Kiltie Tompkins is a management consultant and graduate of UNC-Kenan-Flagler (’15) Over the course of her MBA and professional career, Kiltie has read and reviewed hundreds of resumes, and took some time to share her advice on how to craft a great resume.
The other day, out of curiosity – as it turns out, morbid curiosity – I reached into my (digital) file drawer in search of an old version of my resume. I thought it would be fun to see how far I’d come. The version I found was the one I used to apply to business school about four years ago. After reading through it my only question was – how in the world did I get in?
Since then, my resume has come a long way. The bottom line is that resumes take a lot of work. They cannot be written in an hour or even a day, which appears to be what I had attempted. Multiple people should review your resume before it goes public – colleagues or peers who know the details of your experience, and others who don’t to ensure it makes sense to an outsider. The first week of business school, we had individual consultations with certified resume experts who tore our resumes apart – in a good way. I needed it. The point is – your resume should be poured over and perfected.
A resume doesn’t get you a job in and of itself, but it can get you noticed or get your foot in the door. My resume has done that for me with almost every job I’ve had. One thing is for sure – it matters in business school. A bad resume is an easy way for recruiters to put you in the “no” pile. Borrowing some poker terminology, a solid resume is “table stakes” for the MBA career search. You might as well get it right and be as impressive on paper as you possibly can.
In my time and UNC Kenan-Flagler and since, I’ve coached a lot of prospective and current MBA students and noticed some common misconceptions about what a good resume entails. So first, let’s level set on the purpose of a resume.
What a resume is NOT:
- A long list of every project you’ve completed or professional skill you’ve honed
- A one-size-fits-all document, no matter what job you’re applying for
- A silver bullet for getting your dream job
What a resume IS:
- A representative summary of the experiences that make you a great candidate for the specific career you’re seeking
- Customizable, flexible and frequently updated to reflect your background and the career or job you’re after
- Critical to your credibility as you network and seek opportunities
There are a lot of important elements to a good resume, but here are the top five things I learned after I (luckily) got into a top 20 MBA program, landed a job at a top-tier Management Consulting firm, and am now on the other side of the table helping recruit top talent to the firm:
- SHOW, DON’T TELL – Action, description, results: A resume is not a list of skills. It’s a set of examples that showcase your value. Every bullet should start with an action verb describing the role you specifically played, a brief description of the project or responsibility, and the result – preferably quantified. The information provided should answer three questions: What did you specifically do? Why did you do it? What were the results? Oh, and all of this should be done in 2 lines of text. Impossible? No. Time consuming to write? Yes. Adjectives, semi-colons and complex phrasing are your friend (no full sentences or periods, please).
- DON’T BE REDUNDANT – Every bullet should represent a new skill: Put the most important skills first, and then consider them covered. Recruiters don’t need every example; they only need to see the skill once to know you have it. That said, make sure you cover skills mentioned in the job description in your first three or four bullets if possible. If the recruiter finds everything they’re looking for after reading only one-third of the page, that’s a good thing.
- DIG DEEP – The most relevant experiences may not be the biggest or sexiest thing you’ve done: This is particularly important for career switchers, but it’s true for everyone. The daily tasks you spend most of your time on may not showcase your most relevant or resounding strengths (and may not be easy to explain in one bullet point). A small, strategic project that you worked on for 6 weeks may be the best example of a skill required for the job – and that’s okay. Dedicate a bullet to it.
- LESS IS MORE – Try to keep your resume to one page if possible: If you’re applying to business school or to post MBA jobs, chances are you don’t have enough bullet points to warrant more than a page of explanation (see tip #2). Put yourself in the reviewer’s shoes: he or she may be reading hundreds of resumes and spending 60 seconds on each one. Make sure you’ve covered the skills required for the job, but don’t go overboard. A longer resume does not necessarily imply a more impressive candidate. Side note: In business school, our resumes had to be one page to make it into the class resume book distributed to recruiters – no exceptions.
- BE AUTHENTIC – Include a personal interest that stands out: Think about what really makes you interesting, quirky or unique. What will make you memorable? When it comes to interview time, it’s easier to connect with the person across the table over a personal topic than a professional one. That makes the conversation much more natural and comfortable. Keep it professional and bear in mind the company’s culture, but everyone you’ll interview with is a real person with non-work interests, too. It’s 2016. The firm should want to hire you for you.
Have questions about the article or want additional advice about resumes or other career topics? Email Kiltie at email@example.com