How to Format a Winning MBA Resume
This may come as a surprise, but your resume is perhaps the most critical piece of your entire MBA application package. You have one precious page to summarize your academic, professional, and extracurricular accomplishments while differentiating yourself from the competition. That’s why we’re going to go deep into how to format a winning MBA resume, so you don’t miss out on a golden opportunity to shine before the admissions committee.
When the time comes to review your application materials, the AdCom starts off with your resume. This will give the reader an immediate, knee-jerk impression of you. Next, your essays, recommendation letters, and extra details from the data form will either serve to further your case—or hurt it. In short, your resume plays the crucial role of establishing the baseline impression of you, so you don’t want to mess it up.
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.
The Difference Between a Ho-Hum and Winning MBA Resume
Please don’t be that applicant who thinks they can tweak their existing resume and call it a day. Most clients we work with need to spend a lot of time on a complete overhaul for their MBA applications. That’s because your typical job resume likely focuses on things that hiring managers in your industry will understand and care about. They’ll want to know if you have relevant skills or experience with specific software programs or analytical tools. But MBA admissions committees don’t care about that kind of stuff.
Instead, they are interested in how much you’ve grown throughout your career. The AdCom is curious to find out what kind of stories you’ll share with classmates. What lessons have you learned from work or extracurricular experiences that will benefit your B-school peers? With this single page, you need to convince the AdCom that you’d be an asset to their program.
Treat the MBA resume as if it’s the only thing the admissions committee is going to read about your candidacy.
What Does the AdCom Want to See?
If you work in a common pre-MBA position, don’t waste prime resume space listing your general, high-level responsibilities that the AdCom will already know. There’s usually a field for your duties for each role in the data form. No matter what industry you come from (but especially applicants from banking or consulting), the admissions committee cares about these three things:
- What you contributed
- Who you interacted with
- What results were you directly or partially responsible for?
You can achieve this by reworking your resume to function as a progressive narrative about your career and outside interests. So, keep your resume focused on things you’ve worked on or achieved that are unique to you—not things that every other analyst or consultant could say on their resumes.
Action verbs are your friend.
A way to force yourself to do this is to start every bullet with an action verb and use ones that convey leadership whenever possible. Think words like led, managed, spearheaded, oversaw, and oversee. In particular, you want to ensure you have words like that for the section describing your current role.
The AdCom understands that you probably weren’t leading work teams or spearheading significant initiatives in your first job right out of college. Like most people, you likely had to work up to your most impressive achievements. Accordingly, your action verbs throughout your resume should reflect that.
Often, applicants may have gotten a promotion or title change, but their roles actually weren’t that different from each other. Even so, you need to break out those different roles on your resume because promotions are always a differentiator. You want the admissions committee to be aware of your progression in the form of a formal title change.
If you’re claiming you didn’t do a heck of a lot differently when you were a senior consultant versus a consultant, we would challenge you to find a way to show growth between the two roles. And then, use action verbs at the outset of every bullet that can convey that progression.
Don’t forget these differentiators.
Another thing MBA applicants frequently forget to do is to quantify everything whenever possible. In episode six of SBC’s B-Schooled podcast, host and Harvard MBA Erika Olson shared this advice for people needing to strengthen their quant profile.
Every applicant should try and quantify the results of their work and use numbers to help the AdCom understand the scope of what you were involved with. —SBC consultant Erika Olson
For some people, that might be a deal size or the revenue size of a company you consulted with. It might be the number of work streams you managed or the annual cost savings that stemmed from one of your strategic recommendations. It might be listing the exact percentage you helped speed up a particular process. Think deeply about how to turn your efforts into quantifiable results.
Management experience is always a plus.
People often don’t think to include situations where they informally managed someone or oversaw someone else’s work. And yes, interns count, too! Even if it wasn’t directly managing somebody or being responsible for their salary or raises, it’s still management experience.
So you might have a line that says, “Informally managed junior associate: determined responsibilities: checked work for quality: provided feedback for annual review.” Or something like “Trained and mentored three summer interns.” This type of oversight is a differentiator in the AdCom’s eyes.
A winning MBA resume will have an icebreaker.
Applicants should remember that interviewers will see their resumes beforehand, and people always look for conversation icebreakers. That’s why we encourage clients to add a fun fact or unusual interest in the bottom section or even just a final line, depending on available space. (Stacy Blackman included a note about her Pez dispenser collection in her MBA resume.)
In another episode of B-Schooled on resumes, host Erika recalled the attention-grabbing mention of one former client. “On the last line of his resume, he put ‘Fun fact: I have been struck by lightning.’ He got interviews at all six programs he applied to, and every single interviewer asked him about that line,” Erika said. Even if you don’t have something as crazy as that to include, it’s easy to find a way to inject a little personality into the last section, and that can include your interests.
For example, Erika had another client list in her interest section that she was on a personal quest to find the best cookie in all of New York. “Like the guy who was struck by lightning and lived to tell the tale, every one of the ‘best cookie’ applicant’s interviewers asked her where her favorite cookie place was. So it’s just something to break the ice with interviews or show a little personality,” Erika explained.
When it comes to naming this section on the MBA resume, it varies depending on what you’re going to include. But some ideas for the heading of that last section are Personal, Other Interests, Activities, Extracurricular Interests, or Leadership and Interests.
A note of caution: be strategic about the interests you list.
Remember, this is your chance to set yourself apart. Think long and hard about whether the things you list will differentiate you. That means mentioning generic interests such as golf, skiing, traveling, football, or the New York Yankees will not make you stand out. Specificity matters.
So, instead of listing running as a hobby, it better be something cool, like “Ran six marathons, including one in the Arctic Circle.” Maybe you love the great outdoors and can say something like, “Visited 300 U.S. National Parks and have 124 to go.” If you love to travel, highlight the most offbeat locales you’ve visited and leave Western Europe off the list.
Here’s Stacy Blackman’s rundown of the ten things to avoid on your MBA resume:
@stacyblackmanconsulting Ten common mistakes applicants make on sn MBA resume #resumetips #applicationadvice #bschooladmissions #mbaapplications #icangetyouin #achieveyourdreamskin ? Hip Hop with impressive piano sound(793766) – Dusty Sky
Items You Won’t Find Listed on a Winning MBA Resume
- Anything from high school (Unless you’re in college and applying to a 2+2 program)
- Your GMAT or GRE score
- Industry-specific jargon and acronyms
- Your knowledge of standard industry tools and software, such as Microsoft Office
- Tiny font (Use at least 10-point font)
- A personal statement (Your goal is to show your accomplishments throughout the document, not tell upfront)
By now, you should be fully prepared to MBA your resume and wow the AdCom at your dream business school. So, we’ll leave you with a cheesy inspirational quote related to everything we’ve covered. In fact, this is so cheesy it was actually used as a slogan on an 80’s dandruff shampoo commercial.
Nonetheless, it’s still 100% relevant when drafting a winning MBA resume. And that is:
You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Request a free MBA advising session with Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help with your complete MBA applications. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.