What is an MBA admissions resume, and how is it different from a regular resume?

Many b-schools ask for a resume as part of the applicant’s package. Fair enough. It is professional school and they want to see your professional record. But, in fact, MBA admissions resumes do make subtly different demands and it’s crucial to know what these are (see below).

However, of course much is also identical in a normal resume and an MBA admissions resume, so you should start by getting your resume as good as it can be as per conventional requirements. There are thousands of guides to this, many free on the Web. I won’t dwell on the principles at length here, but be certain to take note of at least these basic points.

A resume should:

  • Be in reverse chronological order, education last
  • Contain tight clauses rather than full sentences, and not use the first person singular
  • Start items with verbs: “Managed at team of…”; “Assigned priority to …”; and so on
  • Contain evidence, particularly quantitative amounts of budget managed or people supervised, etc.
  • Not contain obvious age, gender, race or other similar bio-data. (More latitude allowed in Europe)
  • Be easy on the eye (text at readable point size; layout not too dense)
  • Be absolutely, completely error-free

Those are the basics. And this is first base for Adcom too. They want to see you can do this common business communications task effectively.

Once you have that, then it’s time to adapt it to the needs of MBA admissions particularly. Good resume builders will always advise you to show as much experience relevant to the job you are applying for as you can. This it true of an MBA admissions resume too, only doubly so, because doing an MBA heavily implies that you will be transitioning to or accelerating quickly along a management path. It applies a leap in career.

The mistake that most of my clients make on their first draft is to proudly present their past experiences and achievements, which are very often technical or specific to the field they are leaving. Success is always good, but MBA Adcoms don’t really care whether you cracked a complex software conundrum or isolated a biological compound or develped prefabricated housing units. What they care about is whether you will make a good manager or leader, that is, the management portion that was there (or is implied potential) in what you did.

So that is where you should focus: the management, leadership, organizational (teamwork) or innovation implications of your past experience. Don’t say: “Developed molecular compound BN6R in 3 months using ‘BitPro’ software analytics.” Say: “Was part of team that developed unique molecular compound; led presentation to the Board; liaised with company PR in media announcement.” And so on.

The other key part of making your resume an MBA admissions resume is to work carefully with the knowledge that, unlike a typical employer, Adcom has various overlapping sources of information about you – not least all your file data. So you want to augment that rather than simply repeating it, in order to get your file data, resume, and essays to elegantly dovetail rather than simply overlap.

Obviously, your resume must not leave out the basic resume attributes: dates, places, company names, and so on, even if this is already in your file data. But there are often ways to cut out repeating subsidiary information – names of products or service units and so on – that often just “block up” a resume. This should leave space to go longer on quantitative evidence of (management-oriented) experiences and successes. In fact, I counsel admissions clients to put as much quantitative data in the resume as they realistically can which, in turn, frees up the essays to be a little more personal and reflective.

5 thoughts on “What is an MBA admissions resume, and how is it different from a regular resume?”

  1. Hi,

    Would it be possible for you to review my MBA admission resume ?
    Thanks in advance !!

    Regards,
    Rameshwari Sankpal

  2. Deb, I’d go for chronological and without the headline skills stuff. You need to sell yourself, of course, but sales-y doesn’t work well in MBA admissions. Once you’re at b-school, the Careers Office will coach you in resume building, probably urging you to put the hard sell back in πŸ˜‰

  3. Avi,

    Would you say a straightforward chronological resume would be better for this purpose than a skills-oriented one? Also, how do adcoms feel about having summaries of qualifications, keywords, etc., upfront. I’m thinking it may be a bit too salesy and potentially a waste of space, esp. for schools that require one-page only resumes.

    Deb

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