is also evidenced by the progress you have made in your career. Admissions officers will want to see evidence of promotions, especially promotions that led to increased management responsibilities. In the Discover Your Career Story MBA Prep Step, you identified the major phases or chapters in your career. A promotion is a clear dividing line between chapters, but so is being assigned expanded responsibility by your superiors. Be sure to make your career progression and growth in responsibilities clearly evident in your resume.
Case Study: Evidence of General Management Potential – Roger
Roger, a marketing analyst that we worked with, was proactive about acquiring skills outside the marketing arena. He volunteered to lead sales training on a new product release, requiring him to spend six weeks shadowing members of the sales team. He also stepped up to help his manager forecast P&Ls for their products and helped to manage the departmental budget. Lastly, he was happy to lend a hand when his peers in product management asked for competitive analysis research. Consequently, Roger had plenty of evidence to feature in his resume that his skills and knowledge extended well beyond the marketing arena.
Exercise: Career Story and the Resume
The Career Story you wrote in Unit 2.3 includes the skills and knowledge you have acquired, the challenges you have faced, the milestones you have reached, and what you’ve achieved professionally. Your resume will serve as an executive summary of that Career Story. Your assignment now is to re-read your Career Story to ensure that your professional achievements and cross-functional skills are top of mind when you start building your resume.
In the next unit, we will show you how to select the professional achievements from your Career Story that best demonstrate your general management potential. Your resume should show admissions officers that you are no longer just a team member and have assumed some degree of team leadership responsibility. The most recent achievements on your resume should indicate that you have been recognized by your superiors as a top-performer and entrusted with increasing management-level responsibilities over time.
Evidence of Career Readiness
The second purpose your resume must serve is to prove that your career goals are realistic and achievable. In Module 3, the Define Your Career Goals section, you created a forward-looking Career Capabilities Inventory to determine what assets you already possess and which ones you will need to acquire in the future to succeed in the career path you plan to follow.
Remember that MBA programs are ranked, in part, based on the percentage of graduates who get jobs after graduation; therefore, admissions officers are motivated to ensure that you would be a competitive candidate for the career you tell them you want to pursue. With your resume and Career Goals Essay in front of them, admissions officers will engage in a similar accounting exercise. As such, you must offer evidence in your resume that you have the Career Capabilities you need to succeed, especially in the job you tell them you plan to target upon graduating.
Case Study: Career Readiness for Strategy Consulting
To illustrate that point, a candidate who writes in her application that she wants to work as a strategy consultant after completing her MBA will need to provide evidence on her resume that she has many of the Career Capabilities necessary to excel in this job. Her resume should provide evidence of the market sizing studies, industry research, pro forma modeling, SWOT analysis, and other consulting-oriented work she has done in her career thus far. Her primary goal is to convince admissions officers that she already has many of the assets she needs for this career and that she will be an appealing recruit for strategy consulting firms upon graduation.
Exercise: Career Capabilities Inventory and the Resume
The Career Capabilities Inventory you completed in the Define Your Career Goals MBA Prep Step™ is the perfect guide for ensuring that your resume features the Career Capabilities that evidence your career readiness. In your inventory, you identified the skills, knowledge, and leadership capabilities that you already possess, which will be valuable in your future career. Your assignment now is to ensure that your resume clearly communicates your career readiness – evidence that you possess the capabilities required for success.
Case Study: Evidence of Career Readiness – Jason
Remember, Jason the management consultant who aspired to work in venture capital in Australia after completing his MBA? We have reproduced his Career Capabilities Inventory in the table below.
Table 8: Jason’s Career Capabilities Inventory
When crafting his resume, Jason will be sure to supply evidence of his career readiness by featuring his analytical decision-making abilities, financial modeling, and negotiation techniques. By doing so, he will convince admissions officers that the dots connect between his current assets and his future aspirations.
Evidence of Leadership
In the Discover Your Strengths MBA Prep Step™, you assembled your Leadership Portfolio, the collection of leadership achievements and experiences that are indicative of your greatest leadership strengths.
Hopefully, you are well aware by now that top-tier MBA programs prize leadership capabilities above almost all others. Your resume is one of the tools in your application to supply the admissions committee with ample evidence of your leadership strengths and leadership potential. Given the space limitations of a resume, you will only be able to summarize the key leadership stories in your Leadership Portfolio; nevertheless, you should endeavor to include as many of your top leadership stories as possible.
Evidence of leadership includes the times, both inside and outside of work, that you:
- Coordinated efforts to solve a long-standing problem faced by your organization
- Persuaded your colleagues to follow you in a new direction
- Helped others work together more effectively
- Assembled and led a high performing team that achieved something significant
- Mentored and taught others, thereby enabling them to succeed
Example: Evidence of Leadership in Action
As with the previous resume building blocks we discussed, making claims is insufficient, you must provide evidence of your leadership in action. Stacking your resume with leadership action verbs is akin to making an empty claim.
Weak: “Led a fundraising campaign for Literacy Now”
While it is good to highlight a leadership position you held, it is much more powerful to provide some detail that will help admissions officers to understand the leadership challenge you faced, who you led, and what you achieved.
