What your resume needs to look like to get into the business school of your dreams, plus a full-length MBA resume example
How is the MBA resume different from other resumes?
Every MBA program requires its applicants to submit a resume. The good news is: you’re a business person. You almost certainly have an up-to-date and compelling resume or you wouldn’t have advanced as far as you have in your career to date.
The bad news, however, is that an MBA resume is an entirely different beast from your typical job application resume. The resume that gets you hired at an investment bank won’t be the same resume that gets you into a top MBA program, and this makes nailing the MBA resume a critical (and tricky) step toward acing your application.
So, what are the differences between the resume you used to land your current job and the one you’ll use to apply to MBA programs? In short, the answer is leadership.
Consider the goal for each type of resume.
For the job resume, your goal is to prove to your future boss that you have what it takes to do a particular job function. If you’re applying for an engineering job at Uber, your resume must demonstrate your prowess for coding. If you’re applying for a portfolio management job at Credit Suisse, your resume shows your experience in markets, investment strategies and your overall business acumen.
For each job you’ve applied to in the past, you’ve probably tweaked your resume such that it’s uniquely tailored to the demands of that particular job, but no matter the position to which you’re applying, the goal remained the same: prove that you are qualified to do the work required of you. This kind of technical qualification doesn’t necessarily apply to your MBA resume.
Business schools aren’t looking for coding prowess or investment knowledge. They’re looking for applicants who have the potential to make a lasting impact in the world through business. They’re looking for game changers, for innovators, for future CEOs. They don’t care if you can derive Black-Scholes with your eyes closed; they care about whether you can lead a team, think critically, collaborate with others, and achieve great feats of business that leave a legacy behind you.
Stated simply, an MBA is a degree in business leadership. Therefore, the resume needs to focus not on job skills, but rather on demonstrated business leadership.
In the following article, we’ll show you how to write a resume for an MBA application effectively. But first, let’s take a step back and look at how your resume will be used by the admissions committee while they evaluate your application.
The purpose of the MBA resume
The MBA resume stands as the centerpiece of your application. It’s a useless task to attempt to rank the resume’s importance alongside your career goals essay, other essays, and interview, as each application component is vital in its own way, but more often than not the resume will stand as the first page an admissions committee looks at when reviewing your application.
The resume provides the framework through which your essays will be read, and it will form the basis for the questions you’ll be asked in your interview. In other words, your resume will be referred to during the admissions process far more often than any other application component.
Think of the resume as the what of your application. The essays are the why.
If in your essays you get to demonstrate who you are and how you think, in your resume you get to show off what you’ve accomplished. However, this doesn’t mean the resume is a list. By definition, sure, the resume is a list, but a strong resume (just like an essay) tells a story about your career trajectory thus far, and your future trajectory should be able to be predicted based on your past achievements.
So, what story should you try to tell through your resume? Simple. The story of an impassioned leader who has made an impact wherever she’s gone. Due to the resume’s required brevity, which leaves little room to elaborate, crafting a compelling growth story can be difficult.
So, how do you accomplish this feat in a one-page document? To answer this question, let’s break the resume down into its sections.
MBA Resume Sections
Section 1: Professional Experience
Your work experience should take up roughly 2/3 of your resume. This is business school, after all, and the admissions committee wants to see how you operate in a business setting.
Work down the page chronologically, beginning with your current role. Each entry should have at least 2, and no more than 6, bullet points, and the more recent positions should hold more entries than the more distant roles, as your responsibilities and IMPACT should have grown as you progressed through your career.
The most important point we can make about this section is that you must demonstrate growth between your career transitions. If you began as an analyst at McKinsey where you managed zero people, you’ll want to stress that in your next role you LED a team of five. If your first position’s tasks were mostly day-to-day work, you’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve since grown into a more strategic, big-picture role.
The resume shows your career trajectory, and that trajectory needs to portray upward momentum.
Begin each professional entry with the company you worked for and follow it with a description of that company. If you worked at Goldman Sachs, the description is less important than had you worked for Mush Foods, but the idea is the same: you want to substantiate your place of business in the eyes of someone who might not be familiar with it. For example:
Mush Foods – Junior Strategist
World’s largest distributor of non-chewable digestibles.
Mush Foods isn’t real, but the point is that you want your reader to understand the scope of the business you worked for. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small start-up or a major conglomerate; what matters is the impact you made there. Your impact on a start-up will be expected to be more substantial than your impact at Pepsi Co, as your reader will understand that you were a small cog in the Pepsi machine.
Also include, up front, how long you worked for a given company and your position there. If you worked multiple positions due to being promoted, separate out the entry by position to show the added responsibility you took on once promoted.
