One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your MBA application is not spending enough time on your resume. While the admissions team won’t spend as much time looking at it as they will at other parts of your application packet, it’s likely to be the first overview they see of your education and career.
Your resume might be used to decide whether or not to advance you to the next stage of the application process, or as a guide to the person or team conducting your interview.
So, it’s important not to simply attach the same resume you’d use to apply for a job. Be sure to revise it and tailor it to your specific MBA program.
What is an MBA Resume?
An MBA resume is similar to what you might imagine from a typical resume you’d submit as part of a job application: a short, well-formatted document that outlines your experience and accomplishments.
However, instead of being reviewed by an employer, it’s reviewed by an admissions committee, and because of that, you generally don’t want to submit a templated, job search-focused resume with your MBA applications.
How does an MBA resume differ from a job resume?
While it shares the same basic format, an MBA resume should primarily focus on your business and management experience. If your background is in the arts or sciences, highlight your business achievements, not just your creative or technical skills.
The admissions team wants to see your growth as a leader, so focus on roles in which you led a team or was in charge of a major portfolio.
In general, you can start with the same layout as a job resume – with your most recent job at the top – and then choose which jobs you want to highlight.
MBA Resume Format
Structurally, a strong MBA resume is typically divided into three sections:
Experience section: 50% of your resume
Education: 25% of your resume
Extracurricular Activities: 25% of your resume
Typically, an MBA resume will start with basic biographical details: include your name, phone number, address, and email address. Feel free to get a little creative in this section by using a different font to make sure your name stands out at the top of the page.
Optionally, you can include a Summary section. This is a 2-3 sentence sales pitch that shows off your most desirable skills. Write this in descriptive terms (“Forward-thinking Product Manager who….”) rather than in the 1st person. Think of it as a brief introductory bio.
You can also opt to include a Highlights section. This is a bullet list of 8-12 qualities or areas of focus that make you stand out from the crowd. These might include job-related interests (scheduling or budgeting) or personal attributes (creative or analytical) you bring to the job.
Next, include your Work Experience. Don’t list every part-time job you had in college the way you would on a job resume. Focus on your 2 or 3 most recent career-oriented positions. For each one, include the dates you worked there and the roles you had.
But the heart of your resume should be the job descriptions: this is where you’ll include around 5 bullet points for each job that explains exactly what you did there. Focus on the parts that are most relevant to your business career.
Next, list your Education history. You only need to include your bachelor’s degree and your master’s degree (if you have one), so leave off your high school. You can go into more detail about your education in your essays if you think it is relevant to your application.
Finally, where applicable, list one or two Extracurricular activities that highlight some of your interests and accomplishments outside of your work. This will allow you to demonstrate your personality and character, while avoiding making your resume excessively informal.
Make sure that your resume fits on one page and is in clear, easy-to-read text. Use a 10-point font with headings and/or page breaks to separate each section; that being said, follow the formatting requirements of the school you’re applying to if they have different standards.
MBA Resume Do’s
Now that you know the basic format of an MBA resume, let’s look at some of the things you should and shouldn’t do. These are just guidelines, so as always, ask the admissions team directly if you have any questions about what format and style they prefer.
Thing 1: Start With What’s Most Relevant And Recent
In general, you’ll want to start off with your most recent job and work backwards, leaving your education last. This is in contrast to a job resume, which often starts off with your educational history. Your most recent job is the one that’s of the most interest to the MBA committee, so it should be the one you devote the most space to.
If you have any gaps between jobs, explain them, but don’t worry about covering every single job you’ve ever had. If you worked a summer job in college that isn’t relevant to your business career, then don’t bother to include it. It’s ok if your resume only shows employment at 2-3 companies, so long as that makes up the bulk of your professional career.
Thing 2: Highlight Results, Not Job Duties
The admissions team can figure out your general job duties – after all, you aren’t the first person with that job description they’ve interviewed. Focus on what you did differently. Did you manage a larger portfolio? Lead a remote team spread out all over the world? Focus on the big-picture items, not whether you facilitated company meetings and answered phone calls.
Thing 3: Use Concrete Examples
While you’re at it, be specific. Include numbers and figures whenever possible. It’s much more persuasive to say that you saved your company $100 million in a given quarter, not just that you “performed effective cost analysis”. Drop in sales figures and operating budgets when you can, and include the size of your team or your company’s client base.
If you were in charge of hiring people in your department, how many people did you interview? How many office branches did you visit? How many countries did you travel to? Using specific dates and figures is more effective that simply saying you “traveled abroad for business”.
Thing 4: Include Extra-Curricular Activities and Soft Skills
It’s not all about financial metrics, though. The admissions committee wants to choose students with a wide range of skills, including good leadership and teamwork. If you have non-job-related experiences that help show off these qualities, be sure to include them.
Are you trained in conflict mediation? Are you bilingual? You can include these skills as bullet points in your Highlights section, or even better, alongside your other work experiences if they can be demonstrated by work you did for a volunteer project or non-profit.
Thing 5: Use Active Verbs
When describing your job experiences, use strong, active verbs that make you the center of the story. For example, “managed” or “designed” sounds better than “helped organize” or “assisted with.” Each bullet point should be a a clear, descriptive sentence that shows how you personally contributed to the success of your team or business.
