Work experience is a large aspect of any MBA application because past performance is often a good predictor of future achievement. May came to us as she started thinking about applying to MBA programs. In the first meeting we reviewed her resume and I needed to ask dozens of clarifying questions to understand her career path. Clearly, May needed our help creating a compelling and concise story for her MBA applications.
May had grown up living all over the world as her family followed her military father’s career from Japan to Germany to Washington, DC. As a result, May was incredibly skilled at adapting to new circumstances and built relationships easily. Other great aspects of her candidacy included a 700 GMAT score and a 3.4 GPA.
May’s resume was organized chronologically and demonstrated a vast array of interests. For example, I could see from May’s resume that she was involved in a sorority, starred in several student theater productions, was an officer in the Asian-American culture club and The Film Society, and was part of a fashion show project while she was in college. I also saw a college internship at Morgan Stanley.
Post college May’s resume displayed far less clarity. Her most recent experience was as an office manager at a gourmet food importing company. Before that she had worked in sales for a high-end jewelry brand. I saw that she had worked for two years after school in Los Angeles at a law firm, and had also starred in two pilot projects for television networks – seemingly in the same time period. The overall picture was not clear in any way from the document May presented, and I was concerned her career goals might be as cloudy.
My clarifying questions helped me understand a bit more about May’s path. Her internship at Morgan Stanley had taught her a tremendous amount about banking and analysis, and also taught her she was not a good fit for the business. Through a connection she was able to audition for a pilot in Los Angeles, which led to a small part. Though the show wasn’t picked up, May was intrigued by Hollywood and wanted to take the time to try building an acting career. To support herself she took a job within a law firm. After two years as a struggling actor May knew she needed a change. A family friend ran the jewelry retailer, and May was offered a lucrative sales job. She enjoyed helping to build the business and was able to close several interesting deals with celebrities and wardrobe stylists based on her past connections. Ultimately May wanted to be more involved with running a business, and found an opportunity to manage the office and run a fledging business development group at a growing gourmet food importer.
Now May wanted to obtain an MBA from a school in California while she continued to work at the importer, with a goal towards ultimately taking over general management of a similar business or starting her own.
We started to unpack the common aspects of May’s background to strategize the best way to present her in her UCLA, USC, Berkeley-Columbia and UC-Irvine executive MBA applications.
During our discussion it was clear that May did an excellent job of building connections with people. Every single career opportunity post-college had been the result of a conversation with a friend or family member. As an actor, May had honed her skills as a relentless networker, and she brought these skills to the business development part of her current job. I could see the common thread of building and leveraging relationships in her entire resume. Then we needed to compose the story that showed how she had moved from acting to office managing. The challenge of her resume was that May had not only moved functions, she had moved across four separate industries. We parsed her experience down to key transferable skills: sales, communication, management and leadership. When we held this list up to each position, May was able to articulate the parts of each job that utilized those skills. She then composed the bullets of her resume to correspond. Finally, we worked on a summary paragraph at the top of her resume to tie the experiences together.
Most candidates don’t need to spend as much time on their resume as we did with May, but defining a clear strategy to explain her confusing background was the basis of several other aspects of May’s application. When we tackled her career goals essay and her interviews, May was prepared to communicate clearly and concisely about her key skills and talents.
The approach paid off, and May continued her education within the USC EMBA program.
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