The MBA Resume: Five Common Mistakes to Avoid
Nearly every MBA application requires a resume, and as MBA hopefuls complete a daunting list of application components, it can be tempting to check the resume off the list without much thought. After all, every MBA applicant has likely already produced multiple resumes throughout their career. However, the MBA resume is different from an ordinary resume.
How is an MBA resume different than a resume you’d submit for a job application?
A business school resume differs considerably from that of a professional one, as each accomplishes a different goal. A professional resume shows potential employers that you have the specific skills and experiences they are looking for. You are selling your ability to do the job. A professional resume should include industry specific “buzz” words and jargon.
An MBA resume, on the other hand, should demonstrate how you have been a leader in your chosen career. The technical skills you have amassed are not that important. Instead, your resume should show how you have gone above and beyond in your role. It should highlight your leadership in action and ideally describe the results this leadership generated. With an MBA resume, you are selling your future potential.
How can you ensure your MBA resume shines?
While you may have received guidance on how to develop a professional resume, you’re likely wondering how to develop an effective MBA resume that will help you highlight your experience and stand out in the admission process.
To help you succeed, I have outlined the five MBA resume mistakes I see most often and how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Resume bullets that could easily be substituted for a job description
Too often I read bullet after bullet listing the specific tasks and responsibilities of a role. This is particularly detrimental to candidates occupying a common role. While this might be great for proving you can do a specific job, it does nothing to differentiate you from other applicants. Anyone in your role could copy and paste these bullets from the job description. Admissions committee members do not need to know each and every detail of your job and what specifically it entails.
Do this instead: Show the admissions committee how you shined. Discuss a few specific notable projects and include enough detail so the reader can see your innovative thinking. It’s okay if you don’t list everything you did in the role. Your resume should include only the highlights.
Mistake #2: Focusing on technical skills
While it may be crucial in your current role that you are an expert in x, y or z tool, this will be much less interesting to admissions committee members. It’s fine to list these skills in a short section at the bottom of the resume, but this should not be the focus of your bullets.
Do this instead:Emphasize the transferable skills you have developed. For example, share how you have emerged as a leader. Leadership can come in multiple forms, so even if you haven’t managed a team or a project (if you have, include this!) there are many ways to demonstrate leadership. Teamwork and communication are other important skills to include.
As you select professional strengths to highlight, focus on universal skills such as strategic thinking, data analysis, consumer research or project management. Sharing these skills will do more to convince the reader that you can excel in business school than discussing your expertise in Salesforce.
Mistake #3: Not including results or outcomes
Failing to include results or outcomes is a common error I see in MBA resumes. Learnings, takeaways, and results are actually the most important items to include in your business school resume.
Do this instead: Incorporate results, outcomes, or learnings from your experience that demonstrate your growth over time as well as your impact on business performance. The more specific and measurable your results are, the better. Think of items such as increased performance 30 percent over previous year or drove US$1 million in new business through x, y, z.
Mistake #4: Overuse of technical jargon
MBA admissions directors are not experts in every field. They come from diverse backgrounds and while each has their own area of expertise, don’t assume the person reading your resume has familiarity with the nitty gritty details of your industry.
Do this instead: Make your bullets easy to follow so someone from any industry can easily understand the situation, your actions, and the significance of your results. While it’s safe to assume the reader has knowledge of general business terms, keep your details as simple as possible. Candidates who try to impress the reader with complicated terms or name dropping are likely to do more harm than good.
Mistake #5: Having a resume that is one dimensional
If you’re applying for a specific role at a company, it may make sense to include only relevant details and experiences. Not so for an MBA resume.
Do this instead: Take a broader look at your experiences and skills and show the admissions committee different facets of your character—not just your professional side. Successful business school students are active outside of work: in their communities, in athletics, or within organizations. They have hobbies or specific language skills. They win awards or earn certifications. They get involved on their campuses or at work outside of the scope of their jobs. It is important to show the reader multiple aspects of your candidacy.
However, choose quality over quantity here. Sharing your impact within a few key organizations will be much more beneficial than listing 12 different volunteer roles.