MBA Resume Don’t’s
While there’s some leeway as to what you can include in your MBA resume, there are a few mistakes that can make even a strong resume look unprofessional. Let’s look at these 5 simple mistakes to avoid when putting your application together:
Thing 1: Don’t Include A Photo or Personal Info
Different countries have different expectations around what you should include in a resume, but in general, don’t include a picture on yours. Some schools may ask for one as part of the full application, and that’s ok, but keep it separate from the resume.
Likewise, don’t include too many details about your personal life. While you can share a little bit about your family in your personal essay, don’t include things like “Married” or “Single” on your resume, and don’t list your height, age, gender, religion, or nationality. This information may appear on other parts of the application form, but it doesn’t belong on your resume.
Thing 2: Avoid Cliches and Jargon
Be intentional about your word choice. Cliches like “self-starter” or “tech-savvy” are vague and don’t really demonstrate your capabilities. Likewise, using jargon from your industry can confuse the reader. If your background is in the military or a very specific career sector, try and describe your work in terms that someone outside of that industry would understand.
Thing 3: Don’t Lie Or Exaggerate
It should go without saying, but don’t lie or inflate your resume. Even small details such as using a higher-ranking job title or extending your dates of employment to cover up a gap can get your application rejected. Admissions officers can tell when applicants are making things up – after all, they have contacts throughout the industry and can easily check up on a specific claim by calling one of your references or running a background check. An honest mistake is one thing, but an outright lie or exaggeration can damage your reputation for good.
Thing 4: Don’t Get Too Creative
There are places to let your creativity shine through, but your resume isn’t it. You can use some simple formatting, such as bold and italics, to make your resume easy on the eye, but this isn’t the time to show off your Photoshop skills.
Leave some empty spaces, such as a line between sections to break up the page, and avoid using charts or tables. Make sure that key phrases jump out when you scan the page. If you have too much going on, it will just looked cramped and be too hard to decipher.
It’s a good idea to include as much specific detail as possible on your resume, including financial figures. However, don’t do this if the information is confidential. You don’t want to get in trouble at work because you’ve shared details about your business that isn’t available to the public.
If you can’t share the amount of a specific portfolio, for example, say that you’ve worked on “million-dollar” portfolios. If you can’t name a consulting client due to an NDA, say that you’ve worked with a “Fortune 500” company. Be specific without breaking confidentiality.
9 Good MBA Resume Examples
Now that we’ve looked at some of the do’s and don’ts of MBA resumes, let’s put some of these ideas into practice and look at a few examples of successful resumes:
Example 1: Information Technology (IT) Professionals.
This applicant spends a great deal of their resume’s real estate on workable, recent experience, working backwards from their current position. Education and special skills (“Additional)” are contained to short, but informative sections that highlight the applicants’ degrees and a couple of soft skills, without feeling like filler.
Achievements and accomplishments are bolstered with dates to make them more believable (“Received awards twice (Apr. 2005, Sept. 2004) for professional excellence”), and their copy avoids jargon and cliches. View this resume below.
Example 2: Senior Management.
This resume is one example of when a Summary and Highlights section can be useful; the applicant uses this section to briefly introduce themselves and their accomplishments, as well as the skills they bring to bear in a senior management position.
In addition, the applicant’s description of their work experience takes care to highlight results over duties (“Increased PMS assets under management by five folds in a span of 1.5 years”). View this resume below.
Example 3: Sales Manager.
This resume is an extremely strong example of results-based job descriptions; here, the applicant keeps details focused on specific, demonstrable accomplishments (“Achieved record levels of billings… in the first year of hire”), rather than describing rote job duties. Jargon is explicated (e.g. industry acronyms are spelled out), making it easier for admissions personnel to understand.
By focusing on specific accomplishments and measurable improvements in billings, revenue and strategic marketing in their resume, this applicant makes a strong case for inclusion in a sales management-focused MBA program. View this resume below.
Example 4: Finance Manager.
This one-sheet resume is a strong adherent to the 50-25-25 ratio recommended for MBA resumes, offering optimal information for work experience, education and extracurricular activities. Like the other examples on this list, details are focused on measurable outcomes for each job position, including experience in audits and customer service – skills integral to an MBA program centered on financial management. View this resume below.
Example 5: Production/Operation Management.
This applicant’s Highlights section serves as a strong, concise summary for their skills in production management. They also make sure to consistently cite results based around important skills in production and operation management (e.g. achieving ISO:9001 certification). While their Additional section is mostly centered around further achievements, rather than extracurricular activities, this serves as an ideal space to highlight further qualifications for their field. View this resume below.
Example 6: Marketing Manager.
While this resume is on the longer side (three pages), it is extremely detail-oriented, and avoids jargon while remaining dedicated to highlighting their accomplishments in each position. While results in marketing management often require greater explanation, the applicant structures each accomplishment with categories (“International Marketing”) and measurable numbers to keep the information verifiable. View this resume below.
Example 7: Supply Chain Analyst.
Like many of the resumes above, this applicant offers enough room for experience, education and extracurriculars, though those are mostly relegated to certifications and skills. That being said, the resume’s focus on measurable savings generated for each position solidifies their brand as someone who can bring costs down, a valuable skill in a supply chain environment. View this resume below.