MBA Career Advice: Three Tests for Your Resume: The High School Test

In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews. 

Your resume is most likely the first and, in many cases, the only document recruiters will screen when they are evaluating your candidacy to determine if they want to continue the hiring process with you. For some firms, on the basis of your resume alone, you will be offered a phone screen, networking dinner invitation, follow up coffee chat, or even an interview. Recruiters can learn a lot about you by looking at your resume, but it is your communications skills – your ability to communicate through that resume – that will get you in the door.

Think about who will likely be doing that first resume screen — most likely a member of the human resource team who has never done the actual work in your target position and may have no experience outside of the HR department in your industry. And, remember, these are very, very busy people who will likely be screening hundreds of resumes in a single sitting. It’s easy to understand how someone like that would be put off by a lot of technical jargon and firm-specific terminology. Rather than taking the time to read your bullets three or four times to figure out what you intend to convey, a busy HR professional  just might put your resume in the “no thanks” pile. Honestly, with a mountain of resumes to sort through, isn’t that what you would do?

Aside from making life difficult on recruiters, by sending a resume with convoluted bullets, you are signaling a meaningful lack of emotional intelligence to your reader. Most of your professional life – especially if you are a manager – will require you to communicate complex problems and concepts in terms other people can understand. You will have to inspire people with your words and connect with audiences on their levels. If you send a resume full of jargon, you are showing you lack the ability to empathize with your reader – with what he or she knows and doesn’t know. If the recruiter is seeking to hire you into a managerial role, such a resume could be an absolute deal breaker.

So make sure your resume passes The High School Test. Make sure that an intelligent high schooler, with no specific training in your industry or field of study, could understand every word on your resume. Omit the names of software systems, analytical frameworks, protocols, and the specific words your firm uses for processes that no one else does.

So instead of

  • Spearheaded cross-business unit engagement for NTY video initiative


  • Spearheaded cross-functional team of seven to implement a new streaming video platform

Instead of

  • Led the Unified Communication Scalability initiative on the new 5427 router, coordinated the development, testing and marketing effort to enhanced and ensured UC application performance on the most powerful platform of NTY to date.


  • Coordinated development, testing, and marketing efforts for a groundbreaking new wi-fi product

Instead of

  • Performed several analytical, substantive and internal control tests, including analytical tests on ACL (Audit Command Language)


  • Performed senior duties as an associate and coordinated financial statement audit engagements for companies in 11 different industries

Making sure your resume passes the High School Test will enable you to hold the reader’s attention long enough for him/her to identify your true accomplishments. That is what the next test is for: The CEO Test. You will soon learn why none of the above bullets passed that one.

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