When assembling a resume for an MBA application, keep in mind that it should differ from the industry-specific resume you would include in a job application.
Here are some tips from experts on how to decide which information to put in and leave out of your MBA application resume.
What Belongs in MBA Application Resumes, What Doesn’t
A B-school application resume should demonstrate a broad array of competencies, since MBA programs are designed to prepare students for managerial roles that require a wide range of skills, experts say. This kind of resume should not overemphasize abilities particular to any one sector.
“The main difference is that technical skills are not as important here,” says Jody Keating, a resume coach at Fortuna Admissions, an MBA admissions consulting firm.
MBA resumes should focus on personal strengths that are valuable in every sector, such as a collaborative spirit, a history of leading others, the ability to understand and prioritize the “bottom line” purpose of work assignments, and the capacity to contribute to a company’s “big picture” goals, Keating says.
Sue Oldham, associate dean of MBA operations at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management in Tennessee, says that when the school is vetting candidates for its prestigious full-ride scholarship – the Dean’s Scholars Award Program – it looks for signs of long-term leadership potential, exceptional academic performance and at least one meaningful extracurricular commitment.
“I think the first thing that we always look for is career progression,” she says, adding that success in the workforce does not necessarily entail working for a “name-brand company” or having an impressive job title. Where a person began in his or her first job is less significant than evidence of professional advancement, Oldham says.
Moments when “someone saw potential in you and gave you a shot at something else” should be featured prominently in an MBA application resume, she emphasizes.
Linda Abraham, founder and CEO of Accepted, an admissions consulting firm, says that business school application resumes should include leadership success stories – moments when an MBA hopeful made tangible improvements within a community or organization while in a position of authority.
For example, if MBA applicants led fundraising drives, they should cite the amount of money they raised; if they spearheaded corporate sales campaigns, they should indicate how much sales increased as a result, Abraham says.
Admissions experts say that foreign language skills, international travel and time living abroad should be noted in an MBA application resume. MBA hopefuls with a global background have an edge in the business school admissions process, since B-schools want to enroll students who can become leaders of multinational business ventures, experts say.
Participation in elite competitive sports teams or reputable musical performance groups are major pluses in MBA application resumes, according to experts, since these kinds of activities require significant discipline and teamwork – skills that matter in the business world.
Avoid the ‘Laundry List’
However, one common mistake that MBA hopefuls make is listing all of their extracurricular activities rather than focusing on the most important or impressive activities, experts say.
“We’re not looking for the laundry list – the laundry list that you might have to put in your actual application,” Oldham says. “We’re looking for areas of interest and professional affiliations.”
If being asked about a particular extracurricular activity “would make your face light up” during an admissions interview, that is a sign that it belongs on your application resume, Oldham says.
MBA hopefuls should emphasize their critical thinking and decision-making capabilities, she adds. Certain highly marketable skills that are useful within multiple industries, such as data analysis skills, are also worthy of inclusion in an MBA resume, Oldham says.
Experts say that, in most if not all cases, an MBA application resume should fit on a single page. “It’s a snapshot of who you are,” Oldham says.
In fact, slipping extraneous details into a resume can be counterproductive.
For example, some MBA applicants specify the number of hours they worked on a particular project in their resumes, Keating says, while others note when they worked on weekends. In both cases, applicants often have a misguided belief that the time they spend on an assignment will impress admissions officers, she says.
“Definitely take that out,” she says. “You just did your job, and if it took extra hours, it took extra hours.”
It’s also unwise for MBA hopefuls to include their high school accomplishments in their resume, since those are no longer pertinent, Keating says.
Another frequent error in MBA application resumes, experts say, is mentioning routine work tasks and responsibilities that are unlikely to interest admissions officers.
Abraham says one way to craft an impressive MBA resume is to surprise admissions officers by displaying a high level of skill within an area that is not emphasized within your profession. For example, a salesperson who demonstrates quantitative ability might wow the admissions team, and so could an engineer who showcases communication skills.
“Fight the stereotype of whatever your profession is,” Abraham says.
Searching for a business school? Get our complete rankings of Best Business Schools.