S2S MBA Guide



It is important to remember why you are writing this version of your résumé: to get into business school. This version should not be the same one you might use in parallel to find that sweet first job post-transition (although it may be similar), or that 10+page monstrosity you are about to submit on usajobs.gov for a GS position.
Arguably, this version of your résumé has an even more specific purpose: to convince the MBA program admissions counselor who is reading thousands of applications that you - yes, YOU - are a top-notch, high-performing, upwardly mobile servicemember who outperforms her / his peers, and is therefore deserving of an invitation to interview.
As a veteran applying to business school, you will be competing with your peers - other veterans and perhaps some other government folks from the FBI, CIA, State Department, etc. - for admission. You do not have to beat out the PE bros, McKinsey consultants, Goldman bankers, or Google engineers as they are competing in their own pools. The best business schools have a pretty good idea of the make-up of their ideal class, which includes a certain portion of veterans (e.g., at HBS, around 5% per year). Therefore, when you apply, most admissions departments will put your application in the “veteran and other” pile and sift through that one as its own group.
Why is this important? Because it gives you both the freedom to strip from your résumé anything that does not support this goal and the expectation to brag about yourself.

Your Résumé’s Audience: MBA Admissions Counselor

While the admission counselors who read military applications probably have picked up some insights along the way, they will never have the depth of knowledge about your branch / specialty to “read between the lines” and understand if they should be impressed by your role and achievements. Just think about how little you know about the day-to-day of other servicemembers not in your community, never mind other branches of the military. And these folks have likely never served in the military.
These admissions counselors also have to time-box their reading of your application: your background information, your short-answers, your essay(s), your résumé, your letters of recommendation. In this process, they are trying to make a few decisions:
  • Do I want to meet and talk to this person?
  • Could I see this person contributing to and enriching our class’s experience?
  • Could I see this person convincing one of our corporate recruiters that they should be hired?
Also, thinking ahead a bit, at many schools, the admissions counselors use your résumé to frame and structure your interview. In my interview at HBS, the counselor started at the top, going all the back to my college days, and then we worked our way through the experience portion in the first 15 minutes or so.

Putting it into action

  • Keep your résumé short: One page and one page only.
  • Summarise all the key information that the admissions counselors expect to see - make their lives easy:
    • Education: Highlight your undergraduate and any other education accomplishments. Here you can add a GMAT, GRE or GPA (typically GMAT > 700, GPA >3.5) and significant leadership roles or accomplishments - but do not spend much space here as your professional accomplishments are much more important.
    • Experience: Most people lay it out in reverse chronological order in order to show progression. Most veterans bucket their experience by duty station and overall responsibilities (e.g., from division officer to department head or platoon commander to company XO to company commander). Dates of your experience and location are also helpful to understand your career journey.
    • Personal: Here you can add information such as your hobbies, interests, and any volunteer activities, awards or other relevant information. This section is important as it shows a window into you as a candidate outside your professional life, so do not underestimate it and be as specific as you can.
  • Be clear about the purpose of every single sentence and word on the page
    • For each role you are highlighting, there are two items to get across and they are not equally important: role description and your achievements in the role. Clearly separate the two so that it is easy for the admissions counselor to distinguish.
      • Role description: In 1-2 lines, lay out the scope of your responsibilities in clear english. Quantify thing that make sense to (e.g., “led 100 sailors to…”) and don’t for things that are of questionable relevance (your nuclear submarine does not sound more impressive if you say it is a “$2 billion submarine”, same with the “$X million of gear” you were in charge of).
      • Achievements: Devote the bulk of the real estate to what YOU accomplished and make sure the reader comes away with the clear sense that you are at the top of your community.
        • Articulate them with a fact-base: Bring the datapoints (your FITREP or award citations can be great sources here) that demonstrate:
          • How you made a mark on your role: what metrics improved, what inspections were excelled, what operations were completed successfully
          • How selective or exclusive the roles you were picked for (how many others applied or were considered, how important was the GOFO who hand-selected you)
        • Compare yourself favorably to your peers: Here the concept of a “soft break-out” that is so important in Navy officer FITREPs comes in handy. Drop in all the times you were ranked #1 in the wording (if not in the block), were in the top x% of your peers, or were compared to others and came out on top.
        • Liberally sprinkle your awards: Nothing says that your achievements were meaningful like getting awards for them. Whether it’s expected or not, it can be a way to prove that you had impact.
    • Use your bullet points effectively
      • Try to follow the “Situation - Action - Result” format: put the reader in your place, describe what you did and why it was effective, and what the result was.
      • Start with a past tense action word and do not repeat them - use a thesaurus to diversify your expressions.
        • Examples: led, managed, overhauled, trained, organized, created, analyzed, improved, transformed, identified, delivered, etc.)

Example Resume Template

S2S Resume Guide.docx
Example Resume Template with comments