Business Administration

How Is an MBA Candidate Resume Different from a Regular Resume?

How Is an MBA Candidate Resume Different from a Regular Resume?
An MBA resume is your opportunity to stand out as an individual, highlight your tangible strengths, and demonstrate your potential for future success. Image from Pexels
Ginny Bartolone profile
Ginny Bartolone August 24, 2021

A finely tuned resume plays a critical role in making a lasting first impression on your dream business school. But unlike writing a resume tailored to a specific job description, the MBA variety shows off who you are as a leader—and who you can become after earning your degree.

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When the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown slowed the economy to a near halt, entrepreneurs and young business professionals saw an opportunity to head back to school—and did so in droves. According to Fortune, 70% of MBA programs in the US saw a marked increase in the number of applications they received.

The logic behind this uptick is not surprising. Professionals saw graduate school as a chance to develop and sharpen their skills during an uncertain time of transition. In addition, the rise of online degree programs has widened the pool of candidates. Without geographical limitations, these online programs now attract students from across the US and around the world.

While this enthusiasm is a great development for business schools, competition has grown fierce for students. On top of this, candidates who deferred in 2020 left even fewer available slots for new applicants in 2021.

So, what does this mean for aspiring grads seeking to land a coveted spot in today’s top programs? For one, there’s no room for error in your MBA resume. Since it’s one of the most detailed portions of your admissions packet, it’s your opportunity to stand out as an individual, highlight your tangible strengths, and demonstrate your potential for future success.

Unsurprisingly, this makes your MBA application resume a bit different than the one you would submit during a job search. In this guide, we’ll cover MBA resume tips and tricks, as well as how to make yourself stand out to admissions officers. We’ll go over:

  • How is an MBA candidate resume different from a professional resume?
  • Putting together a winning MBA resume
  • Top online MBA programs

How is an MBA candidate resume different from a professional resume?

Take a moment to put yourself in the position of an MBA degree admissions officer. During the initial recruitment phase, you have just a few minutes with your pile of applications to identify the stand-out candidates.

The MBA resume offers an outline of the journey each student took from the beginnings of their professional career to hitting the submit button on their application. In other words, it includes far more than just traditional work experience. Think of it as an opportunity to demonstrate your potential for great leadership—even if you’ve yet to show off all you can do.

MBA advisor Stacy Blackman told US News and World Report, “You’ll further groom your management abilities during your MBA program, but the admissions committee wants to know that the foundation is already there.”

What is an MBA resume?

An MBA resume is one of the key parts of your admissions package, which will include your:

  • Completed application form
  • Cover letter
  • Undergraduate GPA and GMAT score
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation

In other words, the resume is just one part of the larger story. On a basic level, it should follow the same format as a professional resume. You will likely include:

  • Areas of expertise
  • Education
  • Header with a statement of purpose
  • Military experience
  • Professional experience in reverse-chronological order
  • Relevant extracurricular activities
  • Special skills and languages
  • Volunteer experience

Sounds familiar, right? While the MBA resume format may look the same, the data in each category takes a different route. We’ll jump into how things differ once you start typing.

MBA resume vs. professional resume

Let’s begin with what we know about a professional resume. When applying for a job, recruiters scan your CV for impressive job titles and responsibilities that check the boxes of their specific job description. This resume lists how many years of experience you have in the field and how each position led you to their doorstep.

While the MBA resume’s formatting is similar, the content tells a larger story. Each section—purpose, work experience, education—demonstrates how you acted as a leader in each of these settings.

For example, let’s say you recently acted as the manager of business development for a small startup. A professional resume may outline the specific programs you used, daily responsibilities, and progress you made during your time there.

The same position on your MBA resume hones in on leadership opportunities and how you made a unique impact on the company. Did sales grow 20% during your time there? Did you lay the groundwork for the marketing strategy? These are the stories that comprise your bullet points for your MBA resume.

What are MBA program admissions committees looking for?

Top graduate programs are looking for professionals that stand out from the pack. They want to know how you are unique from other candidates and what you’ll contribute to classroom discussions. This means they’ll be looking both for experience as well as social and emotional skills.

In other words, your resume should showcase that you did more than follow the traditional career or education path. It should highlight the unique challenges that you overcame professionally and how each will add to your MBA experience.

MBA admissions trend expert Jenna Cortis told The Economist, “It’s important to highlight moments in your career when you were selected to lead a project, or when you were given control of or access to a client portfolio that’s not typical of someone at your experience level.”

If you’re new to your career or started out in the military, focus on leadership opportunities during your service or education. Cortis also points out that you shouldn’t spend too much time outlining your undergrad or internship experience, but should focus on exceptional volunteer work, impressive test scores, or relevant coursework.

The MBA application process

Building a resume for an MBA takes time. It requires you to step back, examine your career, and determine why a Master of Business Administration makes sense right now.

Shaifali Aggarwal, CEO of MBA admissions consultancy company the Ivy Group advises, “MBA hopefuls should start early and work systematically to ensure that they have enough time to think deeply about their backgrounds, goals and why they are seeking an MBA. In doing so, they will be able to translate their story into compelling applications that they can submit in a timely fashion.”

The MBA application process typically includes three rounds of deadlines in September, December, and March. This offers the perfect opportunity to apply to your top schools early on and follow up with more applications if you’re not accepted off the bat.

Once you submit your application and supporting documents, the school may contact you for an interview. This is a chance to expand on the stories told on your resume. If you write the resume with a conversation in mind, you may catch the eye of an admissions pro hoping to have a great chat about your journey.

