context is king

Q&A: Job Descriptions on MBA Applications vs. CV

Q: I’m working on my NYU and CBS applications and both ask for a description of each job, without a specific word length. (It’s “Duties/Responsibilities” for Columbia, “Description” for NYU).


I assume I should include information different from what’s on my resume but what exactly? And how long should I make these be for each job?


A: The application boxes are there to give CONTEXT for the brilliant achievements on your CV.


One of the biggest mistakes I see are resumes that use the bullet points to describe activities, tasks, and duties of the job instead of pointing to specific contributions made that added VALUE to the company. Each job title should be followed by a short job scope statement but the focus should be on the bullets = accomplishments = showing how you do the job well. Exceptionally well.


On your MBA applications, the “description” section is where you can expand on the job scope statement or activities/responsibilities. The idea is that once the adcom better understands what you do, they can better appreciate how you do the job well.


Also, in the words of David Simpson of London Business School, they are looking to see “the level you’re working on.” They want to know your role at the company, budget responsibility, how many direct reports, dotted line reports, mentorship responsibilities – what is this company counting on you to get done, exactly? You have already been vetted by them and the school wants to lean on this information.


All this stuff is often missed on a CV, despite being important information. Don’t get sloppy with this part of the process, which is often left to the last moment. The school pays more attention to the application boxes than we do because 1) they created them, and 2) it’s standardized – comparable across candidates. It’s important to have a clean, edited, focused message for each application box. I personally call it a game of Twitter on steroids!


When it comes to length – quite honestly, I like to look at the school with the tightest limits (which is inevitably HBS every @#$% time). They are MISERS (shaking fist). So, to save time and eliminate the need for making cuts, I will write for the shortest word count in order to capture the essentials, then add parts in red for schools with looser limits. If you’re writing without a word limit, pretend you have one so the language is tight and crisp and easy to digest. Include all the information that is needed and nothing more.


There’s one last thing I want to say in all caps and it pertains to all sections of the application: INCLUDING MORE INFORMATION WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES. Employ the Golden Rule on this – how much would you want to read here after having read a bazillion applications? Keep it relevant, focused, and high-impact.



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