In the last unit, you learned what admissions officers are looking for in an outstanding resume and assembled the evidence that you will communicate via your resume. You probably have two or more pages of possible Content Building Blocks to work with. Now, you need to choose which of these Building Blocks to include in your resume and then create your resume document.
Figure 19: From Building Blocks to Creating Your MBA Resume
Choose Your Resume Building Blocks
As you learned in the previous unit, a resume is a multi-faceted document that serves a number of purposes. It must supply evidence of:
- General Management Potential
- Career Readiness
You might think of your resume as an entry form in a competition, and the person who is the most accomplished in the ways the judge cares about is going to win that competition. With that in mind, there is no room for modesty and little room on the resume for the times you took second place or simply earned a check mark for doing your job. Your resume needs to feature the most impressive evidence that you have to offer.
Unfortunately, unless you have been out of school for more than three or four years the expectation (and sometimes the application requirement) is that you will only submit a one-page resume. Therefore, you will need to make some difficult choices about which Content Building Blocks to feature; moreover, you will need to be extremely concise in your presentation of the content you opt to include.
To choose your Content Building Blocks, you need to analyze each element of the evidence and choose the achievements that pack the most punch.
Case Study: Mark’s Resume Building Blocks
Mark, a junior brand manager for a Fortune 100 consumer package goods company in Europe, assembled his Content Building Blocks including those in the table below:
Mark analyzed each of his potential Building Blocks one-by-one and “tagged” the ones that he felt would provide the most compelling evidence for his application resume.
For example, as a brand manager in Europe he had “Launched an alcohol-free baby cologne” and reasoned that this experience would provide great evidence of his general management potential.
He had to draw on cross-functional expertise in product development, pricing analysis, and retail strategy.
Mark’s career goal post-MBA was to become Director of Business Development for an internet company, and he decided that the new product launch demonstrated his career readiness because on this project he exercised skills such as negotiation, competitive analysis and contract drafting – capabilities he would definitely need in a future business development role.
The product launch would also display Mark’s leadership potential. He had to adapt to new situations and harness the energy of a large team of people in order to create the new product and bring it to market.
Next, Mark had already discovered that Columbia, one of the schools he was applying to, had entrepreneurial abilities and a global perspective as Fit Qualities. Mark was an American citizen working abroad and launching a new product in Europe was certainly both entrepreneurial and global in nature. To succeed in this endeavor, he had to understand overseas markets and consumers and to manage people from other cultures.
Finally, rounding out his analysis, Mark predicted that there would not be many candidates who had launched a product in Europe for a multinational packaged goods company, so this achievement would also provide a Point of Difference to his candidacy.
Table 9: Analyzing the Strength of Each Achievement
As you can see from Mark’s analysis, this achievement is especially effective in providing evidence to support his candidacy. There is little doubt that this professional achievement should be one of the achievements that he spotlights in the Professional Experience section of his resume.
Exercise: Choose Your Resume Building Blocks
Analyze your collection of Content Build Blocks and choose the ones that will best support your:
– General Management Potential
– Career Readiness
Once you complete your analysis and choose your most powerful Resume Building Blocks, you will be ready to create your resume. You will have everything you need to craft a resume that provides admissions officers with persuasive evidence of your general management potential, career readiness, leadership, fit, and difference.
In the rest of this unit, we will introduce best practices for crafting your MBA application resume.
Create Your Resume
A well-conceived, well-constructed bullet point is the secret weapon of an MBA application resume. For those of you who are not familiar with bullet points, we should make it clear that on a resume you will rarely, if ever, write complete sentences. Instead, you will use short, descriptive phrases that convey the essential elements of an achievement or experience. These are referred to as bullet points.
As you will see, writing great bullet points is something of an art form, so let’s begin by introducing the “art” of the bullet point.
The Art of the Bullet Point
Begin your bullets with active/leadership verbs
Each bullet should begin with an action verb. When possible that action verb should be leadership-oriented. Verbs like led, ran, spearheaded, managed, and directed are all powerful and active leadership verbs. Avoid repeating the same verb within the same job title section or overusing a particular verb in your resume. Repetition might be viewed as laziness, a lack of creativity, or a weakness in your communication skills.
Distill your bullets down to 1-2 lines
Distill your bullets down to 1-2 lines as a rule of thumb, approximately 30 to 40 words. Remember that admissions officers are looking at hundreds of resumes a week. You need to get to the point and you need to ensure that every single point on your resume makes an impact. To achieve concise, pithy bullets, you will need to devote a number of sessions to editing and re-editing your resume bullet points until every single one hits the target.
