Preparing a university application, especially when applying for an MBA, is often one of the most stressful times of a person’s life. With the next 5-10 years hanging in the balance, you want to make the best of each and every element of the application from the GMAT to the research proposal or personal statement. But of all the different parts of an MBA application, you’ll probably spend the least amount of time on one of the most integral and essential parts of the application: your CV.

But why is your CV so important?

We all know the power of first impressions right? The same is true of university applications. 

That seemingly minor piece of paper is usually what the admissions tutor first sees when they open your application. Hence your CV not only spells out your life experiences under a span of a minute, but also has the ability to shape and mould the admissions tutor’s impression regarding of you as a suitable candidate for their programme. So, it is imperative that you put your best foot forward when it comes to crafting that all-important one page document. 

However, with 1000s of candidates applying to business schools all year round, the trick of the trade has now shifted from “putting your best foot forward” to “standing out amidst a pool of generic CVs”. This can be seen from scenarios where applicants with 750 GMAT scores and appreciative amount of work experience fail to make the cut, whereas another applicant with fewer credentials is admitted to a prestigious university. Now, it is not easy to determine what weight your CV carries, as every university has different admission criteria while your CV is so intricately connected with your essays and application in general, that giving it a particular value is difficult. That said the underlying fact remains same—if you can’t explain what you did on a single piece of paper with properly presented facts, then you may as well consider yourself out of the competition. 

So how can I write a winning CV?

Before we go into the nitty gritty details of perfecting your CV, one important things to be kept in mind i that the CV that stands out is not always the one with the best content, but one that is well “presented”. So it’s all about catching the attention of the recruiter. Regularly, a much better CV (content-wise) is overshadowed by a CV that is more scannable, legible and better documented even if it lacks a few talking points. The struggle is real, because not only do you have to accomplish the herculean task of fitting your life’s experiences in a single sheet of paper, but also make it aesthetically pleasing to look at. 

Here is where a “CV-Guidebook” can come in handy. The following guidelines have been prepared by us after helping 300+ applicants get admitted to the most prestigious universities, and after reviewing thousands of CV drafts, hence you can be assured about the soundness of the same.

1. CV Format

  • Limit your CV to a maximum of one page. Admissions tutors will be skimming through most points, so make it easier for them. They won’t have the patience to go through everything, so two pages is a big no-no.
  • Make your document scannable. Don’t overdo your CV by adding watermarks, backgrounds and fancy designs, etc. They often make the CV appear clumsy. Stick to using proper, professional layouts, for example, templates found online for CVs can be used.

2. Typeface and Font Size

  • Choose a typeface and font size that is legible and classy. Don’t experiment with different styles, because it’s the way you present and not your choice of font that needs to be distinct! ;-)
  • Use bold, italic and underline aptly. Highlight the most important bits using these three tools. 
  • Maintain a single typeface and size throughout your CV. The same goes for maintaining continuum with your headings and bullet points, if any.

3. Contact Details

  • The two most important contact details are your phone number (mobile preferably) and email address, which must both be at the top of your CV. Make sure that unnecessary contact details don’t eat up otherwise valuable space.
  • Avoid using informal email with addresses such as “This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.”, as they may be seen as rather too casual; something that doesn’t help make a good initial impression. AT ALL. 

4. Bullet Points

  • Bullet points are a very effective tool to showcase a lot of information effectively without much jargon. They make facts simpler to understand, make important points stand and as a whole give a solid structure to your point.
  • “Action words” instead of regular sentence initiators and conjugators can do wonders. For example, words such as “spearheaded, created, developed, optimised” instead of the clichéd “suggested, built, performed” etc.
  • Instead of longer paragraphs, use statistics or quantitative information to highlight the work you’ve done. For example, “I worked hard and delivered a solution to a client” can  be optimised and rephrased as “I crafted 3 relational databases each with 250 entries to help narrow down the target audience for my clients product, increasing sales by 80%”. Apt and crisp! 

5. Highlighting Work Experience

  • Your position, the name of the company, the length and the location of your work place are the first points that you need to provide when talking about your work experience. Try to squeeze all this info in a single line.
  • Mention the skills you picked up while working, but avoid giving vague and generic bullet points such as “I was a hard-working and efficient employee”. Instead a more intriguing way to catch the admission tutor’s attention would be: “Led a seven-person team” or “Cultivated a profit of 1 million USD for the client”. Data quantifies your bullets, giving them credibility. 
  • Always maintain chronological order when talking about your work experience, with your most recent at the beginning.

6. Showcasing your educational background

  • University, programme, graduation date and degree classification are the four points needed for each level of your academia. Mention them in a chronological order, with the first one being your most recent academic accolade.
  • Academic honour, scholarships, ranks in entrance/competitive exams, preferably ranks “out-off” how many students, if any, should be mentioned as well. Even certifications can be mentioned.

7. Showcasing your extra curricular activities

  • Extra curricular activities show the side of your personality that is otherwise not seen by your test scores and company positions, and as such can prove to be a deal-breaker in many cases. Responsibilities held at any clubs or any services all count as extra curricular activities.  
  • However, it is not enough to just jot down the extracurricular activities you take part in. Instead, try to establish a connection as to how a particular activity helped in shaping your personality or how it impacted others or society as a whole. 

8. Perfecting your grammar

  • Avoid making silly grammatical mistakes such as spelling errors, mixed up tenses, gender swapping or erroneous subject-verb agreement, because they can all prove detrimental and you can seriously not afford losing out to the competition on such grounds.
  • Also try to write in the active voice as often as possible, because the same sentence will convey a stronger message than the passive voice. Plus, small silly mistakes in punctuations can completely change the meaning of your sentence!

9. Proof reading

  • After you have made a draft of your CV, ask someone to proof read it objectively. A subjective angle can mean the loss of a “personal touch”. Keep that in mind when choosing your proof reader. 

After following this detailed guideline compare it to your previous CV. Can you see how much more professional it now seems with virtually no change in the content!?

To further help you realise how this guideline will work, check out the infographic below which summarises all the above points with relevant examples. Further check out our post “10 Steps towards creating an effective MBA Resume” to gain a more in-depth step by step process of creating your CV.

Abhyank Srinet holds a Masters in Management degree from ESCP Europe and has an engineering degree with a specialization in Instrumentation & Control.

His interest in the digital landscape motivated him to create an online start up for Masters in Management application consulting (MiM-Essay.com), focused on spreading quality information about the MiM degree and performing application consulting services for clients. 

He is the chief consultant of the company and takes care of Business Development and Digital Marketing side of the company. He is very passionate about writing and marketing. 

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