Once you have listed the companies you worked for, the positions you held, and the length of time you worked there, it’s time to delve into the bullet points.
The bullet points
If the goal of the professional experience section as a whole is to show growth, the goal of the individual entries is to show leadership and impact within each listed experience.
For every job you’ve held, think of the three (or so) top accomplishments you made there. At every job, 90% of your work was likely day-to-day operational stuff. Skip all that–save the technical, operational entries for your job resume.
For the MBA resume, you only want to include the best and brightest highlights. Choose accomplishments that go above and beyond your typical work–achievements that made a real impact.
For each bullet point, follow this simple formula:
ACTION VERB + GOAL + RESULT
Let’s break down this formula:
1. Action verb:
The action verb you choose to lead with is crucial. A strong bullet point leads with a verb that demonstrates an MBA-ORIENTED SKILL. For example, “Led a team of five” is an excellent start to a bullet point because leadership is a major trait that admissions committees look for. Some other strong, MBA-oriented verbs could be:
The important thing to remember here is the story you’re telling. What are your greatest strengths as a leader? Choose verbs that demonstrate those strengths.
A good test: read only the first word of each bullet point all the way down your resume. What kind of a person do you sound like, based only on those verbs? Is this the kind of person who sounds like a future leader? Do the verbs play to your unique gifts as a business person? If so, you’ve chosen strong verbs.
The second component to a strong bullet is the goal of the verb. You managed a team of five to do what? You negotiated a deal for what purpose? This sounds pretty simple, but in order to prove that you made an IMPACT, you need to explain—concisely—what problem you were trying to solve.
Did you “manage of a team of five to streamline cost-prohibitive supply chains?” Did you “collaborate with the sales team to bring in 3 new revenue streams?” Did you “organize a road show to drum up investment interest?”
Show the object upon which your verb acted so your reader understands what it was that you were working toward.
The “result” of your goal is critical, and it is the step that’s most frequently left out of a bullet point. No bullet point is finished without a demonstrated result. If the verb shows the MBA skill you utilized to work toward solving a problem (your goal), then the result is where you demonstrate your impact.
Quantify your impact using numbers and percentages. We can’t stress this enough. Give the reader something they can really understand–a percent increase in sales, a dollar amount of investor growth, the amount of time you saved your team, etc.
“Managed of a team of five to streamline cost-prohibitive supply chains, reducing bottom-line operations by 30%.”
“Collaborated with the sales team to bring in 3 new revenue streams totally $5M in new business.”
“Organized road show to drum up investment interest resulting in 15% increase y-o-y.”
Check to see if each bullet point has a number in it. Perhaps not every accomplishment can be quantified, but most can (and should) be. If the vast majority of your bullet points don’t have a numerical value somewhere in it, revisit your resume and see if you can more thoroughly quantify your results.
A bonus: Lasting impact.
Sure, your action verb led to quantifiable results, but you can make your impact that much stronger by arguing that you left your mark. Let’s say you developed a new systems operation that cut cost by 10% and is still in use today. Include the fact that your development is still in use! This shows that you not only made an impact, but that your impact continued long after you moved on from that particular job role.
A note on length: including all the above in one bullet point might seem daunting, but concision is everything when it comes to resumes. Each bullet point should be no longer than two lines. If the bullet point is very important (meaning it really shows lasting impact in a way none of the others can), then you may be able to stretch it to three lines, but try your best to aim for one or two-line entries so as not to tire out your reader.
You have you essays and interviews to expound upon your resume. On the resume itself, just hit the highlight. Show your MBA skillset and results–and move on.
Resist using technical jargon
An important warning: unlike in a job application, where the reader (your future boss) absolutely works in your field, the MBA admissions committee member reading your resume very likely has little first-hand experience in your industry. Especially if you come from a technical industry, resist jargon.
You want your impact to be understood by a layperson. If your parent or favorite well-meaning but non-technical uncle or aunt could read a bullet point and not understand what you actually did, it’s too nitty-gritty. You’re trying to convey impact through leadership–leadership is universal, and your resume entries should be, too.
Section 2: Volunteer Experience
Volunteer experience is an excellent way to round out your resume, and this section is typically held in high regard by MBA admissions committees who are looking for passion and leadership.
Use this section to show your reader what you’re passionate about. The point is to demonstrate what you care about when you’re not getting paid for it. How do you spend your free time outside the office?
Maybe you don’t have much free time. After all, you’re a successful business person, which means you’re likely quite busy at work. Maybe you’re not Mother Theresa. (If you are, amazing! This is your time to stand out from the pack!) You can bypass this section and beef up your professional experience section by showing ways you’ve given back to your places of work (a women’s group or an LGBTQ alliance, for example.)
