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MBA Resume Tips for your business school application

Let’s start with a quirky factoid that many of us may have thought of at certain points in time. Is a CV the same as a Resume?

Short answer – No. Long answer – well it depends, depends on how much of a purist you are.

In modern English, the two are being frequently used interchangeably. However, strictly speaking, CV (curriculum vitae) is a long form of your career (and sometimes personal too) profile – I mean how can something with the world ‘curriculum’ be short isn’t it; heck the Europeans (where this is most commonly used) even have an EU format for it!

A Resume on the other hand is a concise summary of your professional career – used more frequently in USA and Canada. But things are never black or white are they?

This means you would find a Resume in EU and a CV in USA and a mix of the two all over the world. The focus of this post is not so much as the format but to talk about what business colleges look for in an MBA Resume/CV and why it is a big deal. For the purpose of this post, I will be using the word resume hereon.

How is an MBA resume different from a Job resume?

Yes, it’s different!

While this may evoke a certain TV commercial memories amongst the old in you, we won’t just leave it at an enigmatic phrase of it’s different. Let’s investigate what is different.

Broadly speaking, there could be three main things you use a resume for. Academic, Professional (read job) and Personal. The personal bit is more a bio-data and is a very different beast, one that doesn’t really need an explanation.

While a professional resume focuses mainly (and sometimes only) your career journey, the academic resume (especially for an MBA) should have various other sections to ensure the adcoms get a complete picture of who you are – as a person, a professional and a prospective student.

We will delve into the sections a bit later in this post. The reason most adcoms ask for a resume is to get to know your life in a jiffy really. The resume acts as a good overview and helps sort of break the ice between you and the school committee.

Think of it as an elevator pitch – it has to be crisp yet impactful. In more ways than one, it helps create that all important first impression and sets the tone for further evaluation.

Over the years, to do away with the artistry and unfair advantage certain formats may provide, many schools have done away with a formal resume. Instead, they create online forms in lieu of that which bring in a lot of standardization for the evaluators but does away with the neat formatting.

In such cases, the content truly becomes the king. But those cases are in minority and a bulk of schools continue to have the resume as a requirement for application.

In this context, here are some things you have to bear in mind while crafting a good resume:

5 MBA resume tips for your business school application


1. Formatting

There are a LOT of things you need to bear in mind with regards to formatting. In our experience, most candidates tend to over focus on the content but forget this aspect.

Remember, your resume is likely to get only a few seconds/minutes to make that first impression. To make them count, you have to make sure that the resume is neat and consistent.

A few dos and donts are in order here:

  • Do not have different date formats; if it is MMM/YY, maintain that for all sections.
  • Avoid going below font 10; ideal is 12. Use the more common fonts rather than esoteric ones. Many times schools take print of your resume; not all printers can print all fonts.
  • Use Bold and Italics to emphasize but use them sparingly. Avoid using them in middle of sentences; it can hurt the eye!
  • While many resume templates are starting to use colors and pictures, we recommend being a bit more traditional on this front.
  • Ensure that the indenting of bullets/content is consistent throughout. This can be the single biggest eyesore. Make time to understand how this works in your word processor.
  • Separate the sections smartly. Do not have a single line spacing. Try to have some white space.
  • Have bullet points; avoid writing long paragraphs at all costs in the resume.


2. Language

While the actual content is of course totally subjective, the overall language should be informative and formal. Try to start each bullet point with an action verb (e.g. Led, Collaborated, Managed, Achieved etc).

The biggest thing to note here, specific to an MBA resume, is to avoid having any tech jargon as much as possible. This means IT professionals should refrain from using say Python/Django and say Chemical Engineers should refrain from using Reynolds number in their resume.

If you have to use a tech jargon, explain what it means. Do not expect the admission officer to open up google and find out what you are trying to convey. This also applies to the sundry and multiple internal acronyms/abbreviations most companies use – how would you expect that an adcom would know that PM is Product Manager and not Project Manager for instance?

