This is a tricky thing to critique, because the type of MBA applicant who does this actually has a lot to offer. And by calling this out, it can make it seem like we’re critiquing the person, or saying that this applicant is not going to make it in to a top school. Not at all; in fact, this type of person is fairly unusual, and so today’s post is speaking to a niche of our audience. But this is important so we figured we’d share it.
When constructing an app and especially a resume, there’s often a tendency to inflate the background or focus on honors and awards. This is normal and natural, and when done in the right way, can be very effective. American culture is very awards-driven; we like blue ribbons and gold stars here. Most admissions directors at American schools are on the lookout for signs of achievement.
But the problem is, an award or a gold star is given as a result of something.
The award or the ribbon on its own does not communicate much.
(In some cases, it communicates even less than “not much”; some large companies like the big consulting firms tend to hand out “employee of the month” type recognitions like candy, so getting one of those as a star performer on a team doesn’t convey that much value at all in the resume. Because it’s so common.)
Having one bullet on the resume that consists of “Recognized as Employee of the Quarter in Spring 2012” doesn’t hurt you. But when most of the bullets on the page are some form of “Chosen to lead the team to rebuild the latest version of the whazzihoozits” or “Given highest rating in the department for the year” then we just end up going, “Okay great, but WHY?”
WHY were you given that award?
What did you do that got you recognized?
And maybe even who recognized you?
Were you nominated by your manager who is your greatest fan? Great, but did every other manager in the organization of 20,000 also nominate someone? And you are the only direct report your manager has? And you didn’t actually get to the next level of whatever employee motivation scheme this was intended to be?
None of that really matters, though. What does matter is what did you do that impressed someone, that they decided you deserved to be recognized?
What RESULTS did you bring to the team, your unit, the client, the company?
THAT is what deserves to be presented front-and-center on the page of the resume.
BTW, military candidates tend to do this a lot; it’s part of the culture of the working environment. Their resumes often have “Selected out of 15 other guys to do blah blah blah” over and over all down the page. These comparisons can add value, but when most of the items are done in that format, it ends up diluting the impact of each one.
So, use them selectively.
We covered this ages ago, in a post called An award is not an achievement, so we encourage you to read that, in case we used better words way back when.
This is the essence of our age-old advice to “show, don’t tell.”
The reader is not going to learn anything useful about you if the whole resume is how you’ve been nominated and selected and given awards. All they will know is that others seem to like you. Not very valuable; no insights there.
An admissions reader wants to know what you’re made of.
They want to get underneath the skin and see how you tick.
What contributions did you make, that resulted in such public honors? THAT’s what should be laid out for them. That’s what will be most useful as they evaluate the kind of leader you’ve been.
If the resume is dripping with all these shiny statements about how much you’ve been admired…. Well that’s great. But let’s go a little deeper, and show the adcom that it’s not just surface-level shine. That there’s gold in the heart of this one, too. Gold all the way through.
That’s what will help them to really appreciate what you offer.
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Want some input on how your resume has come together? Oh wait — want some actionable advice on how to improve your resume, and THEN get input on how good you’ve gotten it? The Reworking Your Resume does that for you! (Just please don’t overlook the “reworking” part of the proposition!)