1. Why resume is important in your MBA application
Remember an MBA is an investment in your future career and its trajectory. And the admission committee is looking for evidence of your leadership potential in your current professional role through your resume. E.g. the number of direct reports, the size of the budgets that you manage, etc.
Thus, to summarise, the MBA resume is a way to showcase your greatest hits and achievements in your professional career. It should emphasize your leadership potential and interpersonal skills over your technical skills. Your MBA resume should also help you in distinguishing yourself from the other candidates if you belong to an overrepresented applicant pool.
2. How to write your MBA resume
The best MBA programs are seeking candidates whose work experience and education communicate a track record of accomplishment and perseverance, the types of indicators that show the applicant is capable and competent enough to learn and work alongside other brilliant students and faculty.
Even if you graduated from the best university, had the most prestigious internship and have climbed the ladder at a Big 4 firm and hold an important title, if you don’t know the content to include or exclude from your CV, you could miss your big opportunity.
To increase your chance of admission, here’s how to approach your CV’s content, starting at the very top of the page.
Although your application may contain your email address and contact information, it’s important to include on your CV. Should a committee want to reach you quickly and easily, all they need to do is refer to this section.
Here is the contact information to include:
- Full Name: Use your full name, including middle name or initial if you’re commonly known by them
- Phone Number: Include the country code of the phone number you’re most likely to answer; update your voicemail greeting if it’s not especially professional
- Email Address: Your personal email address that you check regularly, ideally a Gmail address. Your email address should be professional and polite, not PartyAllDay47@Hotmail.com.
- Current Location: Use a City/Country format for international applications (Paris, France when applying to INSEAD or LBS) and a City/State format for domestic applications (Chicago, Illinois when applying to Booth or Columbia)
- LinkedIn Link: The committee will refer to your LinkedIn page. Create and include a personalized, shortened LinkedIn URL.
What Not to Include:
While it is traditional and accepted practice in many countries to include marital status, citizenship information, height, weight, number of children or personal headshots with a CV, this is absolutely not the case for business school, especially those in the US.
The work experience section helps admissions committees understand your career trajectory, promotions and success, your opportunity to establish yourself as an impressive candidate.
Shown in chronological order with your most recent position at the top, your work experience should be data rich and specific.
Don’t miss an opportunity to build greater understanding over the companies you’ve worked for. An admissions director at Michigan Ross recently stated the importance of including a company description on CVs, saving their team from performing extensive research as they consider your application and ensuring they grasp the full scope of your professional background. You might structure the company description like this:
Include relevant internships and paid positions, skipping over any jobs in high school or part-time positions you held during college that you only worked to pay your bills. If your work experience is less extensive, include volunteer work in lieu of professional experience because MBA programs value well-rounded candidates who give back.
Your work experience heading should be structured as:
Include the official company name, location or locations where you spent significant time working, the date you started and the date you left the company. If you still work there, just write “Present”.
What if you’ve held multiple roles at a company? Structure your work experience like this:
Notice that the line with each separate position shows the span of time this person worked as an Business Analyst, Consultant and Senior Consultant.
a. Conciseness is Best
When it comes to work experience, conciseness is a must. Avoid lengthy paragraphs, unnecessary details and words that don’t substantially develop each point.
Think of a billboard. Each word has significant meaning. Your MBA CV should follow that same model.
Bullet points will help deliver your message while remaining brief. Aim to use no more than 5 bullet points per position. If you have to eliminate content to hit the one page mark, consider reducing the number of bullet points for your internship experiences down to just one per internship. If you must cut a position, cut your weakest or least relevant internship.
Using brevity shouldn’t be thought of as limiting. Instead, think of it as calling attention to the most important parts of your career.
If you were to describe an internship, which option works best?
- Bad description: Managed weekly reports, sent emails, organized files, analyzed spreadsheets, worked with other interns, performed research and prepared Powerpoint presentations to help with SEC regulation compliance.
