7 ways to optimize your MBA resume for Stanford GSB

Given how hard it is to get into, you'll want to adapt your MBA resume specifically for Stanford Graduate School of Business. Read on to see seven key traits and skills that Stanford looks for in candidates, and learn how to demonstrate them on your resume.

We’ll also share an official Stanford GSB resume template that you can use, and reveal a golden rule about formatting your resume for Stanford that is easy to follow but often ignored.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. 7 ways to make Stanford fall in love with your MBA resume
  2. MBA resume template for Stanford
  3. Resources for writing your MBA resume

1. 7 ways to make Stanford fall in love with your MBA resume

Each of the top business schools is looking for slightly different things in a successful candidate. In the case of Stanford GSB, its acceptance rate is so low (5.7%) that it can afford to reject otherwise impressive candidates with top GMAT scores who don’t demonstrate the specific qualities it’s looking for.

Let's take a look at what these qualities are and how you can demonstrate them in your resume.

#1 Be an agent of change

“Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” To justify this motto, Stanford needs students who are brave enough to go against the grain, to challenge the status quo, and to dream big.

It wants you to see the MBA as much more than merely the next step as you work your way up the corporate ladder. It wants to help you create an impact, to make big things happen.

On your resume:

Be sure to include examples of where you enacted change. The best place to do this is in your work experience section. For example, you could give examples of where you re-structured a process at work or reversed an established strategy, with quantifiable success.

You can help convey that you’re a change-maker through your choice of language. “Initiated” shows that you made something happen that wouldn’t have otherwise, whereas “led” doesn't.

Examples

  • (Work experience) “Identified and removed duplicate organization effort in client auditing, reorienting focus of over 30 employees.”
  • (Work experience) “Initiated shift from a product to a platform strategy. Pilot led to 22% increase in conversion.”
  • (Work experience) "Pivoted the company from an e-commerce model to a retail model that required the establishment of new channel partnerships and logistics."

Out of the office, you’ll want to show your desire to change society for the better. This leads into our next tip… 

#2 Display a social conscience

Like most big brands, top business schools such as Stanford GSB want to show that they are socially responsible. The idea is that they’re not just creating tomorrow’s leaders, they’re empowering them to make the world a better place.

Some would argue that Stanford is firmly left-leaning when it comes to United States politics, and so you should be sure to present yourself as politically progressive in order to be accepted.

However, we always recommend authenticity over trying to second guess any potential political or cultural bias in the Stanford admissions committee. After all, the GSB insists it wants a diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and you’re much better off being authentic than trying to fit into a particular mold.

On your resume:

You need to highlight actions that show a contribution to your community. In your additional/extracurricular section, be sure to include any volunteer work or political activism you’ve been involved in and the impact you had.

If you did anything to improve, say, sustainability or transparency at work, include it in your work experience section.

Examples:

  • (Work experience) "Represented team on company’s ethics committee: proposed and got passed a 15-point policy plan to make our workplace safer and more sustainable."
  • (Additional) "Organized 4 charity events over a year, selling 9,000 tickets and raising a total of $25,000."
  • (Additional) "Volunteer work for a welfare assistance charity: assisted hundreds of low-income and elderly people in gaining access to benefits."

#3 Show “intellectual vitality.”

Most of the people who apply for an MBA at Stanford are highly intelligent (with a GMAT score to prove it). And most of these people get turned away.

Intelligence alone isn’t enough to impress the Stanford admissions committee. More than just clever, you need to be intellectually curious. You need to be somebody with a genuine appetite for knowledge, who loves solving difficult problems and is ready to challenge assumptions.

Stanford calls this trait “intellectual vitality,” and it’s so important that it’s listed as the first of three evaluation criteria for MBA applications. You’ll also need to have it front of mind when writing your application essays.

On your resume:

Intellectual vitality is hard to demonstrate in a single bullet point. Rather, the overall arc of your education and professional journey will need to point toward it. Impressive educational achievements are obviously very helpful here, which you'll either have or you won't.

However, you can also bolster your "IV" credentials in your "Additional" section (or equivalent). Consider including an example of where your passion for something has led you to act in order to discover more. This will help convey your keenness to seek new knowledge and expertise.

Example:

  • (Additional) "During my chemistry masters I set up a small lab which I still run and use with fellow amateur scientists."
  • (Additional) "I’m very interested in crypto-currency and I write a blog and weekly newsletter (800 subscribers so far!)."

#4 Demonstrate leadership and initiative

Admittedly, this isn’t specific to Stanford, as all the top business schools look for leadership. But since Stanford can afford to only take the very best, its expectations on leadership are even higher than at other schools.

Stanford lists "demonstrated leadership potential" as the second of their evaluation criteria. They say they’re looking for behaviors such as “strategic thinking, initiative, persistence, results orientation, engaging others, and developing others,” and they want to know when you’ve used these behaviors to create an impact.

On your resume:

Include specific examples at work where you displayed leadership, giving the context and quantifying the impact of your actions. You don’t have to have had a position of authority - in fact, it can be more impressive if you led without authority.

Any entrepreneurial ventures are excellent examples of initiative and can show leadership potential, so be sure to include these too if you have them.

Examples:

  • (Work experience) "Led monetization strategy. Increased company revenues by 300% and brought the company to break-even."
  • (Work experience) "Established an analytics mindset in a creative (non-data driven) marketing team."
  • (Work experience) "Co-founder of Vegannies, a vegan street food supplier, earning $40000 in revenue in first year."

Likewise, in your additional/extracurricular section, don’t just list big leadership posts. Stanford won’t be impressed that you were the vice-president of a student welfare committee, they’ll be impressed with the impact you had in that position.

