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MBA Resume Tips: Common Mistakes to Avoid 

December 01, 2023 :: Admissionado Team

Your resume deserves just as much attention as any other part of your MBA application – maybe even a little more. It’s the one place where the admissions committee has a chance to look at a single page and see the best summary of your history and accomplishments, amongst other things, like how they relate to your goals. Sure you could just whip something up, or recycle an old version, but think about it – do you really want some shoddy formatting or lack of a potentially small, yet extremely pertinent, detail to keep you from the B-School of your dreams?

Didn’t think so…

Give your 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.

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

We touched on jargon a bit earlier, but let’s dive in one more time to get specific. In MBA essays, there is simply NO room for jargon. In your resume, however, 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. We get it, you are immersed in this world and the particular language of your industry every day—it’s become second nature to you, and you probably don’t even recognize it as jargon anymore. Luckily, there’s a simple tool you can use to break out of that mindset and effectively translate your resume.

Imagine this: you are reading your resume to your niece or nephew, or to your grandparents, or really to anyone who would have trouble following the tech-speak it’s rife with. How would you explain each point to them? How would you tell them why developing that application of implementing that software mattered? They won’t realize on their own why that “web-to-cloud” development was so impressive, and you can’t expect the adcom to either.

That brings us to step two. Once you’ve wrapped your head around using plain English instead of tech-terms and acronyms, you want to make sure you are telling the adcom not just what you did but why it mattered. This is where that universally understood business language comes in. Everything you did had some impact on your company—on revenues, savings, or the efficiency with which it operates—and/or on your end-users—their ability to meet their goals, their loyalty to your company or product, their impact on the world. That’s where you’ll find the “why it matters” piece of the puzzle.

While to you the accomplishment may be that you integrated X software into Y function, think about the bigger picture: why were you asked to do that? What process were you improving, what step were you saving, or whose job were you making easier (or totally unnecessary)? Once you’ve found that impact, you’ll want to try and quantify it, as hard numbers are always the best way to show impact on a resume. Can you trace that software implementation to how many man-hours of labor it saved your company? Do you know how much was saved or how much new business was won as a result of a complex tech project you led?

That is what the adcom will care about. While your tech skills are impressive, remember that you are applying to BUSINESS school. They don’t need to know just how great a full stack developer you are, they need to know that you can see the bigger picture: why what you do on the backend matters to your users or to your company, and how to piece together your technical skills with a business savvy that will ultimately make you a good bet and earn you the admit.

5) Leaving out the stuff that’s really 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… well, duh, 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 schools want candidates (especially from China) who are well rounded.  People who do more than just excel at work and on standardized tests. People who contribute to the community, pursue hobbies and lead dynamic lives outside of the office.  People who are MORE than just test scores.  (Although amazing ones, at that.)

MBA programs accept PEOPLE, not PROFILES. Interesting, dynamic, promising PEOPLE. That said, all of these things you’ve listed above – whether volunteering, running radio stations, etc. – will be helpful for you. Anything you’ve done that is interesting will be helpful for you, from walking dogs at a no-kill shelter to taking surfing lessons for the past 6 years. It all shows the adcom what makes you, you.

Now, if you don’t have ANY such experience recently, it is still better to try to do SOMETHING before you apply.  Even if it is only for a few months.  You can also try to get involved in something you have done before—and if you write it correctly, it can seem as though you have been “doing it” for a number of years, “off and on.” And honestly, that would be perfectly TRUE. We would NEVER indicate that anyone should lie on their apps, of course. So don’t lie. Find a way to write it so that it is absolutely true.  But at the end of the day, just do something. Anything. And not only for your application, but because it’s a good thing to do.

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! Let’s delve into an example:

“After 12 months of hard work we finished the project successfully.”

What does that mean to finish successfully?

“After 12 months of hard work, we launched the new product in over 100 stores.”

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. These are results that we can understand. And you know what? That seems like a lot of stores. So, not bad.

“After 12 months of hard work, we launched the new product in over 100 stores, bringing in $3 Million annually.”

Aha! Now we’ve added another metric. Because 100 stores, although a nice sounding statistic, is still a bit relative based on your industry. But talking dollars and cents can make your accomplishment impressive across the board!

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!