7 MBA Resume Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs

Stepping on a banana

What’s the most important component of your MBA application?

Some argue it’s the essays; they’re your opportunity to show MBA admissions committees at the business schools you’re applying to who you are. Others say it’s your GMAT score, it being the most universal gauge of your abilities. And then there’s the interview, your one time to have a real interaction with the person who may decide your fate…

But what about your resume?

You know, the place where you list….uh…. Well, everything you’ve ever done? That single piece of paper that sums up your entire professional history? That document that you’ll use again and again, (obviously repurposed and tweaked depending on the program) for every single application you submit?

Yeah, that one seems pretty important to us… and oftentimes people just sort of slap that thing together after they’ve used up all their time and patience getting the rest of the application absolutely perfect. Or just as bad, they just submit the last resume they made a few years ago the last time they looked for a job.

Bad move, friends.

Your resume is just as integral to your application as everything else, and it deserves just as much attention. It is the one place where the admissions committee can look at one single page and see everything about you. Maybe even more. Think about it – do you really want some shoddy formatting or lack of pertinent details to keep you from the B-School of your dreams?

Didn’t think so…

So give that resume the TLC it deserves and make sure you’re not falling prey to one of these common MBA resume mishaps.

1) “This isn’t really an MBA resume…”

Look folks, it’s amazing that you have mastered six different programming languages, and can debug faster than Google’s AI. And it’s also fantastic that you can calculate the right amount of weight a bridge needs before it buckles, but all that stuff just isn’t that useful for your B-School resume. Why? Well, because it’s just that…a B-School resume, not a regular old professional work resume!

You know what’s great about MBA admissions committees? They are going to assume that you do your job well, technically. But what they want to know are things like this:

  • Did you have impact on the company?
  • Are you a leader?
  • Are a real team player?
  • Have you innovated anything?
  • And what do you know about business?

THESE are the things that you should focus on in your MBA resume. It doesn’t matter if 95% of the time you are hacking out algorithms, or hovering over your electron microscope. Those things are awesome, and kudos to you, friend. But when you’re considering things to mention and you’re not sure whether or not to include something, ask yourself this:

“What does this have to do with an MBA?”

Hone in on the business school-related stuff (leadership, mentoring, teamwork, negotiation, presentations, impact) and the rest will follow.

And for the love of Dog the Bounty Hunter, don’t just use the latest copy of your regular resume in your MBA applications! Every single section needs to be revisited, folks.  


Because we all know that MBA admissions committees are looking for leadership, problem solving, management… things that your last employer perhaps was NOT looking for.

And even more so, job-related resumes can be MUCH more laden with jargon, specific skills etc. MBA resumes will be read by liberal arts majors–people without great backgrounds in business. You need to explain your work to someone who isn’t “in the industry,” and you need to explain it in a way that proves you’ve got what it takes to be successful in B-School and beyond… not just in another job. If you are submitting your last work resume to MBA programs…you’re doing it wrong.

what a shame!

2) Missing a clear career progression

This is perhaps the MAIN goal of a resume: to show that you are IMPROVING, that you are PROGRESSING in your career. Have you ever been promoted? Show it nice and clearly. That is the most important thing that you do need to show.

Career progression is the name of the game in MBA applications. You can do so by emphasizing promotions, new responsibilities, raises, bonuses, awards, and so on.

And even if you haven’t been promoted, be sure to show that as you take on new jobs, you are taking on MORE responsibilities. Even if that isn’t the case, you must show that your most recent job is also your BEST job, where you have the most interesting work you’ve ever done.

3) Ignoring your goals

The best MBA resumes will take into consideration the endgame – the goals you are presenting to the B-School admissions committee. If you have done this right, they should be able to naturally read your goals through your resume. Meaning, unless you are proposing a major career change, the experience you have presented in your resume should obviously lead to the goals you are proposing. And even if you are proposing a major change, you do want to bring your resume as close as possible to the new goals. That looks impressive.

4) Excessive use of jargon

In MBA essays, there is simply NO room for jargon. In resumes, there is room for JUST a bit of it. We all know that in some cases you have no choice. After all, if you explained everything you would surely be well over one page. But keep it to a bare minimum; too much jargon is a deal breaker. You need to write your resume in such a way that the reader understands:

  • who you are.
  • what you do.
  • how you do it.

If those things are buried under all kinds of technical mumbo jumbo, you will lose your reader. Fast.

Head spinning!

5) Nothing interest-peaking

Too often, people write ONLY about work and school. How boring! All resumes should have an “Other Interests” section, where you talk about something… interesting. Fun, even. Surprising. Do you love the Sopranos? Are you an avid white water rafter? Do you cook spicy Indian food? Have you ever sung at Carnegie Hall?

These are GREAT ways to break the ice; especially if you are an international candidate, these interests are a great way to show that you are well-rounded, and interesting.

Remember, B-Schools accept PEOPLE, not profiles. Show those admissions committee members what kind of PERSON you are, inside the office and out. Your resume is not JUST to show how awesome you are, but also how unique you are.

6) No results for your achievements

This is by far the most common technical problem. We see sooooo many resumes where candidates just nonchalantly jotted down what they do. You lead presentations? Great! But do you lead them well? Do they get results? When you lead the presentation, do you land the clients? And how much are those clients worth? What?! You landed the largest contract in the last decade thanks to your presentation?! Holy cow!

Facts, figures, results. These are how you PROVE that not only have done these things, but that you have done them WELL.

7) Poor formatting

Often we will find applicants planning on using two, three, even four page resumes… Not for MBA apps, people! Keep it to one page, two MAX. And if you do require two pages, be sure that your background is SO impressive that you truly DO need more space than the guy next to you. 90% of all applicants will manage with one page. If you can’t, there better be a very good reason.

Beyond the page count, you need a PROFESSIONAL format. You don’t need to use the ones that B-Schools pass out. No need to use the Wharton format for Wharton, and the Harvard format for Harvard. But you DO need to make sure that your format is nice and professional. Neat, clean, and impressive.

And that’s not all, folks! There’s lots more digging you can do. So here is a link to our full-blown MBA Resume Guide, with tips, tricks, techniques and examples!

The Real Role of the MBA Essay