Specificity is key
When creating and editing your bullet points, specificity is key. You should include specific names and numbers whenever possible. If you worked on a banking transaction, how big was it, and can you list the companies involved? If you led a cross-functional team, how many people participated in the effort, and over how long a period? MBA admissions officers are not interested in generalities and empty claims on a resume. Specifics will engage your readers and are always more convincing. Vague descriptions of an achievement won’t just bore your reader; they may wonder if you really accomplished what you are claiming.
Results, Results, Results
Every bullet point should summarize the results you achieved. Think about how you feel when you read a story without an ending. A bullet point without an ending is not any better. Admissions officers want to know how things turned out. This all comes back to providing evidence that you are a leader. Leaders move the needle. They get things done and make a tangible difference that can be observed and measured. Therefore, you must show how you delivered results.
Quantify, Quantify, Quantify
Quantify your results. If the impact can’t be measured, can you really claim an impact? If you were in charge of building strategic alliances, how many partners did you sign up and how much revenue was generated from the alliance relationships? If you presented a customer segmentation strategy, was the strategy approved and implemented? How much incremental profit was generated? If you designed an online customer satisfaction survey, how much did the resulting recommendations improve customer satisfaction? Specific results that have been quantified are absolutely critical to making your resume complete and compelling.
Don’t brag but don’t be modest either
MBA Prep School students often ask me, “What degree of self-promotion is acceptable in a resume?” Our answer is that modesty is not a virtue when it comes to resumes. Give your team credit when it’s due but don’t be afraid to trumpet your successes too – that’s actually the point of a resume. Just remember to back up your claims with quantifiable results. Definitely share awards, accolades and promotions. Those are the things admissions committees expect to see from applicants who have distinguished themselves as leaders early in their careers.
One final note, while it’s OK to aggressively self-promote, never pad your resume and don’t stretch the truth. You should be aware that an increasing number of schools are employing agencies to verify the validity of your application resume and essays. You must be 100% accurate about employment dates, promotions and any quantification of the results you achieved. 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. If you are a young analyst at an investment bank, nobody is going to believe that you alone saved a deal or single-handedly led your firm to market leadership. A single bullet point that doesn’t ring true could undermine the credibility of your entire application and your future career. Your reputation is everything, so guard it aggressively.
Structure, Style, and Formatting
Our next series of resume best practices focus on the overall aesthetic design and layout of your resume. We will share some guidelines on structure, style, and formatting, and then proceed to some tips for crafting each section of your resume.
Limit to One Page
We believe resumes should be one page in length. Given that the average age of entering MBA students is 27-28, one page should be sufficient space to summarize both your most significant accomplishments and any Points of Difference you feel are important. Keeping your resume to one page displays that you understand “quality over quantity” and that you are a skilled communicator. The reason we spent so much time on Resume Strategy is to help you focus your resume on the evidence that will make the greatest impact on admissions committees.
There is no universal format
In terms of resume layout and style, there are no universal standards to follow. If the schools you are applying to post guidelines in their application instructions then you should follow them exactly. If no guidelines are provided you are free to use any style you like. Some applicants follow the resume guidelines that the school provides to current students. It may be possible to access a copy of the school’s resume books for current students online. Turning in a resume that fits a school’s published style is a great way to send the subtle message that you fit with the program and are dedicated to becoming a student.
Simple, easy to read, visually consistent
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 is overwhelming for the reader. There needs to be a reasonable amount of white space on the page. If your resume is densely packed and the font size is so small that the admissions officer needs a magnifying glass to read it, then chances are they probably will not read it. Also, stay consistent with margins and fonts from section to section.
Avoid unusual fonts, graphics, and layout designs
MBA resumes should be in standard fonts like Arial or Times New Roman. Some candidates have used more modern fonts like Calibri or Helvetica, which are still conservative and generally accepted. If you love Old Gothic, we recommend that you save it for your personal emails. In addition, avoid using any graphics or icons. You are applying for an MBA, not a Master in Fine Arts.
Resume structure, style, and formatting are very important. You don’t want to undermine all the hard work you have done on your resume strategy by turning in a resume that is sloppy or too dense. The look of your resume makes an impression and style does count.
Sections of the Resume
Sections of the Resume: Header/Introductory Information
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 bold face. After your name, it is standard to list your contact information including your address, phone number and an email address.
Contact information should be straightforward
Include only your permanent address, phone numbers and email address. Don’t leave an admissions officer wondering which number to reach you on or where to send your acceptance letter. Nobody cares if in addition to California, you can also be reached in Aspen. In fact, that sort of thing might appear pretentious and work against you.
Avoid executive summaries and objectives statements
Some resume coaches will tell you that you should include an introductory line or two that summarizes your career objective, your ideal job, or your top skill sets. Our recommendation is that these introductory statements are not needed in an MBA Application Resume. Your objective is obvious – you want to go to business school.
