Five Resume Mistakes MBA Applicants Can't Afford To Make
Ex-Harvard admissions expert details how to avoid easy resume pitfalls
By Chioma Isiadinso
When it comes to putting together a business school application, students often focus on essays and test scores, which they see as the most important components.
However, admissions committees take a holistic view of the completed application, meaning all elements are important in their own way.
For most MBA applicants, this resume may seem like the easiest part of the process to take care of.
But even if you've written dozens of resumes over the course of your working life, there are still several significant mistakes you can make with an MBA application. Here's how to avoid them:
1. Overdoing it
When you're putting together a resume for your b-school application, less is more.
Of course, you may not always be explicitly advised or required by your school to limit your resume to one page. Indeed, some schools are flexible, and many don't have specific length requirements.
But unless you have significant extenuating circumstances, it’s advisable to keep your MBA resume to one page, especially if you're planning to apply to American schools.
2. Confusing your work resume with your application resume
With all the work that goes into preparing a business school application, it's incredibly tempting to simply take something you already have prepared and reuse it, such as a work resume.
Unfortunately, that thinking will set you back. Though both documents may have the same name, they have different purposes and different audiences, so you can't merely substitute one for the other.
When you're putting together your MBA application resume, you must think about your personal brand, and the story you want to tell about your career so far.
Don't feel like you need to include eight or nine bullet points for every position you've held, as the reader will get bogged down in unimportant details. Less is more.
Finally, step back and focus on the big picture. Try to highlight specifics that show how you grew in each position, additional projects you took on, promotions or awards you received, and impressive milestones you achieved.
Look for examples of how you excelled in your role, but don't overdo it. Four bullet points will be plenty for most jobs.
3. Telling instead of showing
There's a reason that budding writers are advised to “show, not tell”. Don't tell the admissions committee that you excelled in your position, show them the proof.
Be as specific as you can, and try to use a three-part problem-action-outcome format when possible. Your examples should look something like this:
“I was asked to work on Project X, which was not meeting its deadlines and going over budget. I took actions A, B, and C. As a result, the project was delivered on time and under budget.”
Paint a clear picture for your reader, and it will be much easier for them to see what kind of impact and value you've had in your career. Use concrete numbers wherever possible as well, and try to emphasize any leadership opportunities you've had - whether they've involved directly supervising employees or managing large projects.
If you've coordinated with team members in other countries or have other experience that indicates some cross-cultural awareness, that's a great thing to include as well.
4. Using technical terms
Keep your resume simple and easily to understand. Jargon and complicated technical terms can look great in a business resume when your audience understands all the terminology, but they have no place in an MBA resume.
An admissions committee is unlikely to know the ins and outs of your specific industry, whether it be fashion or metallurgical engineering. If they can't understand what you're trying to get across, they won’t be impressed by your accomplishments.
5. Being impersonal
Unlike a work resume, an MBA application resume can afford to veer away from the strictly professional. If there's something that truly sets you apart, don't hesitate to include it.
Quirky details and extracurricular accomplishments can liven up an MBA resume, and help an admissions committee to get to know you better.
Just like the rest of the application resume, a “Hobbies and Interests” section is most effective when it's specific. We recently worked with an MBA applicant whose resume simply listed “Mountain sports (climbing and skiing)” as his interests.
Upon further discussion though, it turned out that he was an experienced climber, so he rewrote the bullet point as “Mountain sports (climbed more than 20 Alpine peaks)”. That minor tweak made the detail far less generic, and more memorable and interesting.
As with every part of your MBA application, your resume should be designed to show the admissions committee why you are the right choice for their school. Keep your audience in mind, and you'll stand out to any admissions board.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.