In honor of the birthday of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools, by Linda Abraham and Judy Gruen, we are posting a series of excerpts from the book throughout November. This post is excerpted from Chapter 7: “13 Rules for Resumes that Rock.”
Here are my rules for creating a dynamic and powerful resume that will reward every second of the adcom member’s viewing time, a resume whose every line will add stature to your candidacy.
1. Limit resumes to one page, unless you have more than ten years’ work experience.
Many schools will accept two-page resumes, but the overwhelming preference among adcom members at the top-20 schools is for one-page resumes. Unless you have more than a decade of professional experience under your belt or some other superlative achievements that simply demand that extra page, keep it short and sweet –one page.
2. Place a qualifications summary at the top of your resume.
This qualifications summary serves as a headline for your resume, drawing attention to your most impressive qualifications and achievements. Done right, visually appealing headlines written in concise text boxes, bullet points, bold text or similar style will strike readers immediately with illustrations of your exceptional impact, enticing them to read more about you out of interest, not out of obligation.
An effective qualifications summary might include:
- A short personality summary and/or career history
- Achievement highlights
- Anything notable in your past that is relevant to the program you are applying for.
Some specific examples of achievements worth noting in a qualifications summary might include:
- If you earned three promotions in two years – four years in advance of the traditional path for your company
- If you initiated and successfully led a new venture from within your organization
- If you feel you have a unique attribute that will differentiate you from all the other applicants.
3. Focus on impact and achievements, not responsibilities.
Don’t waste a bullet point item in your resume where you essentially repeat a job title. If you are an analyst, you don’t need to say that you “analyze problems and develop optimal solutions.” That’s what analysts do. If you are a consultant, you don’t need to write that you “consult with clients on improving their business.” That’s what consultants do.
What will distinguish you is not your job title, but what you achieved when you held that title. For maximum impact, do the following:
4. Quantify your impact on the organizations you’ve worked for with specifics.
Include details such as: how much or by what percentage you reduced expenses, how many people were on the team that you supervised, how much or by what percentage you increased sales, and the like. Don’t say, “Developed e-commerce plan that was selected for implementation” when you mean “Designed $5 million e-commerce strategy that increased revenues by 12% and attracted 6 new clients.” Don’t use a vague phrase such as “led a team” when in fact you led a six-person team responsible for the rollout of a new product that brought in $300,000 in six months. If you can’t disclose revenue figures, refer to percentage increases or improvements, or cite the improved industry ranking of the organization’s product or performance as a result of your contribution.
5. Give your most recent professional experience the most attention.
Highlight the positions where you had the greatest impact. In most cases, your current position will deserve the most space. To stay within the preferred one-page format, try to limit your current or most recent position to four bulleted accomplishments. If you have recently changed jobs, devote more bullet points to demonstrating what you achieved in a prior position. Ideally, you will not have to reach back more than a year in your employment history to do this.
6. Don’t list each promotion as if it represents a new position at a new employer.
If one position has allowed you significant leadership opportunities and impact or you have been in your current role for several years, you may need more than four bullet points. Still, avoid listing promotions as if they are new positions, which actually detracts from the attention that the promotion gets. Instead, list the company name and total dates of employment at the top, followed by a list of each role with its bullets beneath that.
7. Emphasize leadership at every opportunity.
Leadership can be manifested by taking charge of an engagement or project, and also by seizing the initiative to add value to your organization. This can mean recruiting peers and staff to get buy-in on an idea or project or to work together to achieve a goal. When you think about leadership in this more expansive way, you will invariably find that you have more examples of it than you thought. Try to frame your leadership triumphs in terms of how they benefited the organization you worked for.
8. Leave high school back in high school.
Don’t include high school activities unless you had truly extraordinary achievements, such as winning a prestigious national award or something else dazzling for someone that young.
9. Place your educational information after your work experience.
Your resume should present your most prominent and impressive experiences first. If you have more than two years of work experience, put your education information after work experience. Do not include GPA, GMAT, SAT or other statistics, which are already on your application.
10. Use verbs to begin every bullet-pointed item.
Verbs make you sound like a dynamic individual who is always ready for action. Don’t say, “Responsible for the development of inventory-control system” when you can say “Developed inventory-control system.” Look for opportunities to include strong cooperation-laden verbs, such as assist, contribute, support, or provide.
11. Design your resume to be user friendly.
The skillful use of understated design can result in an eye-catching resume that projects a sophisticated, successful image. Avoid fussy typefaces — nothing in script or with squiggles. Stick with a conservative style, and go easy on the busy eyes of the adcom members – no smaller than a 10-point font size.
12. Include notable extras.
These include honors, publications, presentations, patents, professional licenses or certifications, and relevant volunteer experiences. Don’t go overboard, however. If you’ve been a research assistant on a dozen projects or received honors since elementary school, select only what is truly most impressive.
13. Proofread and edit mercilessly.
Reduce fluff and make every word count. Use style check and spell check (even though ewe no spell Czech cannot catch awl errors). Have a friend or a professional editor review your resume for errors you may have missed.