Pre-Application Tip: Work on Your Résumé First

You just clicked “new document,” geared up to tell the MBA admissions committee about your long-term goals, most significant accomplishments and how you overcame a failure.  But 30 minutes later, you are still staring at blank screen.  Ideas are swirling around in your mind, but you can’t quite pin them down and decide what to discuss.

You most likely have several noteworthy experiences you could write about. However the value of each of these may initially escape you when you are taking a first stab at the application.

If this sounds like where you are now, try working on your résumé first.  Since schools often require that you submit one with your application, the exercise of producing an accomplishment-based résumé will be two-for-one. And once you are done, you’ll have all the ingredients you need for your essays at your fingertips.

Show Them Your Management Potential

Even if you think you already have a pretty decent draft of a résumé, take a step back from it and ask yourself these key questions:

  • Does it reflect your management potential?
  • Does it tell the reader how you influence outcomes?
  • Are any of those outcomes quantifiable?
  • How was your company, your team or your division better off as a result of your efforts?

Keep all of these questions in mind as you reflect on each of your professional and volunteer roles.

Finding the Manager Within

If you are an engineer or in a technical role and think you don’t really have direct managerial experience, think again. Step out of the technical aspects of your job and ask yourself these questions:  Have you worked on a team? Did you manage a project? What obstacles did you encounter as you attempted to reach the project objectives?  How did you resolve these?  Did you have to convince other team members of your position or approach or motivate them to get the job done? How did you do so? You’ll probably surprise yourself and find you have a lot more to talk about than you thought.


Perhaps some of the answers to the above questions are nothing to write home about.  Maybe you were unable to reach an objective or meet a deadline.  Maybe you knew your team was not well coordinated or that you would be unable to live up to client expectations.  But you kept quiet.  Or perhaps you went about motivating your team the wrong way.  That may not be something to write on your résumé, but it certainly is a great failure for your essays, or something to keep in your back pocket in case it comes up in an interview. The important thing is to reflect upon how the failure helped you grow as a person and a professional.

Pulling the Pieces Together

As you think about your résumé, remember to include a career summary at the top. Not all schools use this format in their career services, but it is an excellent exercise; the career summary obliges you to put into words what you have to offer the MBA program and a future employer. Think about it like an elevator pitch that in a few sentences tells the reader what you can do for them.

When you are done with your summary and a chronological or functional format highlighting your skills and accomplishments, you will have all the pieces you need to create a compelling MBA application.

*Side note here about failures: Please avoid trivialities like “I failed an exam when I was an undergrad” or “I am too much of a perfectionist.” People who avoid new experiences will not have much to say and are not very interesting as candidates. Don’t be afraid to put it out there, so long as it is relevant and socially appropriate to discuss.