The most important piece of paper in your MBA application

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Author’s note: I originally posted this entry last fall, but now that we’re approaching busy application season again, it bears repeating!  ~~ Lydia

It’s no mystery. The most important piece of your application, just like any job application, is your resume.

Why are resumes important?

When we review applicants for Tippie, we look at the same things an employer would look at — and that means the resume is your chance to shine in both situations. On the job hunt, your resume is your most important selling point, and a great way to make your application stand out. Same goes with the MBA application.

It might not be the first thing you do (I would study for the GMAT, get that done first!), but it’s definitely very important — so give your resume the attention it deserves.

What should you consider when crafting your resume?

Here are a few tips — and these are by no means “application requirements” — they’re simply best practices in resume creation that we use for our current students.

1. Highlight RESULTS, not tasks, when listing the items associated with each position.

    • Use the STAR format to tell a story with your resume, rather than simply listing your responsibilities.
      • SITUATION: List the general problem or project you were faced with.
      • TASK: Include your individual responsibility in the project.
      • ACTION: Make sure to include the action that YOU took to complete the project or resolve the problem.
      • RESULT: This is the most important part! Absolutely include the positive results that were a result of the project and your actions. Use numbers wherever possible — businesspeople LOVE numbers, of course.

Example: Change a task-oriented point to a results-oriented one.
Before: “Responsible for marketing and promotions.”
After: “Conducted competitive analysis, segmented target markets, identified key competitors, formulated market positioning and pricing strategy and designed sales and promotion strategy for a beverage client to increase annual sales by 30%.”

2. Use a format that is consistent, easy to follow and read, and absolutely free of misspellings and grammatical errors.

Find a template that works best for you and read through your resume a couple of times before finalizing. Put the most important information at the beginning of your resume. Make sure your resume is concise and use a readable font, such as Arial or Times New Roman and 11 or 12 point font. If you are in need of a resume makeover, consider using the Tippie resume format.

3. Use bullet points.

A psychology study found that bullet points can reduce cognitive load—the effort required to process new information. Bullets present information in easily digested chunks. They also highlight key ideas and details, which—in a well-organized presentation—helps learners see relationships among them.

4.  Choose your words carefully.

Do not include any vague statements or words like “sometimes”, “occasionally”, “might”, etc. Always use direct, powerful words when describing your experiences.

In other words, use action words. Here’s one nice list from Boston College.

5. Divide your resume into different sections.

My recommendations: Work Experience, Education, and Skills.

If you want to include a Highlights section as well, you can put a few bullet points there about where your career is headed and the most important strengths you can bring.

6. Keep it short.

One page is preferred. If you have 3 or more positions to describe, you can go over one page. But keep it to two at the max. No exceptions.

7. Step away from the computer. Or when in doubt, ask a friend!

At a certain point, you’ve stared at your resume for hours, you must admit to yourself that you’re going to miss something. This is why having an extra set of eyes on it helps, so start by having a friend look at it (make sure this friend is a good speller and knows their grammar!).

Another strategy I use, if I’ve exhausted all the favors from my friends, is to print it out on paper and leave it overnight. I read through it at breakfast the next morning and I see things on the hard copy I never noticed on the screen. It works.

Either way, don’t skip this step. Whether applying for a job or trying to get into your top-choice MBA program, we aren’t going to believe you when you say you have great “attention to detail” if there are typos all over your resume.

8. Don’t be afraid to stand out.

We look at resumes all day every day. While there are certainly limits to this suggestion, it’s okay to do something a little different. One neat idea I saw recently came from Carter Gibson’s Google+ page. Check out this idea:

Funkified Resume Format - comparison

Do you have an awesome resume format you swear by? Share your wisdom in the comments!

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Lydia Fine

About Lydia Fine

Lydia joined Tippie in 2008 and now works with the Tippie Marketing & Design group as an Associate Director. Prior to joining the marketing group, Lydia recruited new Tippie MBA students for 5 years. Lydia earned her BBA in Marketing (2002) and her MBA in 2010, both from the University of Iowa. She and her husband live in North Liberty with their two children, a dog named Kitty, and a cat that thinks it's a person.