As you begin working on MBA applications and tailoring your resume for that purpose, you may worry that something in your employment history will negatively affect your chances of admission. In most instances, no single element of your application will make or break your odds of acceptance.
However, it’s crucial to address weaknesses both large and small head-on to mitigate their effects. Otherwise, any ambiguities could lead the business school admissions team to make negative inferences.
Here are three common resume concerns MBA applicants have and tips on how to frame the situation to your advantage.
1. No upward movement: Even if you’ve had the same position and the title hasn’t changed, you can tweak your MBA resume to show that your abilities and tasks have expanded over time. Consider breaking a long-term role into segments and highlight a different set of accomplishments for each time period.
We had a client in finance who, after several years with her company, developed and ran a new program to train incoming analysts, whom she spent considerable time mentoring. She also revamped an inefficient daily reporting system. When it came time to organize her resume, we highlighted these elements to demonstrate both leadership and initiative.
Showing you work well on a team and have made an impact in your role matters more than the number of promotions you’ve received. Even within flat organizational structures, you can highlight concrete professional growth, quantifiable achievements or examples of times when you embraced new challenges and took advantage of learning opportunities to differentiate yourself from other applicants.
2. Lots of career changes: MBA applicants sometimes worry that a resume filled with different careers will signify to the admissions committee that they aren’t serious about a specific path or goal or will be hard to place in a job upon graduation.
You’ll need to be up front about the reasons why you have had so many different jobs. Did extenuating circumstances cause you to move around a lot? Were you ever laid off? Were you exploring different industries to find your perfect fit? Whatever the case, you should back up the seemingly disparate roles with a narrative in the essay that explains the reasons behind your transitions.
One client we worked with had hopped around to five different roles at various technology startups with no real upward mobility prior to applying to business school. But in different ways, each one of those positions contributed to his post-MBA goal of creating technology that can teach tech skills to underserved populations in an engaging way. He carefully connected those dots within his essays and later in his interview to show how the puzzle pieces fit.
If you feel concerned that the admissions team may not understand how an MBA would help you reach your professional goals, use the optional essay to make the case that your decision was not capricious but reasoned and well thought out.
3. Demotions or negative performance reviews: While such experiences scare MBA hopefuls the most, these situations actually represent a gold mine for the application essay questions related to lessons learned, challenges and failures.
After briefly explaining what happened, turn your focus to the positive aspects. What are you doing better now? What do you know you still need to work on? How will you continue to improve on those flaws while in business school? Highlight resilience, constant learning and growth in your essays; the application evaluators will appreciate your maturity and self-awareness.
If possible, enlist a recommender to provide some back story and evidence of your improvement. Supervisors who have worked with you recently can elaborate on aspects of your character that aren’t seen in resumes, transcripts and scores.
Candidates should know that revealing weaknesses like these can help the admissions committee determine your fit with the school, so don’t try to hide this type of information – use it to your advantage.
Important goals like getting into business school take a lot of hard work to reach. If you have application challenges in front of you, try shifting your perspective. Considering these three resume concerns in a different light may lead you to view them instead as assets to your MBA candidacy.