How to Write a Resume for MBA Admissions Applications

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: July 29, 2019)

Applicants often spend months cramming for the GMAT; they obsess over every word in their essays; they rehearse scores of answers to potential interview questions. Yet their resumes remain woefully under polished, despite the fact that top MBA programs are putting a greater emphasis on a candidate’s CV while slashing essay requirements. As we enter a new application season, I thought it would be helpful to share a few reminders about how to write a strong MBA resume.

I’ve found that MBA applicants typically underinvest in their essays for a combination of two reasons:

  1. Most applicants already have a resume that they’ve used in their professional life. As such, they (mistakenly) feel like they only need to update and tweak it a bit to reflect their latest positions and accomplishments.
  2. Preparing a resume isn’t a brand new endeavor like taking the GMAT, writing essays, or practicing for admissions interviews might be, and so applicants (again mistakenly) feel more comfortable with it.

Underinvesting in preparing your resume can fatally damage your application, and unfortunately it is a mistake applicants make far too often. So, as you consider your application to business school, here are a few tips on how to write a resume that will impress admissions committees.

How to Write a Resume for MBA Admissions Applications

While we’ve provided some good tips in our 10-step guide to preparing a resume, there is a lot more to consider.

Start from scratch. I can appreciate that applying for business school is a lot of work. You have to invest a ton of time in writing essays and studying for the GMAT, and one corner you can easily cut is recycling an old resume with a fresh coat of paint. But you shouldn’t. First, resumes are often documents that are built over time, and the content at the bottom tends to linger a little longer than its optimal shelf life. We become better writers with practice, and our narrative changes over time. Your resume – your whole resume – needs to reflect both of these evolutions. Second, resumes for MBA applications need to be written through a whole different lens. Consider the following bullet point, some version of which I see on almost all candidates’ resumes:

  • Evaluated opportunities to increase downloads of company’s mobile app

Seems reasonable enough, but it’s so bland, and it’s so easy to fix.

Make it about people, not profits. Resumes written for private sector, nonprofit, and government jobs all require that the applicant demonstrate her value to the organization’s bottom line – however that is measured. In contrast, a resume written for an MBA application needs to demonstrate the applicant’s ability to affect and lead people. This doesn’t have to be through formal manager-subordinate relationships; rather, it can manifest itself in a number of ways. But it absolutely needs to be the central message that admissions committees see in your application:

  • Led a team created to evaluate opportunities to increase downloads of company’s mobile app

Don’t confuse achievements and results. The former describes what you did, and the latter tells the reader why he should care. Like our example bullet point above, bullet points so often leave the reader wondering, “So what?” What impact did you have? Every resume bullet must, first and foremost, answer this question. To check if your resume clears this hurdle, try adding the words “resulting in” to every bullet point. If you can slide the phrase somewhere in the middle of the bullet, then you’re probably in good shape. If it fits best at the end and is left dangling there like an unanswered question, then you may need to think about how to answer it:

  • Led a team created to evaluate opportunities to increase downloads of company’s mobile app; deployed recommendations resulted in an increase in downloads.

Always quantify what you can. Being ambiguous about the context of your accomplishments by leaving out quantifiable data will only serve to increase suspicious among admissions committees. When there is no easily quantifiable figure that you can drop in, do your best to estimate (and be honest about how you came to that estimate). This skill – the ability to estimate impact – is one you better have if you are going to be successful in business and business school; so you might as well demonstrate you have it on your resume:

  • Led a three-person team created to evaluate opportunities to increase downloads of company’s mobile app; deployed recommendations resulted in a 10% increase in downloads versus prior quarter.

Count your prepositions and conjunctions. Candidates often want to jam a lot of qualifiers and information into a single bullet point on their resume. They get so wrapped up in the details that they lose sight of the bigger picture they are trying to convey. As a result, many are left with convoluted sentences that are difficult to follow. Fortunately, this is easy to detect. One good measure of a sentence’s complexity is the number of prepositions and conjunctions it uses (and when I say prepositions, I’m including instances of words that are often prepositions but also used as other parts of speech; for example, “to” is often used as part of an infinitive phrase). If your sentence relies on four or more of these types of short, connecting words, then you might be in a danger zone:

  • Led a three-person team created to evaluate opportunities to increase downloads of company’s mobile app; deployed recommendations resulted in a 10% increase in downloads versus prior quarter.

Yikes…that’s a lot. And, as you might notice reading it, the sentence does start to become a little hard to follow. Keep your sentences tight and to the point:

  • Led a three-person team created to accelerate company’s mobile app downloads; recommendations drove 10% growth versus prior quarter.

I like this bullet a lot. It’s focused on people and leadership, it clearly states what results the applicant achieved in quantifiable terms, and it’s straightforward and simple.

But it’s also only one piece of your resume. There are still a lot of other things to consider:

Curate your story. You don’t need to provide admissions committees your entire biography. Pick and choose the points that you think are most important. Come up with creative, straightforward ways to group positions that require less explanation but that still need to be listed.

Provide enough context. Some applicants are applying from companies and positions that admissions committees may be very familiar with (for example, McKinsey or BCG). But often times our jobs require a little more explanation and context. You should always be providing that in the sentence directly under your job title. Include facts and figures about an organization’s size (revenue, headcount, etc.) and your specific job responsibilities there. Then, use the bullets under that introductory sentence to describe your achievements and results.  So, a simple way to think about it looks like this:

[Job Title], [Company]
Responsible for doing [X] at [Company], an $Xbn company dedicated to [Y].
– Achieved [X], resulting in [Y]
– Achieved [X], resulting in [Y]
– Achieved [X], resulting in [Y]

Finally, make sure your resume supports the rest of your application. Even more so than when applying for a job, applying for an MBA program requires you have a broader narrative — that is, the reason the admissions committee should admit you. Essays are often the easiest place to spell out this narrative, but make sure your resume supports it. The two pieces don’t stand alone; rather, they compliment one another.

Hopefully these tips provide some good guidance as to where to start writing a resume for MBA admissions applications. We’re happy to review your resume as part of our free consultation service, and for those looking for more in-depth resume editing, we provide that, too. However you choose to proceed, remember to invest as much time in your resume as you do in your essays, GMAT, and interview prep. It’s the foundation on which all winning MBA applications are built.

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