The MBA Tour recently swung through Los Angeles, and Linda Abraham and I were delighted to have a table there. We enjoyed meeting dozens of impressive and enthusiastic prospective MBA applicants, and thank the organizers for this great event – nearly 500 people registered and most attendees stayed all day. Clearly, applicants were soaking up information offered not only by the MBA programs represented, but also by consultants like us.
Frankly, we were amazed at the long lines of attendees waiting patiently to speak to us. We had offered brief, complimentary evaluations of resumes and MBA profiles, and we were swamped for more than five hours!
I found three issues came up repeatedly with the applicants we met:
1. How to present yourself to best advantage if you are a career-changer.
2. How to maximize the impact of your resume.
3. How to handle a low GPA and GMAT/GRE scores.
If your career change is major — say, from banking to entrepreneurship, or from engineering to new product development, be prepared to show the admissions committee the skills and knowledge you already have that are both valuable and transferable to your new field and function. Many people had not considered how important relevance is. If your new field and hoped-for job title demands sophistication in salesmanship and leadership, but you don’t have that in your professional background, how can you show you have these abilities or are working to get them? You might have some of those skills through experience with a community organization or other extracurricular activity. If not, join a group or take a class now that will help you build those strengths. B-schools will want to see that you have given thought to how you can transfer skills to your new field, and they will want to see that you understand what new skills and knowledge you will need. After all, you can’t learn absolutely everything you will need from B-school.
I also saw many weak resumes that did not do justice to the applicants’ true abilities. A very common pitfall was “generic-itis” – boring, non-specific bullet point items like this: “Led groups to align department goals and reach benchmarks.” Okay, I probably didn’t see one that awful, but I saw too many lines that were perilously close. Remember that adcom members will only look at your resume for about a minute or less on first glance. Bore them and they won’t even look that long.
How to cure generic-itis in resumes? Easy! Focus on and quantify achievements as much as possible: “Led group of 5 in weekly department meetings as part of campaign to increase sales by 10 percent; sales rose by 8 percent within 3 months.” See the difference? Specifics can include how many people you mentored or led, and how much sales grew in actual dollars or by a percentage. Did your company or department enjoy improved efficiencies, fewer customer complaints, a boost in re-orders? Quantify these achievements wherever possible and show what role you played in those achievements. And if you need to save space, use fewer bullet points to make room for more substantial and more specific achievements.
Here’s another way to strut your stuff in your resume: make sure to include any performance-linked bonus or fast-track promotion you earned. I was surprised to discover many people I spoke to had earned one or both of these professional recognitions, but hadn’t thought to include them on their resumes. This sort of information is resume gold! It presents the perfect marriage of quantified, concrete achievement and impressive career growth. For example: “Signed 4 new accounts worth $500,000, leading to promotion to Associate Product Development Manager.”
Finally, people who have low quant scores for their target schools have options to try to overcome this weakness. If you’re in this situation, you can retake the test – the best option if you think you can raise the score. Sometimes, people are just not good test-takers but are fully capable of b-school quant work; if that’s you, you still have to prove it in your applications. One way is to have A’s in courses such as economics, accounting or statistics for business. If your quant GPA is considerably lower than it should be for your target schools, take at least two of these courses before b-school starts, and note in your applications when and where you are enrolled for these courses if you haven’t completed them yet. You need to earn A’s in these classes.
Alternatively, you may already be able to prove your quant skills through quant-heavy work you are performing professionally. Highlight the quant demands of your job in your resume and job descriptions, and encourage your recommenders to write about your abilities in this area too.
The MBA applicants who stopped by our table were very appreciative of our advice and input. I hope you find this recap equally valuable. If you have questions, please post in a comment below.
By Judy Gruen, MBA admissions consultant since 1996 and author (with Linda Abraham) of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Judy advised applicants at The MBA Tour and would love to guide you to acceptance at your dream schools.