We frequently mention how underappreciated the resume is as part of an MBA application (really, truly, the resume you have on hand from the last time you were job-hunting is not optimized for this process).
How much does job title matter in MBA apps? Do the adcoms care about how much you’ve been promoted? What if your job title is really specific to your firm — or what if it’s not at all capturing the work that you do? What if your organization is flat and their policy is not to promote and to keep everyone on the same level, no matter how long they’ve been there?
So many ways to get tied up in knots and nervous about how you’re presenting!
First we’ll point out: In many cases, this is EXACTLY the type of stuff you want to enlist a recommender to discuss! If you missed that post from last week, go back and read it now. Leveraging other people to say important things about you is, well, important! There are certain points that will work better if presented to the adcom by a third party.
Your job title could definitely be one of them.
The main risk if you write an optional essay about your job title is that it could sound like you’re trying to justify things. For example, if you’ve never been promoted because your company does not believe in promotions, then you could say that in an optional essay. But it would be much more impactful to the adcom if your manager said that to them. It’s not like they won’t believe you, if you say it, but they will believe it the recommender does…. It’s just that you never want to come across like you’re trying to make excuses for yourself about anything. Typically, the things explained in an optional essay are weaknesses that the applicant wants to neutralize. If your company doesn’t give promotions, then that’s not a weakness for you, it’s just a fact of how that company runs its operations. Yet if you have to explain it in the optional, then it automatically takes on a tone of a negative, based on where you’re having to talk about it (or that you’re having to talk about it at all). There is no such baggage for your recommender, who has greater freedom to explain things and have those explanations be accepted at face value by your admissions reviewer.
Explanations by you in the optional can be even trickier if you’re trying to say why you weren’t promoted, yet promotions are in fact common at your company. If that’s the case, and there are some legitimately valid reasons for you being passed over, then definitely enlist a recommender to talk about this, and don’t try to do so yourself. It’ll only sound like you’re trying to excuse something that has no legitimate excuse (even if it really truly does!). You could inadvertently dig yourself a hole if you do this.
If your job title itself is what needs explaining, then one tactic that sometimes is workable is to use a more accurate rendering of your company’s odd job title on the resume — but only do so if a reasonable person would agree that what you’re calling it there, is the same as what your HR department has you titled in their official records. You never want there to be such a discrepancy in how you’re presenting your experiences on the resume, and what the permanent records that your company maintains have stored. If for example your formal title with HR is Systems Technician Level II and you’re really a tech team lead, then use some form of that on the resume. Something like Systems Team Lead, Tech Level II could work. You don’t want to get too creative with this, as it really needs to be easily married up with the HR records. But if you can make it easier for your adcom reviewer to actually get what your job is, then that’s going to be helpful.
Also be careful about overrepresenting things that really are more informal agreements or arrangements. If your boss has been on maternity leave for three weeks and you’ve been handling her accounts, then it’s really not appropriate to claim that you’re the “Acting Director.” That title implies a much more permanent (even if temporary) assignment or promotion — not just that you’re filling in or covering for someone on a limited basis.
In general we suggest sticking to the literal truth on every single thing in your app. However, there are some cases like these where getting more creative in how you interpret the truth can be acceptable, and can even serve the adcom’s best interest, by conveying more clearly to them what the nature of your work and responsibilities are. Always tell the truth in your apps. And, at the same time, recognize that everything you’re presenting is about marketing. It’s not that you’re going to “spin” your background or fluff it up or make it more than it is. Instead, you’re going to find ways to communicate that make your reader’s job easier — while still being accurate and true to the spirit of your real life experience.
If you’re reading this and wondering what more needs to be done: Our Reworking the Resume App Accelerator can add significant value in giving you guidance on what needs to go into a strong MBA resume, and also very helpful, getting personalized feedback on how well your resume is serving the needs of your application.