How to Impress with your Business School Resumé

This post originally appeared on the InGenius Prep blog

The business school resumé is an absurd and challenging genre of writing. It suffers from severe constraints and yet, to be of value, requires an enormous amount of time and thought. It takes hours to create. But it is unlikely that it will be considered for more than 30 seconds.

Many people see the resumé as simply a form they fill out. Plug in your name, address, degrees, dates, etc, and you are all set. But think about it: Most of the information you put on your business school resumé you already plugged into the application elsewhere. The admissions office already knows your name, your educational history, your GPA, etc.

Why, then, are they asking you to tell it to them all over again?

In one sense, resumés are like an elevator pitch.

In another sense, your resumé is like a table of contents for your entire application, except that it will likely appear somewhere in the middle. It contextualizes both what your readers have read so far, as well as what they will read next.

Like your business school essays, the crafting of your business school resumé is more art than science. It cannot be predetermined, but, rather, must be shaped using your pre-existing life experiences and guided by them.

Most people make the mistake of thinking that you put together a resumé and then you use it for everything – jobs, schools, etc. They are wrong. Your resumé is a conversation between you and your specific reader. You must design it specifically for that reader in mind. For business school, you must design your resumé that speaks to admissions officers’ goals (“Is this the applicant I want?”) and concerns (“How can I be sure?”).

Additionally, you should consider catering your resumé to specific schools. For example, HBS vs. GSB look for different qualities in applicants. Make sure you understand what each school is considering! Visit their admissions sites for a clear understanding. Harvard’s admissions site explicitly maps out who the school is looking for.

Your Business School Resumé: Master Resumé

To get started, you should create a master resumé – your own private resumé, which is unique in two ways:

  1. You never share it. It is for your eyes only.
  2. It is a thorough representation of your entire educational and professional life until this second in paper form. The more it contains, the easier it will be for you to craft the perfect resumé every time you need one. And as you compile your Master Resumé, you may see patterns in your career previously unrecognized.

How to Make a Resumé

Now that you’ve made a master resumé, you should have all of the raw data necessary to craft your resumé. From here, you’ll need to consider the following:

  1. Form: How do I format my resumé?

The flow, structure and style of your resumé will tell a story and make an impression. The format, font, font size, number of lines per section, size of the margins matter more than they should. But you will never be told by a school HOW to format your resumé. That doesn’t mean there is no right and wrong – it just means that what is right and what is wrong are not written in stone. That being said, here are some hard no’s to follow:

  • No color
  • No artsy fonts (stick to Times New Roman)
  • No pictures
  • No funky bullet points
  • No clutter
  • No tiny font

When in doubt, simple, clear, and easy to follow is best.

  1. Data Selection: What data do (and don’t) I include on my business school resumé?

How do you decide what to put on and what to leave off?

When making these decisions, consider the following questions:

  • What is most important to who you are?
  • What is most relevant to the program to which you are applying?
  • What is most impressive to the program to which you are applying?

For example, your experience working with the Navajo might be essential to who you are; your quant skills might be most relevant to the business school to which you are applying; but your quick promotion track might be the most impressive thing to the admissions committee. As is often the case, sometimes there will be much overlap between the answers to these questions. Given the space constraint, you have to figure out how to fit the most important of these experiences into the limited amount of space available to you.

One other type of data you must include is anything that fits the following question: “Would it be strange if I didn’t include this information”?

There are different ways to determine this kind of data, but here are some ways to think about it:

  • If most people include that kind of information on their resumés (e.g. some semblance of work, education, etc.)
  • If the absence of that information will give the appearance that you just did nothing for a long stretch of time (e.g. what did this person do for four years between high school and grad school?)
  • If you have a strong desire not to include that information on your resumé even though you know it should probably be there.
  1. Structure: How do I order and categorize that data?

Your Data Selection analysis probably has led you to want to include data about your education, your work experience and your extracurriculars. But that doesn’t tell you much about how to put them on paper.

