Yesterday at something called the World Finance Job Conference -- an event that gave jobseekers an opportunity to meet with executives of various private equity, hedge fund and investment banking firms -- I sat on a panel along with Vault Law Editor Mary Kate Sheridan and Career Coach Moshe Kravitz and, "American Idol"-style, the three of us judged prospective employees' resumes, offering our opinions on areas of CVs that look polished as well as those needing improvement. After the panel event, I spoke to numerous other (incredibly kind and interesting and enthusiastic) finance jobseekers, many of whom whipped out their resumes, wanting further advice. Most of the resumes I saw were impressive -- they included well known schools and name-brand firms as well as many accolades, awards and accomplishments. However, a majority of these CVs included the same five problems:
1. Repetition. There's a rule in journalism that holds for resumes: say it once and then never again. That is, notice if your resume contains any information twice; if so, delete one mention. Here's another rule: don't summarize a summary. Your resume is already a summary. It's by no means an exhaustive picture of your experience, education, skills and accomplishments. So, if your CV includes some sort of summary (as several resumes did I came across yesterday), get rid of it. Likewise, if you summarize your job duties underneath a section including a particular job, hit delete. Doing so will make your resume appear cleaner and more spacious and not waste precious reading time. Remember, hiring managers take about seven seconds to read a resume and make a decision, if that. They don't want to read anything twice.
2. Excess fat. During the course of my employment ... While at XYZ Inc. ... As a ... are all unnecessary phrases. Delete them. They don't add anything to your resume and, again, only take up space and waste reading time. Try this: check out your resume word by word and ask yourself which words are essential. If any aren't, delete them. Only the absolutely essential should appear on your resume. Also, never include a vague job duty, or a duty that could be true of any job. For example, this is vague and vanilla: Helped to improve the efficiency of my group. So is this: Provided financial and strategic analysis. Make sure to include details. How did you help improve efficiency? What did you provide analysis on? And what did you use to analyze with? If you can answer these questions, then include the answers. And if you can't, then exclude the duty.
3. The un-bolded beautiful. One resume I saw yesterday contained three tiny bullet points, three-fourths of the way down the page. Next to one bullet was some finance club award, next to another was a two-month soup kitchen-type of volunteering job, and sandwiched between the two was a Fulbright Scholarship. Of course, not highlighting (in some way) the impressive scholarship is a glaring example of a missed opportunity. It's possible that someone reading this resume would've missed the mention of the Fulbright. And I'd argue on that detail alone, a hiring manager might place the resume in the Yes pile. So, make sure you haven't buried anything on your resume that might catch an eye. Anything that's a potential dealmaker should certainly stand out. At the very least, put the more impressive of your miscellaneous accomplishments, experiences or skills at the very top of the list.
4. Not minding the gap. A common CV-related fear is this: how do I explain those 12 months before business school when I did nothing but surf, snowboard and scuba dive? Another is: how do I explain those 18 months after I was laid off from my last job and then those six months at that part-time retail gig at which I sold ties and suits trying to earn extra cash while I searched for a proper job? Or this: how do I explain the missing year on my resume I took off to take care of my ailing father? These fears are more common than might you think, and I believe can be handled in the exact same manner: by telling the truth. That is, lying about a gap by manipulating dates is never a good call. So, try doing one of two things: (1) Insert a very brief explanation of any significant time gaps at the bottom of your resume or (2) Don't include the explanation but if asked about the gap in an interview, be 100 percent honest -- don't hide a thing. Chances are the gap will work to your advantage, adding a human element and colorful story to your application.
5. Page Two. Is a two-page resume okay or should I edit to one? was perhaps the most popular question I received yesterday. And my answer was (and is): it depends. My personal preference is for one-pagers -- but only when possible. Certainly, for jobseekers who've circled the block numerous times (that is, seekers with decades of experience), two pages might be needed. But to them, and to anyone else with a two-page resume, I recommend keeping in mind this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of Le Petit Prince): Perfection is attained not when there's nothing else to add, but when there's nothing else to take away. I also recommend doing the following: Imagine that a one-page resume is a requirement for the job you're applying for, and then force yourself to squeeze the most essential items of your CV into one page. After you're done, take a look at what you've cut and ask yourself, Are any details I've cut 100 percent absolutely necessary to include? If the answer is Yes, then fine, put them back in. But if it's No, then keep them out -- and admire your new, one-page masterpiece.
(2011 World Finance Job Conference)