Many successful applicants don’t include a separate volunteer experience section on their resume, but if you’ve given back to your community or invested in anything outside of work that means something to you, it will only strengthen your resume to include it, as doing so gives the admissions committee a fuller picture of who you are and what you care about when it doesn’t contribute to your 401k.
If you do include this section, all the above rules regarding bullet points hold true–show leadership, show impact, use action verbs that demonstrate MBA-oriented skills.
Section 3: Education
The education section is fairly straightforward and will likely remain consistent with your job resumes. Leadership, impact, and passion prevail. Use this section to show what you care about intellectually. If you did research on a subject that matters to you, show that here. If you gained any formal recognition for your work (academic or extracurricular) show that, too.
Section 4: Additional information
If you’ve already run out of space on your one-page resume with the above sections, don’t include any “additional information,” but if you have a line or two to spare, you can informally include passions and interests that don’t fall under the three headers above in a brief section at the bottom. No need for formal section breaks or formulaic bullet points–keep this section concise and casual.
Here’s where you can let your uniqueness shine. If you organized a local volleyball league (this type of activity could also count for volunteer experience, FYI) show that off here. If you’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro or speak American Sign Language, include it here.
A good test for what works for this section: does this added information separate you from the pack? Is it something you want to be asked about in your interview? Does it round out your resume in a way that paints a fuller picture of yourself?
If an activity checks all these boxes, it might be worth the precious page-space to include it. But be wary –running a marathon, for example, isn’t that unique—especially among high-achieving MBA types. If you know five people who have done the thing you’re thinking of including, chances are hundreds of other applicants will include that activity, and it’s not going to distinguish your application from the rest. But if you, say, participate in a local competitive bhangra league, you might stand out.
Full length MBA resume example
Here’s a resume from one of the students you’ve met through our essay posts.
Shuhan Z Khan, MD | email@example.com | 777 777 7777
Fellow, Apollo Care Venture Fund, 2017-2019
Boutique venture capital firm seeking to make cutting-edge plays into biomedical markets
Designed and implemented rigorous due diligence standards on deals adding up to over $3B in investment growth
Managed team of 5 senior researchers in devising 12-point rubric for Apollo Care’s evaluation of their projects’ scientific and financial integrity. Rubric remains in use
Trained investors on competent biomedical analysis, resulting in 10% improvement y-o-y on annual investor satisfaction survey
Deloitte Consulting, Life Sciences and Healthcare Industry Group, 2013-2017
Leading consultancy helping healthcare organizations achieve major business goals
Pioneered strategy for major overhaul of health insurer partnerships, resulting in 30% increase in average client cost savings
Led cross-functional team of eight analyst in collaboration with the Risk Advisory team to calculate risks involved in the compensation of client insurance claims; top down approach of assessment led to identification of risks worth 7% of y-o-y revenue
Strategized the preparation of client feedback forms by collaborating with the customer care team to accelerate retention; resulting policy changes led to 15% increase in retention
As youngest team member, implemented financial analysis of major pharmaceutical company, cutting over $2M in costs and earning firm’s 2012 New Initiative Award; out-of-turn promotion to Associate
Resident, Cardiology Fellowship at Yale New Haven Hospital, 2010-2013
Mentored and instructed rotating medical students, resulting in 100% student pass rate
Presented case report at ‘09 American College of Physicians Conference, awarded distinguished research certificate by Board
Designed and executed clinical trial on comorbidity of heart disease with genetic factors, findings published in Cardiovascular Research
Founder and Board President, KnowYourHealth, 2014-2018
Non-profit organization devoted to teaching lay people about health insurance costs and risks
Managed 20+ team of volunteer staff and 100+ teams of volunteers to canvas on behalf of enrollment and to teach enrollees how to understand their healthcare rights and privileges.
Enrolled 1,000+ people in healthcare in Connecticut and educated 2,000+ more at events.
KnowYourHealth still exists; as Board President, advise young physicians, medical students, and business people on how to combine forces to create long-lasting non-profit impact.
Yale Medical School, 2006-2010, High honors, Winner of Elizabeth Blackwell Prize for research on health administration efficacy in rural areas
Emory University, B.S. Biology, Minor in Business, 2002-2006, Summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa
Additional Information: Founder of South Asian Women in Medicine, Yale chapter | Three-time triathlete | Fluent in Hindi and Bangla | Former Scripps Spelling Bee National Champion
Keep your MBA resume to one page (no exceptions), use action verbs for every bullet point, and use numbers to quantify your impact. Show your career growth, avoid using alienating technical jargon, and be sure a layman can understand your accomplishments without knowing anything about your field. Most importantly, present yourself as a business leader.
By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to receiving an acceptance letter from your dream MBA program in the mail.