Whenever possible, start with a bang. You want to include your strongest and most impressive content first. So, if your work experience is more impressive than your schooling, list it first.

Another way to take control over the order in which your business school resumé unfolds is by strategically creating categories. New categories allow you to better frame your story. You are able to show the connections between your various activities and experiences in a more direct, efficient and meaningful way. (But obviously, don’t overdo it!)

Here are some categories that you might want to consider:

  • Awards
  • Honors
  • Education
  • Leadership
  • Work/Employment
  • Research
  • Writing/Publications
  • Service/Volunteer (Global Service)
  • Extracurricular
  • Athletics

Two categories you should NEVER use: “Relevant Experience” and “Additional Experience.” Those categories are wasted opportunities. Is there nothing coherent about your “Additional Experience”? Can’t it be made to demonstrate your “Leadership,” or your “Community Service”? Calling something “Additional” is equivalent to calling it “Irrelevant.” Literally.

  1. Strategic Style:  How do I name, frame and proclaim that data?

Lastly, you must take care to craft and pay attention to all of the details that make up your resumé.

Email: Still using your [email protected] email account? Time to set up a gmail account.

Titles: Be consistent with your naming conventions. You don’t always need a title for a job or extracurricular activity, especially when you didn’t actually have one. But just because you didn’t have a title (or even if you did) doesn’t mean you cannot use one. Thoughtfully constructed titles can describe what you did with great economy, and can give your work a sense of seriousness that it may otherwise lack. But obviously don’t make anything up.

Dates: You are expected to give the dates for everything you have done, but there is flexibility in doing so. It seems unimportant, but there are reasons to choose one format instead of another. One applicant, in between taking a year off from college to travel and spending a semester at Oxford before transferring to his final college preferred simply noting his graduation date “May 2007,” rather than indicating that it took him 6 years to pull the feat off.

Descriptions: For every experience on your business school resumé, you should provide some sort of description that adds detail, color and impressiveness to you. When crafting your descriptions, make sure to do the following:

  • Use action verbs: Make your descriptions stand out with active, confident, and bold action verbs. Start your descriptions with words like lead, found, organize, raise, direct, start, change, transform, learn, teach, enhance, improve, engage.
  • Quantify, quantify, quantify: How much money did you raise? By what percent did revenue increase as a result of your efforts? How much did your staff grow? Did you get promoted (for example: analyst → associate → VP in 12 months)? The more numbers, growth, results, quantification you can include the better.
  • Demonstrate impact: What did you accomplish? How did you impact your company, organization, or community? What tangible changes did you drive? What was the most impressive thing you did? What leadership did you demonstrate?
  • Be thorough and specific: Always provide enough context for your activity or position. You have to balance the amount of specificity with space allotted, but wherever possible, more detail is better. Rather than say “led team to ABC” say “led team of X to ABC.”
  • Use the right tense: make sure that you use your tenses properly. Don’t use present tense for something in the past; use a gerund for something ongoing.

GPA: If your GPA is impressive, add it. If your major GPA is significantly better than your regular GPA, add it. If your GPA isn’t impressive, don’t add it.

What Not To Include:

  • Purpose/Goal/Aim is usually a waste of space.
  • Don’t have a page number if it is just one page.
  • “Proficient in email and MS Word” is probably not worth putting on your application

The Delivery: ALWAYS save your business school resumé as a PDF, not a word doc.

  1. Edit, edit, and then edit again.

There are absolutely no excuses for submitting a business school resume with a typo. Don’t do it.

The business school resumé is only one page. But to impress with your resumé takes thoughtful strategy, time, and rounds and rounds of edits. It is your elevator pitch, your table of contents. It should support your persona and tell us who you are and where you are going. Even though it’s just one piece of paper, it could be your ticket into school.

About the author: Yosepha Greenfield is a graduate of Yale University and an admissions expert at InGenius Prep


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