When you hear that someone is applying to Harvard or Stanford, your first thought is about whether that person has a profile of the requisite strength to ensure success. When you yourself think about applying, you evaluate whether your experience is powerful enough, and whether your application can make it through. So what is the one determinant of strength of profile?
It has got to be your one page resume – the one you submit as an integral part of your MBA applications. This document is always the first thing that admissions committees glance at, and it forms your first impressions in their mind, for good or bad.
In all our decades of coaching and guidance of students for both the GMAT and Business School applications, we have compiled a list of ways to strengthen the resume – the most valuable part of an application. Here are some points from that list: we have tried to choose those that are most universally applicable, so that you will be able to benefit from them no matter where you are on your journey to that coveted big name MBA seat.
Be brutally honest with yourself, or find someone who will be
Whether you’re six months, one year, or five years out from submitting your application, you need to know your chances. It’s completely okay to say that your resume is extremely weak in one area, and that you will need to work hard on it to even be considered for admission; acceptance is the first step towards improvement. In addition, you need a mentor who will tell you where your resume is lacking; the resume building process is all about filling in gaps, rather than fortifying something which is already very strong. This mentor could be your application coach or an experienced friend who has guided many other Business School aspirants successfully.
Categorize the gaps in your resume as ‘missing’ gaps and ‘improvement’ gaps
Once you have a list of everything which you need to improve on your resume, you need to plan how to improve those things. And the first step is to segment them into things which need major work (these are the ‘missing’ gaps; for example, you do not have any instances of community engagement or social work in your profile and things where you need to touch up your past work (these are the ‘improvement’ gaps; for example, your undergraduate marks are lower than they should be for a serious Business School aspirant).
This exercise is extremely important for you to create a structured plan for how to deal with both kinds of gaps, as well as to prioritize work in case you are not able to plug them all.
Create a plan to plug the ‘missing’ gaps; remember to leave enough redundancy
You should pay most heed to the big missing parts of your resume, and create a plan to fill all of them quickly. For example, we have seen that most candidates have a problem with professional experience: it is often either not extensive enough or diverse enough. This would necessitate either talking to your professional development group within your current work place, or applying elsewhere in case you (and your mentor) are convinced that additional required diversity can come only via a shift.
Some have a lack of an entire section that is perceived as important: for example, some have insufficient social impact work. While looking for ways to put social work on your resume, remember that it is not something that can be achieved overnight, or even over the course of a couple of months. To differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other candidates who also put social work on their applications, you will need either an innovation or unprecedented impact: either of this will need your concentrated time and energy for a good period of time.
While looking for opportunities to fill in the big missing gaps in your resume, remember to leave a lot of redundancy. This means that you should always try to get double or triple the number of opportunities that you need; since time is very short doe any MBA aspirant, you cannot afford any delay in getting access to the experiences which will materially improve your application profile.
Approach all your ‘improvement’ gaps on a case by case basis, with the help of an expert
Now that you have made the big changes to your resume, it’s time to take care of all the smaller ones. However, improving a section of your resume is a very difficult task, and needs the opinion of an expert guide or coach on whether it is even possible, and what will be the best way to make it happen with minimal effort input.
For example, if you need to explain away undergraduate marks that are not too great, an expert might be able to identify areas of good performance within those marks, and help you craft a story by taking those areas of good performance, and recommending a further short course you could do in that area, that further cements your claim that you can perform well when motivated and interested.
If you have worked in a single industry, company and function throughout your professional career, an expert might recommend that you sit down with all your mentors within your current work place, and figure out whether your projects in the past can be positioned as being unique. If not, you will need to ask them to give you something that’s a little different, so that you come across as a candidate who is as well rounded as possible.
Once this plan is created and confirmed, project what your ‘application resume’ will look like
Once you are sure how the gaps in your resume will be filled before you write your MBA application, you need to create a granular timeline of how the months between now and your deadline will fill up with these tasks. This is the best way to pressure test your plan, and convince yourself that your resume will be complete when you apply.
When you are convinced that you will achieve your plan no matter what, you need to check if it’s good enough to get you in. The essential first step in this is to create your resume of the future: your best guess at what your CV will look like at the time of your application. To do this, take a reasonable view of how your search for resume gap filling experience will go: do not assume that you will get your dream assignment in every case, but assume that you will get something to fill every gap. Assume that your performance in all these projects will be slightly above your performance in your professional life so far: after all, a seat in a respected Business School abroad will no doubt be a huge motivator!
Create a first version of your ‘application resume’ this way.
Evaluate your ‘application resume’ with a fresh set of eyes; look for spikes
Finally, to judge whether your ‘application resume’ is good enough, you will need to forget everything you know about your resume so far, and approach it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Since this can be extremely difficult, you should take the assistance of an experienced friend (or coach; for example, at Jamboree, we are able to provide the services of other application guides who will consult on your application from first principles) to evaluate the resume.
This evaluation will be very similar to your initial evaluation in Step 1, with one added component. You will initially, of course, check to see if anything big is missing. If your profile seems complete, you need to note down spikes – the three big things that jump out first to most people who view the resume. Once you know what your spikes are, you can focus your further work – and thinking for your essays – so that it deals heavily with these spikes.
If your resume is good enough at this period in time, congratulations! You’ve just built the best possible resume for your set of accomplishments.
Make sure that your written resume brings out all the great experience that you have
You have gone out and ensured that your accomplishments make you worthy of a seat at one of the world’s great Business Schools, but that needs to come across in the medium that matters the most – that of the written word. Use every resource you have to make sure that your one page resume is every bit as impressive as your verbal story is; that is the first document which will be seen by those who evaluate your application, and deserves investment of both time and energy.
Iterate on your resume till all your mentors are as satisfied as you are, and look at multiple other successful Business School resumes to be sure that yours is at the same level.
Building the ideal business school resume doesn’t just end here: these are just the most important and universal steps.
If you would like to gain access to a full set of best practices, and benefit from the full knowledge and expertise of our many career coaches and application mentors, you should definitely get in touch with Jamboree.
Over two decades of making candidates successful both at the GMAT and at applications for their dream MBAs, we have dealt with hundreds and hundreds of diverse cases, and improved all their chances materially. We invite you, too, to craft the perfect Business School application resume with Jamboree. Just set up a session at one of our centres or drop in to see how we can work together to help realize your dreams. All the very best!