Your resume is often the first impression you’ll give the MBA admissions committee, so don’t make it the afterthought. A deathly (and common) mistake is to reduce it to a laundry list of job titles, dates, qualifications, and places – what you did, rather than why you’re a rock star. Instead, your MBA resume should deliver a concise overview of what you’ve accomplished that sets the stage for the rest of your application, and – hopefully – for your future admissions interview. As you get started, it’s vital to keep in mind your new target audience – the MBA admissions committee at your top schools – which is distinctly different than potential employers.
In my current role at Fortuna Admissions and as a former Wharton career coach, I’ve helped hundreds of future business leaders identify and shape profiles to their best advantage. So how can you best prioritize your experience and attributes, and convey the key qualities, that speak to your future potential?
First, know that admissions reviewers scan hundreds (if not thousands) of applications in a given cycle. They know what an Associate, Analyst or Consultant does on a daily basis, and odds are good that there’s someone applying to your target school with the exact same job title as you. (Especially if you work in tech, consulting or finance.)
This means your resume must be laser-focused on showing exactly why you’re better at your job than someone else with a similar profile or identical job. Readers will know you do more than what’s on a one-pager, so standing out is about lifting up key, impactful examples, as well as avoiding general descriptions that might apply to the person next to you at work. It’s not a lot of real estate to impress, so every detail counts.
So how will your MBA resume make a statement in a less-than-two-minute scan?
Here are my top five tips for making your MBA resume stand out, with before/after examples:
- Invest in your extracurriculars section.
Your MBA resume should highlight personal achievements, extracurriculars, and volunteer work more than your standard resume. Why? Business schools are looking for active contributors to the community and this is a key place to set yourself apart. As my Fortuna colleague Heidi Hillis puts it in her article, Positioning Extracurriculars On Your MBA Application, “What you do in your free time (what little you might have of it) is as interesting and important to the admissions committee as what you do at work, because it sends a signal about the kind of student and alum you’ll be.” Consider how you can distinguish yourself and show that you work hard and achieve goals outside of the office or classroom. Consider, for example, the person who identifies as:
- Traveler, runner, cooking aficionado
- Self-taught coder
- Vice President of Women in Business
(Yep, you and everyone else. Don’t waste an opportunity to be memorable to your reader – even one stellar achievement is better than a generic list of hobbies.)
- Travel to 23 countries on three continents; Ran the New York Marathon (2015); Volunteer twice a month making meals at the local soup kitchen
- as Vice President of Women in Business, secured over $25K corporate sponsorship for funding events, scholarships and investments for the largest student organization at the university
- 1st place winner at 3 hackathons 2014-2015, totaling $15,000 in prizes
- Quantify your results.
If results are difficult to quantify, use numbers to show the scope of your work, the size of your clients – anything you can to demonstrate impact and outcomes. Things such as the number of people involved, budget amounts, number of visitors to your website, monetary value to the firm of your client – these types of metrics strengthen your resume by demonstrating impact. Even descriptive values and numbers give a visual impression of analytical ability. For example:
- Project managing a cybersecurity project
- Conducted internal training classes to adopt new CRM software
- Completed interviews with senior and mid-management of major corporations, synthesized findings and suggested improvement opportunities
(You did this work because it was how you got paid, but did it matter and did you do them well?)
- Project managing a cybersecurity benchmarking project worth ~$400K/yr, covering 30 leading higher education institutions across the US
- Conducted internal training classes for over 250 new hires to adopt new CRM software; oversaw $20k training budget for new CRM system estimated to save the company over 45 hrs/wk
- Completed interviews with over 200 senior- and mid-management executives of Fortune 100 clients; drafted white paper based on results circulated to a client base of 1,000 companies
- Show results that demonstrate your value.
The key is to succinctly describe your unique contribution and how your work added value. Be specific, offering numbers and salient details. Show your understanding of the bottom line as well as the bigger picture. This is also about demonstrating your preparedness for a post-MBA leadership role. Keep asking yourself why your work was important to your boss or department head. For example:
- Performed cost analysis for companies in the IT industry
(Again, you and everyone else. How precisely did you make money for your client, your company or your boss – and how much?)
- Performed cost analysis for five Fortune 500 companies in the IT industry, saving clients an average of $300k per year and generating $20M in follow-on business for the firm
- Get specific about your contribution with project examples.
This is about being as precise as you can. Consider using a “selected projects include:” sub-header. Remember, it’s better to have two awesome bullets than six boring ones, so it’s fine to omit parts of your day-to-day job. Don’t forget tip #2 (quantify) and #3 (results).
- Developed and maintained effective pricing analysis data models
- Developed several high-value data visualizations and Excel models for C-suite clients to help them make evidence-based decisions
(How do I know your models were high-value or effective? Give me some evidence of this.)
- Created and implemented a large consumer survey to help a big media company with $1.2B annual revenue determine its pricing elasticity across multiple segments for a debut product, with projected revenue estimated at $35M annually
- Designed and developed a geospatial data-driven visual dashboard for First National Bank, increasing visibility to all 600+ branch offices across the globe by at least 80%
- Show, don’t tell, your skills and abilities.
A reader will be discerning if what you are citing is true or just your opinion. Use evidence to make your achievements fact-based and objective.
- Built strong relationships with clients due to excellent communication skills
- Demonstrated strong technical skills using VBA, SQL, Python
(Are you that person at work that thinks they have stellar people skills but really doesn’t?)
- Presented to C-level client executives weekly on project status; sole consultant invited to attend internal strategy development meeting with key client lead after presenting recommendations
- Developed and maintained a risk management data model valued at $50M using SQL and tracked key risk indicators
As with the rest of your MBA application, the details matter. Delivering a resume that’s substantive, specific and succinct positions you to stand out in a sea of excellence. The upshot is that the exercise of revising your resume can give you the answers to the tough interview questions when the time comes.
For more MBA resume tips and examples, view my video strategy sessions with Fortuna Co-Founder Judith Silverman Hodara: The Importance of Extracurriculars in Your MBA Resume and How to Format an MBA Resume.
Jody Keating is an expert coach at admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions with experience as a career coach in MBA programs at Wharton and Georgetown. She has more than 17 years of experience in resume development and reviews more than 100 resumes a year for Fortuna.