- Good description: Partnered with Compliance Director on 4 analysis and reporting projects, ensuring compliance with 2016 SEC regulations.
Spot the difference? While the first one is more descriptive, the second one speaks to the results and most impressive parts of the internship.
Your job is not to be over-descriptive, it’s to briefly and powerfully convey relevant information.
b. Quantify everything
Another source of weakness in many MBA CVs? Not using data and numbers to tell your story.
While you may know that you managed a big budget project for a client, the reader of your CV does not. They don’t know if a project generated a $2k USD consulting fee or a $5M USD consulting retainer.
Using dollar amounts, percentages and ratios clues the reader in and subtly allows you to demonstrate how important and impactful your work is.
Be aware of quantifier words like “very” or “many.” Not only are they vague, but they miss the opportunity to add actual data to your experience.
Applying the power of data and eliminating quantifier words, notice the difference in impact between these bullet points:
- Bad description: Managed many associates and interns during very important projects
- Good description: Managed, delegated and mentored 5 associates and 6 summer interns during 4 debt restructuring projects with an average value of $75M USD
Data shouldn’t be limited to numbers alone. The names of clients or vendors should also make an appearance if it helps build your success story. Counting “two major banks” as clients doesn’t have the same punch as having HSBC and BNP Paribas as clients, for example.
c. Use Action Verb
If your CV feels flat or lacks power, it is likely missing action verbs. Action verbs show activity and movement, words like initiated, fostered, managed, designed and led.
Action verbs in an MBA CV communicate activity and engagement, sounding active instead of passive. See if you notice how action verbs affect these examples:
- Without action verbs: Responsible for department budgets worth $4M, 4 yearly audits and annual meetings.
- With action verbs: Managed and monitored department budgets valued at $4M, performed four yearly audits and presented results during annual meeting
The bolded words are action verbs and they’re busy building a sense of activity, interest and progress for the reader.
When applying this to your CV, check the tenses of your action verbs. You managed a team in the past, but you currently manage a team. You oversaw a project, but you currently oversee a project.
The education section of an MBA CV is your platform to communicate impressive undergraduate or graduate school achievements, delivered chronologically, but one must know what to include and what to leave out.
a. What to include:
When it comes to must-haves for your education section, include the following:
- Class rank or class standings if you graduated near the top of your class (ex. 2nd out of 500)
- Grade Point Average (GPA) according to the university’s scale (ex. 7.5/10)
- Scholarships you received; if you were chosen from hundreds or thousands of applicants, add this data
- Extracurricular activities like sports and clubs, mentioning any tournaments or awards you might’ve won along with any leadership positions you held
- Published work, including theses, creative writing or research projects
- Volunteer work that you were significantly involved with
- Study abroad experiences, including the dates, university names and locations
b. What not to include:
There are a few things to leave off of your education section, including:
- Low GPAs, poor class standings or anything that might lead a committee to view your education in a negative light
- Mentions of high school—with two caveats. If you went to high school abroad or accomplished something incredible during high school that led to major recognition, these are worth keeping.
The education section follows many of the same rules that the work experience section does. Use data with specific and brief bullet points that show the highlights, not an exhaustive summary of every activity or project you completed.
The format of the education section should look like this:
An important note: when applying to internships during your MBA, move the education section back to the top like a traditional CV.
An MBA CV is factual and professional, but that doesn’t mean an MBA applications committee isn’t looking for the person behind the work experience and education. They want to be sure candidate achievements continue into their personal life and that their interests complement or contrast those of the MBA community.
What the Additional Information Section Should Include?
When it comes to the Additional Information section, the best CVs include:
- Languages: Include the languages you know beyond a basic level, plus any certifications/tests that show your knowledge (ex: TOEFL)
- Travel: Show any cultural exploration and travel interest in this section. Include the number of countries you’ve visited and any unique or memorable trips (ex: backpacking the Appalachian Trail or studying abroad in Mongolia)
- Courses and Certifications: List any training or courses you’ve completed as well as certifications you’ve received after university. Include the name of the institution or program, plus the year completed (ex. CFA Level II, 2016)
- Volunteer Work: Show the admissions committee your humanitarian side by listing volunteer projects you’ve participated in. Name the organization, your role in the organization and the years you participated.