Avoid qualities and skills lists
Skills summaries are also not necessary. Your accomplishment bullets are the evidence of your skills and capabilities. They must provide evidence that you possess the skills; telling admissions officers what skills you have is not convincing.
Sections of the Resume: Professional Experience
Your employment history and professional achievements are the heart of your resume. We recommend listing your professional experience first in your resume and then your academic history.
Separate each section of your resume with a header
Each section of your resume needs a header, so start your employment section with the title “Professional Experience”.
Summarize the pertinent details of the company and your position first
After the section heading, you will list your jobs in reverse order, beginning with your current position and continuing to the oldest job on your resume. Reverse chronological order puts emphasis on your current position, which is the most important one.
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 present. Year or month and year are usually sufficient. Do this for each employer.
Include a company description for each employer
Each organization you list, whether a public company, a private enterprise, or a non-profit, should also have a 1-2 line description. This is especially critical if you have not worked for companies that are household names. Put some effort into describing the firm accurately and specifically.
Group achievements by job title
If you have been promoted inside the firm, we recommend you group your bullet points under the relevant job title, listing your current title first. Organizing the section for each employer in this way will allow admissions officers to see quickly that you have been promoted and will highlight that your responsibilities have increased over time.
Write 3-5 bullet points per position
As a rule of thumb, you will want to choose anywhere from 3-5 bullets per position. Refer back to your analysis of your achievements to choose the bullet points that best convey your strategic messages.
Don’t leave any gaps in your employment history
You should list all the jobs you have had since college, no matter how brief. You certainly do not want to raise any red flags by having timeline gaps in your resume.
Include only high-profile internships
As a general rule, we advise our students that it’s not necessary to list jobs they held in college or before unless they held a high-profile internship. The other reason for including an internship would be if it is relevant to your future career goals and/or supports your career readiness claims.
Sections of the Resume: Education
Your educational history is extremely important to admissions officers, and your resume is a chance to highlight your academic achievements and leadership experiences as a student.
This section should be labeled with a simple header: “Education”.
List your schools and degrees from most recent to oldest
As with professional experiences, your educational institutions should be in reverse chronological order. List the name of the school in bold face font and include the location of the school, the degree you were awarded, your major or concentration, and the year of graduation.
Include academic awards, prizes and GPA if noteworthy
You can also include bullets to feature any academic awards, prizes, recognitions or scholarships. These would include things like making the dean’s list, Phi Beta Kappa, honors in your major, a Watson Fellowship, or being chosen to address your graduating class.
We are often asked about listing GPAs on a 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. If possible quantify this with a percentage (e.g., Top 10% of the graduating class).
Under “Activities” list extracurricular activity leadership and achievements
Last, if you have any college activities that are worth noting, we suggest you list them under the heading of “Activities.”
It is not advisable to mention every activity and club to which you belonged. Mention activities that will trigger an interesting interview discussion or provide important evidence that you want to communicate of a fit quality, leadership capability, or point of difference.
Study abroad is also appealing to admissions officers because exposure to different cultures is seen as an asset.
Sections of the Resume: Leadership and Other Involvement
The final section of your MBA resume captures other significant experiences, skills and interests that have not been covered elsewhere. You can group these under the heading “Leadership and Other Involvement”.
Showcase significant activities and Points of Difference
This section can include major community service involvement and leadership outside of the office. Bullets might include board positions, books published, patents registered, courses at a famous cooking school, popular blogs you’ve written, appearances on television or the radio, and so on.
The test of whether or not to list an activity in this section is whether or not it would make for a great discussion in an MBA interview or the content for an interesting essay.
Only include this section if you have 3 or more bullet points
If you only have one relevant activity to share, it’s best not to create an entire section for that one activity. Putting a section called Leadership and Other Involvement that has only one bullet point clearly sends the wrong message.
An alternative to creating a new section would be to end the resume with a single line called “Personal” or “Interests”. On this line you could list this a few interests, activities, and languages spoken.
Unit Review: Create Your Resume
- Unless you have been out of school for a number of years, you should keep your resume to a single page.
- Identify the achievements that supply the most persuasive evidence of your general management potential, career readiness, leadership, fit, and difference.
- A well-conceived, well-constructed bullet point is the secret weapon of an MBA application resume.
- Perfect the structure, style, spelling, punctuation, and formatting so that your resume is a sparkling representation of you.
- Group your bullet points under the relevant job title to allow admissions officers to see that you have progressed in your career.
- Only include your GPA on your resume if it is 3.5 or higher.
- Showcase Points of Difference and leadership outside of work in its own section of the resume.