Crafting Your Resume and Cover Letters

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You had to put together a resume to apply to business school, so you have a head start on how to write an effective resume. But let’s break that down. What exactly makes a resume effective, and why is it necessary? It can feel a little antiquated in the age of LinkedIn and twitter, but a resume is still the preferred starting point for a lot of recruiting conversations and applications. In this section we’ll walk you through how to prepare a good one.

A resume should provide a summary of your abilities, experience, and accomplishments, but with an eye towards the future. We’ve talked in other sections about thinking in terms of terms of what the recruiting company wants from you, and that applies in your resume, as well. You want to show that you can do the work you’re applying by illustrating your past experiences.

As a personal marketing document, your resume acts as a summary of your experience, and you should tailor it to every position you apply for. While you can have a basic template you work from, you’ll want to adjust the bullet points and content to speak to the specific job you’re applying for.

What goes into a resume? Your business school’s career office probably has a template for you to follow for consistency’s sake, but there are several sections that are common across MBA resumes:

  • Contact Information
  • Education experience
  • Your work experience
  • Other relevant information (volunteer experience, extracurriculars, hobbies, etc.)

The main area we’ll focus on is the work experience. You want to write your bullet points not as a job description of what you’ve done in the past, but as examples of the results you’ve achieved that illustrate how you’d be effective in the role you’re applying for. Lead with action verbs, not descriptors.

Examples of (good) action verbs:

  • Increased
  • Achieved
  • Managed
  • Promoted
  • Sold

Eamples of (bad) descriptors:

  • In charge of
  • Responsible for
  • Was part of a team
  • Participated in
  • Was

Using those action verbs helps to start your bullet points with a bang, then you can focus on specific results, especially those that can be quantified. Put in as much context as possible while focusing on the specific outcome your work achieved. The STAR format comes in handy to craft your bullets.

S-Situation– what was the context you were operating in? Decreasing sales? Need to streamline a process?

T- Task– what was your role in addressing the situation? What was your ‘to-do?’

A- Action– what did you specifically do to address the situation? Bring in new business? Form a team to solve the problem?

R- Result– the specific, measurable result of your action

For example, a weak bullet might start out like this:

In charge of implementing a new process to onboard new hires to the company.

And end up like this after applying the STAR format:

Launched new employee onboarding process based on regression analysis of hiring trends, increasing employee retention by 42% and saving over $150,000 per year.

The new bullet shows that you took initiative, applied a specific type of analysis to a problem, implemented your findings, and saved the company a boatload of money in the process.

Resumes are a little art and a little science. There are certain boundaries you should stick to, such as using your school’s recommended format, but you’ll likely get different opinions on bullet structure, ordering, length, etc. That’s ok, the important thing is to ask for feedback from peers, coaches, and your career center before submitting your resume to companies. Don’t forget that you will have slightly different versions of your resume for the different roles you apply for, and it’s ok if you make changes throughout the recruiting process.


Cover Letters

Once you have identified your target companies and updated your resume accordingly, you’ll need to write the perfect cover letter in order to land the interview. A cover letter is a supplement to your resume, and it gives you a chance to demonstrate your writing and communications skills while highlighting certain things that might not be clear from your resume alone. Not every company requires a cover letter, but for those that do we’ll walk you through some key considerations to craft a good one.

The main ideas you want to convey in your cover letter are:

  • Who are you?
  • Why are you interested in this company/role?
  • Why should they hire you?

As always, consider their needs, not your desires when writing the cover letter. To do that, you have to understand the skills required for the position. Read the job description carefully and make sure you’re addressing the specific qualifications they’re looking for. It’s important to emphasize the transferrable skills and interests you have that would make you an excellent hire while also conveying enthusiasm for the role.

You can do that by explaining what excites you about the role, why you’re interested in this company and not its competitors, and emphasizing the personal connections you’ve made through networking or other outreach that make you a good fit. Talk about why you are the best hire (remembering that they’re looking at hundreds of these cover letters!) and why you know you would do the job well.

To effectively convey this, show how you have created positive results from your work. Just like with your resume, you want to mention measurable results that demonstrate key skills. For example don’t write this:

I know that marketing strategists contribute to the planning process by articulating strategy by market; delivering highly successful and inspiring presentations that can be referenced and customized for later use.

Write something like this instead:

One of the proudest moments of my career as a consultant was when I presented the results of a months-long marketing project to the CEO of a healthcare company. My strategic leadership of cross-functional teams taught me the value of understanding various constituents’ needs and being able to articulate them succinctly, and allowed me to demonstrate the skills I worked so hard to learn in a short time, and that will allow me thrive in the marketing strategist role.

Try to address your letter to the specific recruiter and reference any communication you’ve had with them throughout the recruiting process. The more personal you can make it, the better. That means refer to specific people you’ve met at the company, but also talk about how the company differentiates itself in the marketplace.

As you craft your letter, remember that a typo, misspelling, or wrong company name will sink your chances at the interview. You want to review your cover letters carefully for content and mistakes, and it’s a good idea to have others look over it before you submit it.

Next: Mastering the Interview>>

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