We all know the standard resume advice. It’s been drilled into our heads by parents, teachers, advisors and professors so often that it hardly bears repeating: Keep it one page in length. Make sure your grammar is perfect. Include extracurricular activities. Proofread. Include leadership experiences. Proofread. Highlight your accomplishments. Use concise words. Proofread. Use action words. Proofread.
We get it. Unfortunately, most resume guides for MBA applications rehash these same tips and say little about tailoring your resume for an MBA application. Yet your resume is often the first thing read by admission committees. It serves as an introduction, as credentials, and it should also serve as the plot points of a compelling story, your story.
A well-crafted resume both helps you stand apart from other applicants and demonstrate fit with a program. Fine-tuning your resume to accomplish these results, however, takes a little more than just checking your grammar and including your whiffle ball MVP award in your accomplishments. Rather, it takes a holistic approach that considers the larger themes of who you are, themes that speak to your potential as a business student and beyond.
Fortunately, these tweaks do not have to be complicated. You’ve already done the hard work by accomplishing the things on your resume. Treat these as the disparate threads of your experience; now you just need to tie them together into a vibrant tapestry (lame metaphor, we know, but stick with us).
When admission officers look at your resume, you want them to see more than just bullet points and terse summaries. Of course your resume will mostly be bullet points and terse summaries – we don’t advise embarking on a “creative” project by typing your resume in verse or stream-of-consciousness run-on sentences – but try to think of your resume as a story and not a summary. Reflecting on how his experiences as a college drop-out eventually came together, Steve Jobs admonished Stanford’s graduating class of 2005 that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” Only in retrospect can you begin to understand how your experiences influenced the kind of person you are and want to become.
Your resume, along with your essay, should connect the dots for the adcoms. Some admission consultants call this showing progression in your resume – how your work experiences built upon one another to lead where you are now. But progression can also apply to the complete picture of who you are, not just your career trajectory. Are diverse interests and experiences synthesized in later work experiences or activities? Do readers get a sense of who you are just by reading your resume? Of course a resume is limited by its form – it cannot tell a story as well as an essay can – but it should show the basis of your story, the “bones” of who you are and where you want to go.
MBA programs spend a lot of time and thought about the type of students they want to attract. You’ve seen the adjective laden descriptions on their websites and glossy brochures. For example, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business’s ideal student, as described on their website, is both “a thinker and a doer who can maneuver the complexities of interdependent issues,” while Berkeley’s Haas seeks leaders who are “confident without attitude” and who “question the status quo.”
Though this material overflows with feathery language and ripe cliques, take schools at their word, and parse your resume for experiences that embody these descriptions. In the case of Duke, it could be a matter of highlighting a personal project you took on, something in which you got your hands dirty or where you took action. Be creative, but not unreasonable, in deciding what experiences offer evidence of schools’ desired qualities.
MBA programs love leaders and candidates with leadership qualities. This fact cannot be denied, and it’s to the point where at least one leadership experience seems obligatory on business school applications. However, what looks stronger on a resume is repeated leadership, if you have more than one experience, accomplishment or activity that contains an element of leadership. Adcoms want to see a history of leadership, not just a single instance, so bring out the leadership aspects of your experiences, or if you’ve held multiple leadership positions, be sure to include them.
Good arguments contain strong, supporting evidence to bolster conclusions. Resumes should do the same. Whenever you can, support work experience with numbers, i.e. hard evidence for the impact your work had. This could include the profits you helped secure for a company, the budget you managed, the amount of employees you supervised or the growth – whether percent of revenue, percent of sales or number of customers – your actions elicited. Business relies on numbers, so don’t be afraid to use them in your resume.