Tag Archives | Chicago Booth

The Best MBA Resume Advice Ever

resume typewriter smallYou can find countless articles on general resumes all over the web, but very little on the perfect MBA resume. I did write about it,

walking through a template I’ve crafted after working with Stanford GSB first year students. But my colleague Candy LaBalle, who runs mbaSpain, came out with an outstanding article this morning. She has given me permission to reprint the article here — and I guarantee you will find it specific and helpful.

It originally appeared on Magoosh‘s website, but in my version, I’ve highlighted the parts that deserve mention

Six Steps to a Stellar MBA Resume

If you are applying to an MBA this year, you’ve probably noticed that top b-schools are not asking for many essays. Tuck requires two, Booth asks for a presentation only and Harvard has made its one essay optional. This reduced application content makes your MBA Application Resume more valuable than ever. In fact, HBS and Columbia even allow resumes that go beyond the “one-page” standard.

But, whether you prepare one or two pages, you need to follow some guidelines. Beyond using action verbs, avoiding “I” and having standard fonts no smaller than 10-point, to make your MBA Application Resume truly stellar, follow these six tips:

1: Focus on YOU

If your resume reads like a job description then it is not about you—it is about your job. Instead of focusing on tasks, highlight your achievements, and include details on team size, cultural exposure and quantifiable results.

  • Participate in M&A transactions
  • Advise clients on business strategy


  • Led teams of up to three, on four M&A deals in the energy, telecom and retail sectors, valued up to $5bn
  • Created a cost-analysis model for Chile’s largest telecom identifying 12% in savings; presented model directly to client senior managers

2: Skip the jargon

Adcoms are looking for leadership potential, collaborative mindset and interpersonal skills. Even if you are an aeronautical engineer, focus on your MBA qualities.

  • Coordinated advanced ABC testing to reduce drag on the XYZ series fuselage.


  • Led six engineers from three countries to improve performance on our best-selling plane by 21%.

3: Go beyond your daily tasks

Do you handle recruiting for your firm at your old university? Did you create a new work process that improves team efficiency? Do you organize birthday dinners, basketball games or other activities that encourage socializing outside of the office? These show initiative, impact and interpersonal skills and should be included.

  • Created company soccer team, recruiting players from various departments; team now competes weekly against other company teams

4: Show progression

If you were the only one out of 1,000 applicants to get the position, or you moved from a six-month internship to full-time employment in just 3 months, then say it!

  • Hired as Associate in September 2013 and fast-tracked to Senior Associate 13 months later (average promotion time is 18 months)

5: Highlight leadership

Leadership goes beyond supervising people. If you do lead a group, definitely include that on your resume, but if you don’t, highlight other examples of leadership: managing a project, coordinating client teams, mentoring interns.

  • Created my department’s first online “data warehouse,” reducing research time for projects
  • Trained 14 senior clients to use a new CRM, resulting in higher sales team efficiency

6: Don’t forget the fun stuff

If you play viola, were regional champion in judo, run 10Ks or enjoy juggling, include it!  Hobbies help you stand out from the crowd as well as show commitment, passion and leadership.

  • Founded a dining club that now has 42 members; organize monthly dinners at gourmet restaurants for up to 15
  • Began waterskiing as a child, advanced to national competitions in university, currently teach waterskiing to children
  • Travel constantly, have visited 46 countries on six continents, traveled from Europe to Asia by land only, created a travel blog


Leadership and the MBA Application

Guess what.  Six months from now we will be at the beginning of October. Shocking, isn’t it, that those of you who are thinking of applying to business school in the first round have only six months to figure it all out. You’ve got a lot of tactical moves ahead of you, like the GMAT and visiting potential schools while they are still in session (I recommend spring; everyone is happier), and impressing your recommenders with your leadership skills.

How Admissions Officers View Leadership

Your biggest goal in the MBA admissions process is to demonstrate leadership. Business schools may have leadership classes, workshops, or what Stanford calls “Leadership Labs,” but the schools are not working with blank slates. Admissions committees want to see candidates with great leadership potential. This potential can be demonstrated through a record of traditional leadership activities, such as president of your undergraduate student body or manager of your unit at work. Or just a team leader on a visible project. But then there’s another kind of leadership, and its a lot more nuanced than just a title on a resume.