- Personal Interests: List what you love doing outside of the office, including your diverse and interesting hobbies like running marathons, visiting museums, practicing jiu jitsu or surfing. Don’t be afraid to show who you are!
Business schools are seeking well-rounded, dynamic and interesting candidates who will add to the community and make it diverse; few MBA programs want carbon copies of the same candidate profile because it creates a one-dimensional community that does not reflect the real world.
Here’s a great example:
Leverage the Additional Information section to make yourself an even more unique and attractive candidate!
3. How to format your MBA resume
The content of your MBA CV is important but don’t forget that the visual appearance of your CV matters, too. Designed properly, your CV is easier to read, calls attention to the highlights of your work and education and uses page space more effectively, allowing you to include more information.
Your MBA resume must only be one page (most schools requires this). If your resume is more than a page long, chances are your resume is full of bullet points that essentially explain the same thing. The key is to select the right achievements and describe them in clear, condensed, detail-rich sentences.
Font Style & Size
Don’t get creative with fonts. What you want in a font is not a decorative design of choice, but a simple, easy-to-read font that shows professionalism. Recommended fonts include Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri. Most finance professionals are accustomed to these three fonts.
The ideal font size is 10. You can adjust the font size to highlight the difference between normal text and heading or to balance out the resume layout (if there is too much/ too little white space), but remember +/-1 around 10 only.
Keep things consistent. This applies to font styles, font sizes, punctuation, unit measures (i.e. Millions, millions, MM, mm), capitalization, alignment, and spacing. If you have Size 12 for “Work Experience”, don’t have Size 14 for “Education” and Size 15 for “Additional”. Similarly, if you don’t have a period at the end of some bullets, don’t have it for the rest. This is part of attention to details. You have to keep the formatting consistent.
For all things resume, less is generally more. Your resume is not an exercise in seeing how many different types of fonts, font sizes, and bullet styles you can cram into one page. Don’t change the font type though. Size and margin can change but font size must stay the same as defined in the template.
Use white space to your advantage. White space is exactly as it sounds—the parts of the page that do not contain type or graphics. Aim for a balance of white space throughout your resume to make it visually appealing and easy to read. If your resume is crammed full of type from top to bottom and left to right, it will be difficult to read and will be a turn-off to your reader, no matter how well you have composed the information.
Use your formatting wisely to accommodate for white space. You can do this by changing font size (but do not go smaller than 10-point type), using bullets and tabs, creating space before and after headers, and so on. (Keep bulleted lists short; too many bullets are just as distracting as a lot of types). Feel free to adjust the page margin. After writing, if you find yourselves with too many or too few words; increase or decrease the page margin a little.
Use your headers wisely. Your name and contact information should be easily located. From there, a gradation of heading sizes should follow but not be overdone. More than three sizes of headers can make your resume look cluttered.
Also avoid excessive use of bolding, italics, and underlining. These enhancements should be used sparingly to highlight only the most important information. Use these features too much, and your reader will be left confused as to what is important and what is not. Worse yet, your reader may determine that you yourself do not know what is most important.
Your MBA resume should be structured in the order of Work Experience -> Education -> Additional. Within each section, order the experiences in reverse chronological order. That means the most recent experience at the top, and the oldest experience at the bottom.
All in all, your business school resume should be tailored to the endeavor you are attempting—getting into a top MBA program. Make your business and management experience the focus of your MBA resume. If carefully crafted, your resume can help you sell your experience and education to the admissions committee. It speaks to your career path and accomplishments and can be the deciding factor between an acceptance letter and applying for the next round of admissions.