Applying to an MBA program means that you will to beat out a significant amount of competition. Wharton, for example, received 6,590 applicants for their MBA Class of 2017 and accepted only 861 students (a 13 percent admittance rate). Harvard Business School received even more applications, 9,686, and they were even more exclusive, accepting only 937 students (an 11 percent admittance rate). In fact, even slightly less competitive programs still see admittance rates hover well below 50 percent.
When you’re competing against so many qualified applicants for so few spots, your application needs to stand out in every single way. Your resume is especially important since it’s the first piece an admissions officer will see. It shows the admissions officer everything he needs to know about you in a quick glance — and it often determines whether or not he bothers giving you a closer look.
Without a strong MBA resume, your essays will go unread, and you’ll never land the interview. If your resume is well-constructed and highlights your background thoroughly and clearly, however, it can compensate for any weaknesses your application might have.
Let’s take a look at the most important components of an MBA resume and what you can do to strengthen yours.
Many potential MBA applicants are deterred by the fact that they don’t have an undergraduate degree in business. It’s important to recognize that while a degree in marketing may help you land a position in an MBA marketing program, it isn’t a prerequisite. In fact, many schools look favorably toward non-business majors since these students provide a more diverse student base. The bottom line is that if your work experience and career goals are in line with the MBA you want to pursue, don’t let your undergraduate degree hold you back from applying.
In addition to your GPA, make sure to include your achievements. If you were the officer of an association or led a particularly challenging student project, make note of it. Anything that proves your knowledge and leadership is a major plus.
A Special Consideration — Do I Really Need a College Degree?
It’s a bit trickier when you don’t have any college whatsoever, but it isn’t always a deal-breaker. The key is having enough professional experience to make the case that you have a strong working knowledge in your field. To make up for the lack of a formal education, your professional experience section will need to be much stronger than the other applicants. If it isn’t, you need to consider either building more experience or working on an undergraduate degree first.
Your professional experience is a way to show schools how you’ve taken your education and put it into practice. A strong work history full of accomplishments goes a long way towards helping you land admittance.
In general, schools are looking for these three elements in your work experience:
- Leadership Qualities. MBA candidates are expected to become leaders. You need to show that you’re developing leadership habits, whether or not your titles and duties reflect them.
- Natural Progression. Schools want candidates who can continue to progress throughout their career. Your work experience should show consistent career progression via promotions, new jobs and expanded responsibilities.
- Timing. Schools want to know that you’re ready to move onto bigger and better things once you graduate. Your professional experience needs to reflect that by clearly demonstrating that you have the skills and connections necessary to do so.
A Special Consideration — Do I Really Need Work Experience?
The majority of reputable MBA programs look at an applicant’s professional experience as a key consideration for admission. Some programs, however, are happy to take applicants with a poor or incomplete work history in lieu of other strengths, such as education, GMAT or other test scores, and overall readiness.
If you are interested in applying to an MBA program without full-time work experience, contact your preferred university’s admissions department to see if the school is flexible on work requirements. If it is, you’ll need to spend even more time perfecting your essays and resume.
Additional Components of Your MBA Resume
The most critical aspects of your MBA resume are the education and professional experience sections, but you may have other sections if they add to your story. Here are some other common components of MBA resumes:
- Skills / Keywords: Usually, this section should not be included; instead, place the information throughout your resume instead of using up valuable space with a dedicated section.
- Hobbies / Interests:This is another section that can usually be left out. However, if you have hobbies or interests that show leadership qualities or relevant industry knowledge, they are worth mentioning.
- References: Again, you don’t want to waste valuable real estate. If you have a separate place to include references in your application, you can simply include them there. If not, include references on a separate sheet.
- Statement / Professional Summary: This is useful to place at the top to give the reviewer an idea of who you are and what your goals are. Make sure to keep it concise. If you have an extensive background, you can drop the statement in lieu of more important information.
- Volunteer Experience: If your experience is relevant in that it demonstrates leadership or industry knowledge, you need to make sure to include it. If not, you can safely omit it.
General MBA Resume Tips & Tricks
Your resume is more than just a collection of sections. You need to make sure it’s organized logically and written well. Here are some important general tips and tricks for writing a strong MBA resume:
- Don’t use your existing work resume. Most professionals applying for an MBA already have a strong resume, and they think they can just tweak it for their MBA application. This is a mistake. Your MBA resume is written for a completely different purpose than landing a job and needs to be written through a very different lens. Your best bet is to start from scratch and craft an entirely new document.
- Organize according to your strengths. No set, hard rules exist as to whether education or work experience should come first in a resume. Instead, think about which is your strongest selling point. If you have a strong GPA from a prestigious university, lead with it. If you have terrific, relevant work experience, lead with that instead. The key is to hit anybody reviewing your resume with your strongest material first.
- Don’t stretch it to two pages. Admissions officers reviewing your entire application want to skim your resume, so one page is best. Otherwise, it’s likely that they’ll overlook important information hidden on page 2.
- Keep everything tight. It’s important that you touch on all your strengths and important accomplishments, but you have to make sure somebody skimming your resume sees everything. Avoid long paragraphs, and, instead, use short sentences and bullet points. The less space you use, the more information they’ll absorb.
- Go over everything carefully. Everybody has Microsoft Word to check their spelling and avoid basic typos, but you need to go beyond that. Print out your resume and read it out loud. Have a friend give it a glance. Make sure you aren’t repeating words or including too many unnecessary adjectives. The tighter your resume is, the better your first impression will be.
- Be truthful. This is another point that should go without saying, but you must be 100 percent honest throughout your resume (and the entire application). If you exaggerate job titles or responsibilities, or add a couple percentage points to your GPA, you’ll only hurt yourself in the end. Admissions offices are thorough in their background checks, and if they find any discrepancies, you’ll be rejected without a second thought. If your resume can’t stand on its own, you need to take a year or two to strengthen it.
Now that we’ve taken the time to review how you should put together your MBA resume, you can start looking for the perfect program.