“Leadership encompasses much more than managing people,” wrote Rosemaria Martinelli, former director of Admissions at the University Of Chicago Booth School of Business in a blog post.  Business schools now equate leadership with influence, or the ability to motivate others toward a shared goal. Stanford Graduate School of Business’ recommendation form includes a “Leadership Behavior Grid” with traits such as initiative, influence and collaboration, developing others, and trustworthiness. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business defines leadership as “the ability to
inspire others to strive and enable them to accomplish great things.”

Leadership can mean anything from running a classroom to being the idea person in your work team, from standing up for an unpopular position to organizing a clothing drive. In a nutshell, leadership is about finding the passion inside you and acting on it.

The Essence of Leadership

Business schools are actively searching for students with high emotional intelligence. In a seminal 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes a Leader,” Daniel Goleman attempted to answer the question with specific attributes of effective leaders. Goleman, who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence with his book of the same name, wrote in the HBR article, “It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant….They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities.’ But…emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.”

Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence has dramatically improved the global discussion of leadership. In his research of nearly 200 large, global companies, Goleman found that

while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership – such as intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision – are required for success, they are insufficient. Truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.

I’ll be writing more about these five components in the coming weeks. Indeed, these traits are a little touchy-feely.  But then, so is business school admissions.

Talking About Round 3: Is it Worth Trying?

It’s that time of year for students to ask about MBA application chances for Round 3.  I’ve personally seen a number of students go through successful third-round quests, but it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Fewer Spaces, Tired Application Readers

First the odds are more competitive, as admissions committee members from Tuck recently posted on their blog. But not impossible, as they say. A
work change could be a perfectly fine reason to make the third round plunge: Tuck bloggers tell the story of one student who “wasn’t completely satisfied with her professional life. She decided she was ready for a change, but, because she wanted to ensure that she presented the best possible application, she opted to let a few rounds pass..Providing a little explanation in your application as to why you’ve chosen to apply at this particular time helps the committee understand your motivations better.

And of course, Dee Leopold of Harvard Business School also chimes in with her straight talk about Round 3. Here’s what she said in a recent blog post:

Myth #1: There are no spots available.
Not true. We manage the selection process to ensure that there are always spots open for the candidates we want. Are there as many spots open as in Rounds 1 and 2? No. Are there as many applicants? No. Do I think a strong candidate has a fair shot? Yes.

Here’s more from her blog a few years back:

…we always conclude that we like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again. I know you wish I could define “interesting” with pinpoint accuracy but I can’t. Sometimes it’s work experience, sometimes it’s an undergraduate school we wish we had more students from, sometimes it’s a compelling recommendation …

Kurt Ahlm, admissions director for Chicago Booth, also gave this advice in a March 7, Booth Insider blog post (2013, but still fresh)

Make it your best effort, not a last-ditch effort to get accepted. Treat this round with the same drive you would for any round, for any of your target schools. We know when an application has been rushed, so make sure you’re putting together a product that you can be proud of and is an accurate representation of what you can do. Don’t use the opportunity to reapply a few months later as a back-up plan.

Do’s and Don’ts

Indeed, don’t take the process cavalierly, or you will be wasting your time and the political capital you had to spend to get people to write those nice recommendations. Last year I wrote up a list of Round 3 tips that still hold true

Do apply third round if

  • You realize that there are other schools after HBS and Stanford GBS
  • You improved your GMAT score by enough to put you within the target school’s range
  • Your work or life situation changed
  • You are considering part-time programs when you only applied to full-time programs

You should NOT apply third round if

  • You only want to go to a top 5 school and you didn’t get into the top 4
  • You are outside of the school’s class profile
  • You aren’t sure what you want to do
  • The thought of filling out another application gives you a rash
  • You hate your life and it just occurred to you to get an MBA last week

Yes, it is a little on the late side, and if you are just starting to think about taking your GMAT, you probably should delay until next year. But! If you are already in the process, and ready to go, take heart. Stranger things have happened.

Deadlines and Some Inspiration for Those About To Write Essays this Weekend

This is embarrassing. I have been so incredibly busy with deadlines — HBS Round 1 was this past Monday — and metamorphosisalready interview invitations will be sent out Oct 9 and Oct 16. That means you actually COULD apply to Round 1 for other schools if things didn’t work out for you at Harvard. I’m guessing there will be more applicants because of the “easier” and more user-friendly admissions process. I write “easier” in quotes because the open-ended essay format gives people almost too many choices!

