How to Create a Powerful MBA Resume
What we’re about to say will surprise many MBA aspirants. Namely, your resume is probably the most critical piece of your MBA application materials. If done correctly, it should give the admissions committee a sense of what might be unique about your career path. A powerful MBA resume clearly details the kind of impact you’ve had professionally, either at your company, on a client project, or with end users of a product or service.
It also previews the kinds of stories that you’ll share with peers during classroom discussions. Your resume shows the admissions committee what you were involved with outside of class during college and what you’re involved with now outside of work. Ideally, it conveys what your passions are, too.
Of course, every aspect of your MBA application materials must build a strong case for your candidacy. Your essays provide the best opportunity to give the AdCom a sense of your personality and what makes you tick. They also supply critical details about your leadership experience and identity relevant to your MBA candidacy.
But even the best essays lose their luster next to a poorly executed resume.
“A weak resume tells the admissions committee that you don’t know how to make good use of a page to highlight the best of your academic and professional and extracurricular life to date,” says SBC consultant Erika in this episode of the B-Schooled podcast.
“It means you don’t have the communication skills that the best executives and industry leaders have where you can make powerful statements briefly. It means you don’t know how to use numbers or details to make your case in a compelling way. And it might also tell them that you don’t have the confidence to sell yourself in a way that doesn’t make you come off like a jerk.”
None of us want to come across like that, right? So, let’s explore how to use language to create a great impression and maximize that precious one-page real estate.
Check out Stacy Blackman’s Guide to Creating a Resume for MBA Applications
Anatomy of a Powerful MBA Resume
A non-negotiable tenet of a powerful MBA resume—or any resume, for that matter—is to use Action Verbs. Start each bullet point in your career section with one of these, in past tense or present, depending on whether they still apply. Here are a few common examples:
Ensure you use more than just the same action verb repeatedly or twice in the same bullet point. Also, consider upgrading your action words because some are more powerful. For example, “wrote report” doesn’t sound as impressive as “developed report.”
But then go further: “developed 50-page report detailing sales by region.” Something even more powerful might look like this: “Developed 50-page report detailing sales by region; presented findings to CEO and 20-person executive committee.” Or, “Developed 50-page report detailing sales by region; distributed quarterly to 2,000 employees.”
Once you get into this frame of mind, start finding ways to strengthen your resume bullets with quantifiable details that help the reader better understand the scope of what you did. If you work in the pharmaceutical or healthcare space, you could use some robust numbers about how many patients or users of a particular medicine or recipients of a specific surgery might ultimately benefit from a solution you helped develop.
Everyone Can Use This Strategy
You can think along these same lines for any industry: who was or will be impacted by your work? Perhaps you’re streamlining a process that will get implemented in 200 locations of a restaurant chain across six states and save X labor hours per year. You may be helping to automate something that will be used in four 5,000-worker factories across three countries and will save the client’s company or your own company $500,000 annually.
Details like these give the AdCom reader a greater understanding of your role and bring to life why what you did matters. Remember, you always want to quantify things when it helps your case.
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A Common Blunder
One thing you won’t find on a powerful MBA resume is industry jargon. Such words or expressions may be commonplace within a particular profession. Nonetheless, they’re difficult for outsiders to understand. Often, applicants are so steeped in their company’s culture they don’t even recognize it.
Yet as admissions consultants, we see it all the time. Even when people think they’ve been extra careful about not using company jargon, we inevitably find a sentence, bullet point, or phrase that assumes the reader knows something they likely do not know. You don’t want the AdCom member reading your resume to stumble over any aspect of this document. So, ask someone outside your industry to read your resume and mark it with any comments or questions. An objective pair of eyes looking out for this potential pitfall is indispensable.
For more tips, check out B-Schooled Podcast Episode #16: How to ‘MBA’ Your Resume
More Must-Include Resume Items
International experience. Your resume should always highlight international work or international collaboration. Training a counterpart in another country or working online with coworkers or clients from other countries counts! While you may not have traveled there in person, mention it if that work is significant enough in your daily life.
Exposure to another culture, especially professionally, is always a differentiator. Similarly, always mention study abroad programs. These should always be on your resume if you’re only a few years out of school. Relevant internships might also be worth including if they make sense with your career story overall, particularly if it’s relevant to what you want to do in the future.
Varied leadership experience. Make a clear picture emerge of the kind of person you are and the kind of student and campus leader you’d be. We’ve worked with many applicants who devote too much of their resumes to their careers and ignore all leadership positions held in college. Remember that the admissions committee looks to your undergraduate experience to gauge how involved you might be on campus outside of class in their MBA program.
They’re looking for evidence of leadership from all phases of your life. And it’s especially great when a particular passion that you have now or might want to focus on in the future was evident in college as well.
On the other hand, if you weren’t active in clubs and didn’t have leadership experiences in college, it’s better to keep that section concise. You can expand a personal section at the bottom of the resume to give the AdCom a sense of how you spend your free time.
Maximizing the Personal Section
These days, nobody’s impressed by an applicant who’s all work all the time. MBA programs seek well-rounded people who can share an array of personal and professional experiences with their classmates. Indeed, there isn’t a lot of space to communicate unique aspects of your life in a one-page resume. Even so, we have clients dedicate a few lines at the end to share memorable tidbits about themselves.
This is where you should be very strategic about what you share.
Activities like running marathons, skiing, golfing, and being a fan of a particular sports team are not unique or differentiating. The admissions committee sees these personal interests all.the.time. You’re much better off thinking of something thousands of other candidates aren’t likely to include.
- Do you enjoy going to midnight singalongs of cult movies?
- Were you ever on a game show?
- Do you have an unusual hobby or collection?
- Have you experienced something extraordinary in another country or on a domestic vacation?
- Are you obsessed with a particular podcast or TV show?
- Did you ever have an unusual job when you were younger?
Anything like that makes for a great conversation piece or icebreaker in an MBA interview. It can also be just the thing that sparks the AdCom’s curiosity and helps you pull ahead of the pack.
We hope this advice helps you put together a powerful MBA resume that will make the admissions committee sit up and take notice. Think carefully about how to employ descriptive language and quantifiable results. Be sure to highlight examples of leadership in college and beyond. And remember, international experience, through work or a study abroad program, is always attractive to the admissions committee.
If you can successfully incorporate these elements into your resume, your achievements will stand out in a clear and memorable way.
Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help reviewing your MBA resume. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.