Stronger: “Led a fundraising team of fifteen volunteers, raising $25,000 in cash and product donations for Literacy Now’s annual gala”
Exercise: Leadership Portfolio and the Resume
Return to the Leadership Portfolio you assembled in the Discover Your Leadership Capabilities MBA Prep Step™ and choose the key leadership stories you want to summarize in your MBA Application Resume.
Evidence of Fit
In the last unit’s exercise you identified Fit Qualities for the schools you are applying to. In addition to providing evidence in your resume of the general qualities MBA programs value, such as academic capacity, analytical intelligence, and creativity, you should endeavor to tailor your resume on a school-by-school basis to feature that school’s Fit Qualities, thereby providing evidence that you fit.
To be clear, you cannot simply cut and paste a series of Fit Qualities buzzwords into your resume and assume you have proven to admissions officers that you are a great fit.
Wrong: “Emotionally, intelligent, innovative leader with a global view-point.”
As with effective essays, an outstanding resume showcases the qualities you possess through your personal achievements and accomplishments featured in your resume.
Case Study: Evidence of Fit Qualities – Haas
In the previous unit, we learned that Haas is looking for “innovative leaders” and that “innovative leadership” is a Hass fit quality. The wrong approach is to pepper your resume with innovation, innovate, innovative buzzwords. That would be transparent and ineffective. Instead, if you are applying to Haas, you should feature achievements in your resume that show your innovative leadership in action:
Example: “Conceived and implemented a new process to identify the fastest-growing education software sectors and systematically allocate R&D spending to those sectors, increasing return on investment in new product development by 50%”
Bullet points that provide evidence of your Fit Qualities in action are many times more powerful than loading your resume up with buzzwords. You cannot simply claim that you possess the school’s Fit Qualities; you must show admissions officers that you do by providing evidence in your resume of achievements that demonstrate those treasured qualities.
Exercise: Fit Qualities and the Resume
You need to use your operating definitions of the Fit Qualities to search for and identify achievements to include in your resume that will prove to the admissions officers that you possess the qualities that they value most.
Searching for achievements that demonstrate Fit Qualities is a little like searching for information on the web; the operating definitions of the Fit Qualities are your “search terms.”
Picking up on the Haas example above, if you were applying to Haas, you would want to search for achievements for your resume that will display “innovative leadership.”
Haas defines the innovative leader as “an individual who drives growth by putting new ideas into action in every corner and every function of his or her organization, and who does so responsibly. Leaders of this kind define what’s next, for our markets and for our societies.”
To gather evidence that you fit at Haas, you would ask yourself:
“When have I been an innovative leader in the past? When have I…
…put new ideas into action?
…driven growth for my organization?
…defined the next step for my organization?
Your assignment is to develop search terms for the Fit Qualities and start “brain-searching” for achievement for your resume that will demonstrate those qualities. You will guide your imagination and memory with the Fit Quality search terms you develop.
Evidence of Difference
In the exercises in our unit entitled Discover Your Points of Difference, you developed a better understanding of how you are different from other applicants. You were asked to identify your top five Points of Difference across eleven categories:
- Important Life Experiences
- Significant Personal Achievements
- Cross-Cultural Experiences
- Things You’ve Started
- Things You Have Created
- Passions and Interests
- Honors and Awards
- Causes/Communities You Care About
- Friends in High Places
Your top five PODs are an excellent set of Content Building Blocks for your resume. Use your resume to highlight the positive ways in which you are different from the many thousands of applicants with which you are competing.
Case Study: Points of Difference – Gabriel
One of our MBA Prep School students, Gabriel, grew up in Canada on a dairy farm. In college, his Holstein had been awarded “Best in Show” in a Cow Show – like a dog show but for cows. Now you may be wondering why on earth Gabriel wanted to include raising a prize cow on a business school resume? He was thinking the same way and was hesitant to showcase this rather peculiar element of his background. But we convinced him that this unique interest and expertise would differentiate him from other applicants. Who else but him could tell this particular story?
Gabriel ended up including this Point of Difference on his resume and went on to write an interesting essay about convincing his superiors at the private equity shop where he worked to trust his expertise in dairy farming and make an investment in a dairy concern. Gabriel was later accepted to two top-ten programs. Was it just because of the cows? Of course not! But the cows just might have been a tipping point!
Exercise: Points of Difference and the Resume
Review your top five PODs and identify places that you can weave them into the professional, academic, or extracurricular areas of your resume.
Unit Review: Formulate Your Resume Strategy
- Admissions officers are looking for leadership, fit qualities, employer reputation, career progress, connection to career goals, and diverse backgrounds and interests when they review your MBA application resume.
- Your resume must represent your potential for general management and future leadership.
- A resume must convince admissions officers that the dots connect between your Career Capabilities and career aspirations.
- You should endeavor to include as many of your best leadership stories as possible in your resume.
- Evidence of your Fit Qualities in action are many times more powerful than peppering your resume with Fit Quality buzzwords.