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How to Write a Compelling Business School Resume

Posted November 20, 2017 by Barbara Coward - Founder - Enrollment Strategies

Imagine an admissions officer, at the busiest time of the year, who needs to read 20 files a day to get through all the applications in that round.

It’s not uncommon to begin with the resume before reading all the other application materials such as essays and letters of recommendations because it provides a quick and full introduction of the applicant.

Make your Case in Minutes

That’s why your resume is one of the most important documents in your file. In fact, Sara Neher, former assistant dean of admissions at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, says applicants should treat the resume as another essay. In other words, you need to spend as much time writing your resume as you would dedicate to developing an essay.

Keep in mind that an admissions officer will probably spend only 20—30 minutes evaluating your entire application. That means you have only about two to three minutes to make your case for admission through your resume.

It should capture attention. It should inspire. It should influence.

Here are six tips to keep in mind to achieve all three tasks.

1.  Start Off by Standing Out

Have you ever heard of the anchoring effect? According to studies, the first piece of information we receive about a person (or situation) influences our overall perception. It’s how our brains are hard-wired.

That means that the first document an admissions officer reads in your file can influence the overall perception of your entire application.

Of course, he or she could choose another document in your file to read first. But it could very well be your resume.

The Takeaway: Make sure your resume gives a stellar first impression. It should be professional, concise, interesting, and easy-to-read with sufficient white space.

2.  Adapt to Today's Attention Spans

From tweeting to texting, digital technology is changing our attention spans. We have a growing appetite for short and focused communications.

That means less is more when it comes to conveying “who you are” on paper or screen.

Although you are crafting just one resume, keep in mind the admissions officer is reading many of them. It’s easy for the officer to get eye fatigue. Keep your reader alert and engaged.

The Takeaway: Make sure you describe your professional experience fully in as few words as possible. Be a skilled wordsmith. If you can’t do it alone, ask a colleague or friend to help you, or hire a professional consultant.

3.  Give Context to Your Work

While your work experience is clear to you, it might not be as understandable to the reader. Listing McKinsey or Amazon on your resume will provide instant recognition, but a relatively unknown company could be less relatable to the reader.

This is important because an inherent bias called the ambiguity effect makes us avoid choices that involve uncertainty. So, if you are trying to influence someone to make a decision, such as an invitation to interview, you need to show as much clarity as possible.

The Takeaway: Make sure the reader understands the significance of your organization. Include a sentence to describe what the firm does, who their customers are, where their operating markets are located, and how much revenue the organization earns, at minimum.

4.  Take Time to Translate

If you are applying for b-school and have a background in a field other than business, translate any technical jargon or industry-specific phrases to layperson’s language. Don’t make it hard work for the admissions officer to learn about you. If you work as an engineer at a tech company, for example, add context around your work such as the names of well-known clients. It’s more meaningful if you frame your work in terms of end-user benefits and business implications rather than engineering-speak.

The Takeaway: Make sure the reader can glance at your resume and immediately grasp what you do. Otherwise, you are missing the opportunity to connect the dots and convey how your experience will contribute the collective knowledge of the cohort.

5.  Show What You Did, Not What You Do

This is probably one of the most common mistakes I see on resumes—job descriptions that start with the following bullets:

  • Responsible for...
  • In charge of...
  • Prepares...
  • Manages...

My first thought is, that's all nice, but what did you achieve?

Here are better examples:

  • Promoted to...
  • Achieved a cost savings of...
  • Earned prestigious scholarship...
  • Increased revenue by...

Don’t forget to quantify your achievements. Add context with currency or percentages.

The Takeaway: Make sure you include results in your job descriptions. How did you make the organization better? What did you accomplish in those roles? Show what you have done to show what you can offer.

6.  Dare to Be Extraordinary

Research says that it is easier to remember unusual or unexpected information. And because admissions officers are reading resume after resume, they start to sound somewhat the same after a while —especially when applicants are working in the same job function or industry.

Distinguish yourself through an interesting tidbit to include in your resume. Something out-of-the ordinary. Something unexpected. Something spectacular.

If you work as a finance manager in the food industry, for example, include the names of clients to show the scope of your work. It’s one thing to say that your company manufactures industrial ovens. It’s another to mention that customers include Michelin 3-star restaurants in France and Italy.

The Takeaway: Make sure you make yourself memorable by being (just a little bit) bizarre. After all, sometimes when you are trying to show that you fit in, you do that best by standing out.

In my years of experience being on both sides of the admissions desk, I can say with some authority that one of the biggest mistakes I see with resumes is that they are written from the applicant’s perspective rather than the reader’s point of view. These tips will help you think like an admission officer, so you can create a remarkable resume that gets results.

Barbara CowardBarbara Coward is a business school industry analyst and the founder of Enrollment Strategies, providing expertise in graduate management admissions and marketing.