3. Resume Length

How long should the MBA resume be?

I hinted on this towards the beginning. A resume should be 1 page – period. Only in very very rare cases could you go to the next page. Remember it is NOT a CV. While some adcoms ask for this categorically, some don’t.

But don’t take that as a sure sign to go overboard. The rare cases can be for instance if you have 10+ years of experience, it may get tough to fit everything in a page. Even so, one should avoid it. And btw, do not play too much with margins and at least keep some of it.

4. Storytelling

Going to the more serious stuff – content. Like I mentioned before, we cannot possible tell you in this article what to write – that is completely subjective. At a high level though, each of your bullet point should tell a mini-story of sorts and should be self-explanatory; most cases, unlike a job resume, you won’t be around to explain what a particular point means.

Also think about how you’d want the story to unfold. This does not mean it is ok to have 4-5 line long bullet points. As a general suggestion, stick to 2, max 3 lines each, no more.

5. Sections and templates

There are at least 3 main sections that ideally your resume should have. Your work experience, education and extracurricular; some suggest a fourth section of Achievements but I usually recommend clubbing each achievement with the respective section above.

Within the work experience section, you can either to a chronological cut or a skills cut depending on what works best. The basic template is pretty straightforward, it is the execution and attention to detail that makes or breaks it.

These broad principles are imperative for any attempt at MBA Resume. Beyond this, there is a lot of effort one needs to put in ensuring you pick the right content to highlight in the resume. Remember, it is a career highlight summary, not the entire career itself. Keep it short, write more impactful points first and keep it objective.

Keep in mind that this is only the tip of the iceberg. The MBA resume tips listed above can help ensure that it isn’t kicked out instantly, but they won’t help you stand out.

Why? Because, unlike a job CV which can be evaluated independently, an MBA resume can’t function in a vaccuum. It has to be crafted in a manner that puts it in sync with the MBA essays and recommendations. It should also act as a good platform to trigger the right questions in the MBA interview, that you can confidently answer.

When folks approach us for help with MBA resume reviews, we expect that they take care of these bare minimum points on their own (which is why we’re sharing it here). That allows us to then dive deep and focus on the tougher aspects of writing an effective MBA resume such as the prioritisation of accomplishments, overall positioning and aligning it with the applicant’s career goals after MBA.

All that’s part of a bigger, well-thought-out strategy that requires time and meticulous planning. You’ll find many articles on this site that cover nuances of essay writing and getting impactful recommendations.

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Email. Or follow on Linkedin, Facebook.

6 thoughts on “MBA Resume Tips for your business school application”

  1. I am pursuing btech final year now. I always dream to be in a top bschool abroad. I hav a percentage of 75% from a AA rated autonomous college in computer science discipline. But the problem is I have been detained during my 2nd year in college due to shortage if attendance. Is there any chance of compensating this one with my performance in GMAT and suggest me other factors I can improve in my resume to get into top bschools.
    Awaiting your reply…

  2. Hi MG,

    I am looking forward to apply to ISB this year and see if you can help me with a couple of questions.

    Before that brief overview of my experience.

    I have been working in IT services company in Accenture for last 9 years and currently based out of US. I am deciding between doing a part time MBA from States here or going for a full time MBA from ISB

    I wanted to know what kind of opportunities you can expect after you graduate from ISB MBA having prior 9 years experience in QA in IT services. I am looking towards senior product manager/marketing roles in tech firms.
    I have heard job opportunities for people with experience greater than 8 years is not much.

    Ankit Nanda

  3. Hello Manish,

    I am currently working in SBI as a deputy manager and am having close to 10 years of work experience (Including experience of 4 years in TCS as a systems engineer). I have a GPA of 8.94/10 in my B.Tech degree. Could you please suggest some of the good business schools in Europe that I can apply to? Also, can you please give me some tips in the preparation of my CV.


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