This also is an opportunity to remind you to avoid exaggerating on your resume—if the story stands out, they’ll want to hear more about it and you don’t want to be in the position where you’re walking things back.

How does my MBA resume support my application?

The MBA application itself is packed with data. Test scores, college transcripts, GPA, grades, and even the number of credits in each subject area.

Having said that, you are much more than a bunch of numbers on a page. Your resume is a place to show this off. Sure, your essay is a long-form tool for highlighting who you are, but you’re often constrained by the prompt’s topic.

Your resume, however, combines tangible data with the human challenges and achievements behind them. And since MBA applicants come from such a wide range of backgrounds, the resume supports the information shared throughout the rest of your admission packet.


“Should I Get A MBA?”

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

Putting together a winning MBA resume

Always begin by checking if your school requires specific details or formatting for your resume. Following the rules precisely is the first way to show you did your research.

You can then explore different MBA resume templates that catch your eye. Keep it clean, easy to read, and professional. Remember, admissions officers move quickly in the early stages, so stay away from messy layouts or small and hard to read fonts.

Overall, your MBA resume should include your:

  • Name
  • Contact information
  • Professional website or LinkedIn
  • Professional summary
  • Education
  • Work experience
  • Hard and soft skills
  • Internships or volunteer information

Most importantly, only include data that holds value for your MBA resume. You do not need to include every detail about a recent volunteer job if it doesn’t show a specific impact or leadership skills. Trimming extraneous details will also help you keep the resume to a single page.

Strategies for standing out from the competition

It’s important to look for ways to illustrate why you’re different from others in your field at this point in your career. Perhaps you’re only a few years out of college, but received an earlier-than-average promotion. Or maybe you took the initiative to expand your training and certifications so you could lead a new project.

Director of graduate admissions at Syracuse University Chris Wszalek explains that quality of work experience is now more important than quantity. Yes, you should typically have a few years of work experience out of undergrad, but what you did with this time is far more important.

You may have to stand out even further if you come from a popular MBA industry. Finance, tech, and marketing professionals often set their sights on business programs. Use your resume to demonstrate why you’re ready to launch into a career as a leader after earning your degree.

Above all, illustrate how you would add a unique view to the cohort of students. Admissions professionals are looking to create a balanced group of students with different backgrounds, industry experience, and years in the field.

Top MBA resume tips (and pitfalls to avoid)

Knowing what not to put on your MBA resume can be just as important as including the must-haves. Applicants run into trouble with several common issues, including their grammar, the layout of their resume, and overall tone and theme.

Keep it consistent

Just like your professional resume, double-check that you’re following all the same formatting rules throughout each section. Editing multiple drafts of a resume can lead to spelling errors, inconsistent capitalization, or repetition.

Unless you are noting your current responsibilities and role, your resume should be written in the past tense.

Showcase your verbs

Choose action verbs for the beginning of your bullet points such as transformed, streamlined, coordinated, and expedited. Not only does this give your resume energy, but it helps avoid the common trap of starting each bullet point with “I.”

Tell a story of growth

Admissions committee members should be able to look at your journey from undergrad to application and follow how you grew independently and with your employers. Showcase how you built upon past skills, took on more managerial influence, and spearheaded projects that helped your department expand.

Keep it crisp and professional

As The Economist notes, applicants should avoid over-designing their resumes. Adding too much fluff, complex layout, and odd fonts will only distract from the content itself.

Work with an editor

Do you have a colleague or mentor in the field with a keen eye for resumes? Always run your application elements by another proofreader, especially if they applied and attended an MBA program in the past.

Top online MBA programs

Narrowing your shortlist of top online MBA programs can be a challenge. Not only should the program attract a strong cohort of professionals and opportunities, but it should also offer a virtual experience as robust as the in-person option. We’ve outlined three top MBA programs with rigorous online options.

Case Western Reserve University

Ranked in the top 50 universities in the country—and at the top in the state of Ohio—Case Western Reserve University offers a range of online MBA programs to students across the world.

Based in the Weatherhead School of Management, the program links with over 270 corporate partners to help its students reimagine leadership in both clinincal and non-clinical settings.

The university specifically offers a concentration in healthcare management. It pairs its MBA core curriculum with courses focused on the unique challenges of hospital and health leadership.

Case Western Reserve University’s online program offers:

  • Asynchronous and synchronous learning options
  • In-person residencies
  • Mentorship opportunities from industry leaders
  • Student success coaches and 24/7 tech support

University of Michigan

The online MBA program at the University of Michigan places a significant focus on flexibility. Students can choose different tracks to finish in either two or three-and-a-half years, for example. On-campus class options also open up to those who have completed the core online MBA coursework.

The school also encourages students to refine the focus of their degree. Build your MBA concentration through their electives, residencies, and their Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP), which connects online students with directly impactful work in the real world.

Michigan also:

  • Allows students to complete a dual degree online
  • Encourages global experiences
  • Links students with coveted professional residencies
  • Offers a long list of electives to support each concentration

University of Tulsa

The University of Tulsa’s Collins Schools of Business offers unique career placement upon graduation. Its ample links to top pros across major industries—including finance and healthcare—have allowed the school to reach a 100% employment rate after the program.

The school particularly focuses on providing small class sizes to its online students, which allows for direct and easy contact with professors, fellow students, and the tech support team. Up to 12 of the 37 credits for graduation pull from the school’s large list of electives, encouraging specialization.

University of Tulsa’s online MBA program:

  • Allows students to complete the program in as little as 12 months
  • Encourages a balance of both synchronous and asynchronous work
  • Offers unique professional development and corporate immersions
  • Opens students to its rich alumni network from companies like JPMorganChase and Verizon

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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