Sell Yourself with Your Resume
I‘m going to assume that you have completed a first draft of your resume, chosen an attractive, easy-to-read format, and built the typical sections (Professional, Education, and some type of other section that may be called “Other” or “Interests” or “Other Key Leadership Activities and Interests”).
As you examine your resume draft critically, the key question always is am I selling myself in the best possible manner? Too often applicants treat the resume as an afterthought, as the poor cousin of the MBA Application process, as a commodity exercise to be done quickly. Adcoms will tell you that resumes can tell a lot about an applicant, so don’t lose this critical opportunity to sell yourself.
Let’s get specific.
SELL YOURSELF AS AN EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATOR
MBA students are constantly using communication skills, both oral and written. If you want to sell yourself as an effective communicator, then here are some mistakes to avoid that I encounter every year with private clients:No company descriptions.
If you work for Pfizer or Bain, then the whole world knows where you work and the kinds of issues you have likely faced. If you work for a family business, a small to medium-sized company, or a cool tech start-up, DON’T ASSUME readers will know your employer. With no company description, the reader will feel disoriented and will perhaps not give your bullet points the same coherent read. But ultimately, that is not their loss; it is yours, as you did not situate the reader. So add a line under the name of the firm like:“A boutique management consulting firm specializing in business intelligence and analytics with four offices in the U.S. and Europe, 150 employees and founded by former McKinsey partners.”
Now the reader understands the scale and importance of this firm and its blue chip origins.Avoid bullets filled with technical jargon.
Many folks fill their bullets with technical jargon, particularly engineers. And if you are working as a materials engineer or computer engineer then the most critical selling job you have is not painting yourself as an analytical geek who does not know how to make all functions understand their problems and contributions. The following example is from a real resume: “Designed in-house computation models for performance analysis and energy optimization for bangle manufacturers”.
What are the chances that an adcom is going to understand this contribution to the world of bangles? What are bangles? The only Bangles I know were a pop group in the 80s. So don’t sell yourself as an applicant who doesn’t know how to communicate broadly to many types of business functions.Poorly explained activities.
Every year I see applicants briefly list major extra-curricular activities with so few details that the reader will not understand what the activity is or how significant it is for you. And don’t assume the reader will take the time to Google your activity or refer back to your application form. Take the example of:“Co-Founder of Long Island Lacrosse”
So what is wrong with this resume listing? Well, what if I told you that this applicant had started a nonprofit over three years ago, which now has a paid executive director and helps hundreds of disadvantaged high school students learn both a new sport and study skills/SAT prep? And what if I told you this applicant spends 15 hours a week on this organization and runs their 10-member board? Do you think that the bullet above gives the adcom any idea of the maturity and reach of this venture and the applicant’s commitment? This is a classic example of losing a key selling opportunity on your resume. This is a better bullet:“Co-Founder of Long Island Lacrosse (2009-Present). Run ten-member board and oversee salaried Executive Director of this NGO (longislandlacrosse.org), teaching 200 plus low income high school students lacrosse while prepping them for subject test and the SATS.”
SELL YOURSELF AS A BROAD LEADER
Sometimes I review resume drafts of very impressive candidates, but all of their listed accomplishments sound the same. There is no doubt that in many first and second jobs, we are specializing in a certain role and repeating similar analyses and projects. But keep in mind that adcoms want to accept folks who are as broad as possible despite the parameters of a given job. Those with leadership potential don’t just analyze and run numbers, but they find a way to train others, interview for the group, lead a volunteer effort, challenge the status quo, contribute to a cross-functional team, present to the investment committee or executive team, or mentor a summer intern… Take a critical look at your resume and make sure you are alternating between types of accomplishments versus pure individual analytical achievements. The best resumes showcase a variety of wins and contributions.
SELL YOURSELF AS A NEEDLE MOVER
There is a certain energy that is palpable from great resumes. They look simple and are easy to scan and follow chronologically, but they also show the applicant not just performing perfunctory roles and responsibilities. They show the applicant moving the needle
. And this is achieved by sharing two critical things—specifics and results.
Compare these two bullets:“Responsible for launching baby cologne in 5 European markets.”“Chosen to lead the first ever non-alcoholic baby cologne for 5 European markets, managing a multi-office global marketing team and securing incremental TV ad spend vs. the established budget. The launch team exceeded established distribution goals in all markets, and profit impact to regional P&L was over $10 million.”
Now who would you want to interview? The person who wrote the first or second bullet? It may sound obvious, but many clients show me resume drafts filled with the first bullet type, and risk coming across as routine managers. The real difference with the second bullet is that the author provided juicy specifics and measured conclusions. This brings us into their world, into the trenches of their achievements. This applicant was “chosen” for the project and not just “responsible”. He was managing a project with multi-country impact. He was able to convince management to increase the ad budget. Notice how the applicant does not just say “I” but rather gives credit to a team effort doing better than expected in their trade distribution goals and adding over $10 million to the bottom line.
So look at your bullets and ask yourself if you are selling yourself with this level of detail and energy? It may mean you have room for fewer resume bullets, but leaders move the needle and galvanize the efforts of others to move the needle.
Alex Leventhal HBS '98
Founder, Prep MBA Admissions Consulting
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