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MBA Job Hunt: The Résumé

  1. Ten Biggest Résumé Blunders

    Ten Biggest Résumé Blunders

    Résumés are the first impressions that MBA job candidates make with potential employers. Since no one gets a second chance to make a first impression, they must be informative, interesting, and concise or risk landing in the black hole where job dreams go to die.

    While the résumé offers only a snapshot of a candidate, it is usually the gateway to the rest of the application process. Without a good résumé, applicants will never get past the front door of a company. The good news is the simplest résumés are usually the winners, and it's not all that hard to get yours fit for employers. Just avoid the ten biggest résumé mistakes that follow.

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  2. A Bad Cover Letter

    A Bad Cover Letter

    Cover letters are the introduction to the résumé, and recruiters say they want them to be plain Janes. They should introduce you to the company and show excitement for the job, and not much else. In some cases cover letters can be used to explain something inexplicable in the résumé, such as a job gap, says Mark Howorth, senior director of global recruiting for Bain & Co., the business and strategy consulting firm. Howorth adds that they should never be used to brag about yourself. “Cover letters must show that you communicate well,” he says.

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  3. A Cluttered Mess

    A Cluttered Mess

    The overall look of the document counts, too. Job seekers need not get fancy with graphics or design, nor do employers expect résumé paper anymore (since most résumés are read online anyway). Still, there should be a crisp, clean look to the page. “The résumé should be presentable, not an information dump,” says Chris Thomas, global recruiting director of the Experienced Commercial Leadership Program at General Electric (GE) in Fairfield, Conn. “There should be some white space.”

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  4. Misfiring Bullets

    Misfiring Bullets

    Résumés include bulleted points that highlight one’s experiences at past jobs. Knowing the correct format to use for each point can mean the difference between getting called for an interview and having your résumé filed in the trash. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business advises students to use the “Action Context Result” format, which describes an action they performed, where they performed it, and the results it garnered, says Damian Zikakis, director of career services at Ross. "Worked for XYZ Corp., 2008 to 2012” says close to nothing. "Led a review of supplier contracts for the technology division resulting in savings of $250,000” opens doors.

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  5. Missing Your Target

    Missing Your Target

    Many people fail to consider their target audience when writing a résumé, which should employ the vocabulary of the job you want. “The biggest mistake is to speak in the voice of where you have been instead of where you’re going,” says Rebecca Joffrey, director of the Career Development Office at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. For instance, those in finance use the word client, whereas those in marketing prefer customer. Using "client" in a résumé for a marketing job quickly pegs you as an amateur.

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  6. Skipping the Homework

    Skipping the Homework

    Résumés should be targeted not only by industry but also by company. Failing to learn about each company to which you are applying can result in a doomed résumé. To tailor your résumé by employer, you have to dig deeper than you did in your research on the industry, says Michael Malone, managing director of the Career Management Center at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Ask current and former employees about the climate, fit, and culture of the place, he adds. Also, find out what personality traits to note when describing yourself and your past to the company, and learn to read between the lines in the information the company puts out publicly about itself. “You might find that one company puts a higher value on creativity, whereas the other values teamwork more,” Malone says.

  7. Strutting the Wrong Stuff

    Strutting the Wrong Stuff

    You should include information in the bullet points that is relevant to your potential employer. For example, if you want to go into consulting, rather than writing about the technology you helped invent as an engineer, you should demonstrate the teamwork skills you gained from that experience. “Think of the résumé as a future-focused document and not an historical one,” says Char Bennington, director of career management at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. “Focus on what’s important to the people in the career that you want now."

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  8. Disregarding Your Worth

    Disregarding Your Worth

    If you never quantify your contributions, MBA employers will find it hard to understand your value. You must demonstrate what you have accomplished. “Helped increase revenue 14 percent" or "Saved the company $10,000” beats a plain vanilla listing of job titles. “Not putting anything quantifiable into the résumé is a big mistake,” says Maryellen Reilly Lamb, director of MBA career management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. “This is how employers can see what you can do for them.”

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  9. Crazy Stupid Typos

    Crazy Stupid Typos

    A surefire way to get your résumé thrown into the dumpster is to repurpose the cover letter you used for another company and forget to change the company's name, or to misspell anything anywhere on the résumé. “Any small mistake and there’s no reason for employers to keep your résumé in the pile,” warns Brad Aspel, director of career education and advising at Columbia Business School.

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  10. Foolish Inconsistency

    Foolish Inconsistency

    Foolish consistency may be the "hobgoblin of little minds," as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, but in the job search it counts. When consistency is lacking, potential hires stand out for all the wrong reasons. Even something miniscule—ending some bullet points with a period, but not others—speaks volumes about your attention to detail and about your abilities in general. Brad Aspel, director of career education and advising at Columbia Business School, says you should begin all bulleted points with an active verb. “Make it easy on the person reading the résumé,” Aspel says.

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  11. Oversharing


    Even older MBAs who come into programs with a few years of experience under their belts should aim for one-page résumés. A couple of rare exceptions include someone who has a Ph.D. and those applying for jobs in Europe, where résumés—or curriculum vitae—tend to be a bit longer. Otherwise, one page is the maximum. “Frankly, newly minted MBAs haven’t been alive long enough to have more than one page to their résumé,” says Mark Howorth, senior director of global recruiting for Bain & Co., the business and strategy consulting firm. So be ruthless—nobody needs to know where you went to high school or how much you earned with that lemonade stand you had when you were 6—and keep it short.

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