Examples:

  • (Additional) "Vice-President of Investors Club: Grew the number of members from 60 to 110 and signed a corporate sponsorship."
  • (Additional) "Captained Woodhall FC first team to its best ever finish in the Northern Wisconsin Soccer League."

#5 Show a human side

Your essays are where you’ll really get to show your authentic self, but since your resume is the first thing the adcom will read, we recommend trying to add a dose of humanity to it. After all, it’s a lot easier to fall in love with a real person than just a cold list of achievements.

On your resume:

You should include at least one line on your interests, and preferably demonstrate a wide range of them. You may be able to add a touch of humor here too, although this needs to be done with taste and good judgment (be sure to get feedback on it!).

Examples:

  • (Additional) "Interests: to relax I like to cook, code, read Russian literature, and play the trumpet (badly)"
  • (Additional) "Interests: I love playing sports and going for walks with my border collie, Alfred."

#6 Show you care about developing others

Stanford’s MBA program is highly collaborative. The relationship between students is considered to be less competitive than at schools like Harvard, and the moderate class size means that students get to know each other very well. 

You’ll need to show that you’ll contribute positively to this atmosphere. Stanford will be looking for signals that you’ll be good at sharing your expertise and experiences, enabling your fellow students to learn from you just as you’ll learn from them.

On your resume:

Make sure your resume demonstrates your people skills, and try to include examples of where you’ve helped other people develop. For example, onboarding new coworkers or acting as a mentor for someone might not seem like a big achievement, but could be used to convey this trait very effectively.

Examples:

  • (Work experience) “Mentored three junior associates in first year and used their feedback to initiate improvements to the company’s onboarding process.”
  • (Work experience) “Led client product training via in-person, remote, and asynchronous video.”
  • (Additional) "Initiated “Class Social Hours” zoom sessions to enable graduate students to discuss coursework, share ideas and opinions during the pandemic.”

#7 Focus on showing potential

Stanford is not looking to employ you. Therefore, unlike the companies you’ve applied to with past resumes, it doesn’t need to assess you on specific hard skills. It doesn’t need you to have mastered a software or even to have a certain level of management experience.

Instead, what Stanford needs to know is that you have fantastic potential. It wants to see that you’ll be able to take advantage of the incredible opportunity for growth that their MBA program offers.

For these reasons, it doesn’t need to see as much detail about your professional roles as an employer might. Instead, it just wants to see a clear trajectory.

This tip is relevant to all business schools, but it’s worth including here because it's important and not always obvious.

On your resume:

Don’t feel you need to include every relevant achievement in your work experience section. Include only the ones that are highly impressive.

An exception to this rule is details that clearly demonstrate growth. For example, if in your first job you started with no team but after 6 months were managing two people, include this. You may think that managing two people isn’t impressive, but it’s worth including because it shows a clear upwards trajectory.

You’ll then need to continue this trajectory in the rest of your work experience section.

Examples:

  • (Work experience) "Promoted to lead a team of three engineers 6 months after joining."
  • (Work experience) "Earned three promotions in four years due to consistent high performance."

2. MBA resume template for Stanford

There are many valid ways to format your resume, but since you’re applying for Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, we think it makes sense to use one of their own templates.

This template was created for Stanford GSB graduates to use when they apply for jobs after their MSx program. Stanford’s MSx program is aimed at experienced professionals, but the template is totally applicable to someone who has only worked a few years (i.e. the typical Stanford MBA candidate).

Download the template here.

2.1 Formatting guidance for Stanford MBA resumes

Of course, you don’t have to use the Stanford template we’ve linked to above. However, there is one rule that we strongly recommend that you stick to when you submit a resume to the Stanford Graduate School of Business: it should be one page maximum.

Right below where you upload your resume on the Stanford website it says:

“A good rule of thumb is one page per decade of experience. For less than 10 years of experience, one page is usually enough. Honest.”

This is a very clear and strong steer to try and get you to keep to one page, and yet many applicants ignore it, submitting resumes of two pages or even three, despite having only a few years of work experience.

This is the wrong move, as it signals one of two things: either you’re not good at taking advice, or you think you’re the exception to the rule. Don’t take this risk!

3. Resources for writing your MBA resume

In this guide, we’ve given you the specific traits and skills that Stanford GSB is looking for and showed you how to demonstrate them in your resume. This is so that you can tweak and adapt your MBA resume to give you the best possible chance of getting into Stanford.

However, if you haven’t yet crafted the first draft of your MBA resume, you’ll probably want to get some generic guidance on how to do so. So we’ve listed a few resources you might find helpful.

To get started, watch the video below. It’s made for Wharton applicants, but as it’s talking about generic MBA resume advice, it’s relevant for Stanford students too. This will give you a good starting point to build on.

Let’s take a look at some more resources you might find useful:

  • This video from GMAT club is good for starting with a helicopter view and then going into a lot of depth.
  • This guide from BeMo is very comprehensive, and you can use it as a basis for getting that first draft done. It also has a couple of samples, but be aware, they’re probably not good enough to get into Stanford.
  • This article from e-gmat is much quicker to consume but still covers most of what you need to know.
  • This guide from Shemasssian consulting has some insightful points and useful examples
  • Make sure you’re not falling into any of these three pitfalls.

Finally, make sure you get feedback on your resume, from family and friends at first and then, if possible, from someone who knows how the Stanford admissions process works. We’ll be starting a resume review service very soon, so sign up below if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, check out our guides on the rest of your Stanford MBA application process:

Good luck!