Next up is MIT Sloan (Sept 24), which is cool because you can do a one-minute video for the optional essay. Don’t believe me? Check out what the admissions office says about it all at by clicking here.

And then it gets really intense:

Oct 1 – Michigan Ross and Wharton
Oct 2 – Columbia Early Decision, Cornell, INSEAD, Stanford GSB
Oct 3 – Booth
Oct 4 – London Business School
Oct 7 – Carnegie Mellon Tepper
Oct 9 – Tuck Early Action
Oct 10- Georgetown
Oct 11- Cambridge
Oct 15- NYU Stern, UT Austin, UVA Darden, USC Marshall
Oct 16- Berkeley Haas, Kellogg
Oct 18- UNC Kenan-Flagler
Oct 21- Duke Round 2 (sort of)
Oct 22- UCLA
Oct 25- Oxford

So buckle up and for perspective watch this video for some inspiration and a shot of some humility too.

Global Experience Boosts MBA Admission Chances

One of the best ways to differentiate yourself as an MBA application is through global work experience.  Many of the students I have mentored who have worked for at least a year in a country other than their own with a different culture and language have been able to get into one of their choice from among top-ranked business schools.

Leadership, Risk-Taking and Flexibility
Of  course, this international work experience has to be meaningful. So if you can get yourself transferred in your own company to a location across the world from where you are now, that will help you stand out.  Why? According to Forté Fellow and 2013 INSEAD graduate Sweeny Chhabra, global experience signifies leadership and risk-taking.  And, as a Connecticut Yankee who lived in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, over a 10-year period, I would offer one relevant characteristic: flexibility.

All business schools, and admissions committees for those schools, search in the applications for ways that you demonstrate leadership – especially beyond the obvious measures of a manager-like title or a number of subordinates.  Admissions committee members  are looking for behaviors and patterns in your work history. They are also trying to find tangible evidence that you can lead cross-cultural teams. According to Ms. Chhabra, who transferred to Singapore from Toronto,

“My interactions with individuals from … Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea and Japan have provided me with tremendous opportunity to learn country-specific business practices,” she explains. “I have also learned that…[their] reactions could be as a result of different cultural norms, their emotions, their personality or just their communication style.”

Moreover, if you are from an English-speaking country like the US, Canada, or the UK,  the challenges of working in a vastly different economic environment can be shocking. You think you are prepared, but… I know one pre-MBA who went back to Poland, (where she spent her childhood) to consult with several companies trying to break into that market. Despite her fluency and knowledge of land and the local populace  (she had visited every summer for the past 20 years to stay with her extended family), she found local difficulties with business trust as a result of the former communist regime. This meant she had to rethink her various proposals, but she certainly learned a lot.

Risky Business
Business schools also want to know that you are willing to go outside your comfort zone and take risks.  Just ask any current student, or check out what admissions directors are writing on their own websites: “We are looking for people who are creative, collaborative and willing to take risks,” wrote Meeghan Keedy of Chicago Booth Admissions wrote in April 2013 blog post.

You’ll certainly be taking risks during your MBA career and afterwards in business. To set you up for success in these situations, the admissions committee seeks out evidence that you already have been willing challenge yourself.

Betsy’s Story
I’ve got my own reasons for admitting that flexibility is a critical characteristic. I learned it only too well when I was living in Taipei, a world where few spoke English, where I had terrible Chinese, and virtually no prior understanding of the local culture. In those days it was nowhere near as advanced as it is now. I had my own “aha!” moments daily, from accidentally walking in the middle of a funeral procession, not knowing that mourners wore white, to suffering through taxi drivers personal questions, or to figuring out a way to replace a blown-out window in the middle of a fierce typhoon.

It was frustrating, comical, embarrassing, eye-opening, and about the biggest set of challenges I had EVER seen under any other circumstances up to that point.

So if you can, go global. Take that risk. You’ll not only get “foreign” experience, but you’ll be able to stretch yourself in ways you had never imagined. You’ll definitely add to the conversation at business school. It’s more than just checking a box.