A business school graduate's magnum opus isn't a thesis; it's a résumé. This is particularly true since advancing a career is a major reason to commit to additional education, especially for those hoping to enter into a profession—such as accountant, financial adviser, or Web developer—where having a master's degree in business administration would be beneficial.
If you're nearing your degree's completion and beginning the job hunt, then it's imperative to perfect the document that best sells and summarizes your professional qualifications. Career experts offer these six résumé-writing tips for you:
1. Use STAR as a formatting guide: When you commit pen to paper, think of your experiences in terms of Situations, Tasks, Actions, and Results. This system, better known as the STAR résumé format, tends to work well for business school graduates if used properly. "It's a good model to use for planning the content to include in your résumé," says August Cohen, an award-winning résumé writer and founder of the career management company Get Hired Stay Hired. "But when you start writing, you should condense that information and only focus on the highlights."
Bradley Aspel, a director at the Career Management Center at Columbia University's Business School, recommends STAR for a different reason. "We suggest our students use the STAR format more for interviews—when responding to questions such as, 'Tell me about a time you led a team,'" he says. Both Aspel and Cohen suggest you stress what was accomplished, rather than your methods."We host many events throughout the year. ... and at one such event recently a recruiter said when speaking about résumés, 'Show me the baby, not the labor,'" Aspel recalls.
[Read how M.B.A. hiring continues to grow.]
2. Stick to one page: Some struggle with résumé length, but a young graduate should adhere to one page. "The average age of our student body is 28, so with four to six years of work experience, it's not necessary to go beyond one page to get across the key information," Aspel advises. Older students have more leeway to fill two pages.
Plus, "there doesn't need to be a different format based on career paths, but the skills highlighted should be customized based on the career path you're targeting," says Wendy Tsung, associate dean and executive director of M.B.A. Career Services for Emory University's Goizueta Business School. Cohen recommends you weave keywords from a particular job's description. "Pull out the skill set you have that matches what the employer needs, and then include it," she says.
3. Ditch the objective: "It's clear when you are graduating from an M.B.A. program you are looking for a position which can utilize those skills," says Tsung when asked about using an objective. According to Cohen, "the most valuable part of the résumé is the top and left-hand side," so you don't want to waste that valuable space with content that won't be read. "Go with something that's going to wow the employer," she says.
[Find out how LinkedIn can transform your job search.]
4. Place your education background where it best serves you: If you're a strong student at a well-respected program, then your pedigree might be that lead to use to "wow the employer." Representatives from top business schools certainly vouch for placing it below that leading summary statement. "We feel the Columbia M.B.A. brand is extremely strong, and there is much to be gained by placing it prominently on the résumé," Aspel says.
"If I were a so-so student, I'd put [my education] on the bottom of the page, or perhaps in the middle of the page," Cohen says. "I'd want an employer to be impressed right off the bat." Emphasis on your education should also decrease as you age. "We recommend to our alums to move their education to the bottom ... because their most recent work experience is more relevant for their next role," Tsung notes.
[See the 10 M.B.A.'s with the most financial value at graduation.]
5. Don't improvise: Being one amidst a sea of candidates might compel an anxious recruit to get creative. But experts like Cohen say, "You have to learn to follow the rules before you break them. Don't send a PDF résumé when you were asked for a Word document." She adds: "Make it easy on the company to like you; don't put road blocks in the way. If a student has manners and follows instructions, they will be far ahead of the average student that's graduating."
To make your personal mark, consider a different strategy. "Handwritten thank you notes [following an interview] are a very nice touch and can differentiate you," Tsung says. Just remember to first send an E-mail thank you to the hiring manager. Maintaining a solid LinkedIn profile also makes a strong impression. "We encourage students to have an updated LinkedIn profile and to join industry associations and school groups," says Tsung. "It's a wonderful way to connect with and research individuals."
6. Don't embellish: Learn the difference between selling and falsifying yourself. Not being truthful is a cardinal sin for any job seeker, business graduate, or otherwise. "Just don't lie," Cohen says. "Don't lie about your GPA; don't lie about where you went to school. Don't lie and say you have a degree when you don't."
If scholastic achievements aren't noteworthy and/or if work accomplishments are few, Cohen suggests focusing more on volunteer work and side projects "It's great information to include if they have limited experience," she says.
Searching for a business school? Get our complete rankings of Best Business Schools.