Focus on Career Progression, Results for a Successful MBA Resume

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on

While most business school applicants might readily accept the need to spend weeks or months on test prep and MBA essays, many wrongly assume they can simply tweak their current professional resumes and hit submit along with the rest of the required data forms.

In doing so, they have missed a tremendous opportunity to create a powerful first impression on both the admissions committee and, fingers crossed, their future MBA interviewer.

The MBA resume is quite different from a traditional business resume in that it should focus heavily on MBA skills and traits such as leadership, teamwork and international work experience. Admissions committee members often view the resume as one of the most important parts of an application, so think of it as a marketing and branding tool and make it shine while keeping it simple.

Imagine someone scanning an MBA application resume for the first time on the 30-second walk down the hall to the interview. That person should be able to get a clear picture of the candidate – and that quickly.

You do want to provide a snapshot of your functional skills, but the admissions committee will be more interested in the fact that you led a cross-functional team to develop a new version of your product than the fact that you coded in three computer languages to develop the new version.

To the extent possible, illustrate career progression through the resume. Highlight a promotion or show how skills were cultivated after switching to a new job.

For example, if you have worked for the same company for five years but were promoted twice, you should highlight all three job titles, with separate dates of employment and separate descriptions. The descriptions should reflect your increasing levels of responsibility.

Business schools in general today aren’t as strict as they used to be regarding years of work experience, and some programs regularly admit students right out of college.

Whether you have five years on the job or one, don’t go so far back as to list high school jobs on your resume – they are just not relevant anymore. In some cases, even part-time college positions aren’t worthy of more than a mention, so focus on highlighting your most recent roles.

Admissions committees like to see results-oriented phrases in resumes, so for every bullet point, try to quantify results in dollar amounts or percentages whenever possible. It is much more powerful to write that you “created a marketing plan that resulted in a 30 percent increase in leads,” as opposed to noting that you simply “created a marketing plan.”

Business school applicants often find it helpful to frame their accomplishments using the STAR method, which stands for situation, task, action and result. For each employment position listed on your resume, think of a project, initiative or transaction where you made a meaningful contribution. Then describe the situation, your task, the actions you undertook and the results.

For example, one client who had worked as a summer associate at McKinsey & Co. noted on her resume that she “isolated regional sales performance weaknesses and designed a plan to recover $50 million in revenue.”

We see that the situation involved regional sales performance, the task was to isolate weaknesses and the action included designing a plan that resulted in recovering $50 million in revenue. The description was clear, brief and powerful.

The last couple lines of the MBA resume can highlight various interests and skills such as computer proficiency, second languages spoken or a love of travel. This is also an opportunity for a personal touch by adding something fun that shows a bit of personality and can become an icebreaker during interviews.

My resume included that I collect Pez dispensers, and that was always the first thing that the interviewer touched on that warmed things up and made the exchange more conversational.

Finally, for applicants with a noticeable gap in employment history, the best place to address this is in the optional essay, not the resume. Candidates want to fully explain any anomalies to the admissions committee so that no one jumps to an incorrect conclusion, and there’s simply not enough space to do so in a one-page resume.

The MBA resume may only receive a few minutes of attention from the admissions committee and MBA interviewer, but applicants should do all they can to make this first impression as powerful, compelling? and concise as possible.


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