There is a ton of advice I can give about how to write the perfect investment banking resume. With that said, instead of inundating you with a 10 page report on all the things you should do, I’m going to start a series on how to write a great investment banking resume, with each entry focusing on a specific topic (the series will be titled (“Writing A Great Investment Banking Resume”). The first topic, and an extremely important one, is how to even get your resume noticed. In this post, we’ll focus mostly on perfecting the presentation of your resume since the way your resume is formatted is extremely important. In my next post, I’ll focus on how to improve the content of your resume, which is equally important. Great presentation will get your resume noticed. Great content will secure you an interview spot.
Before I start shelling out tips on how to do this, it’s necessary to shed some light on how resumes are reviewed at banks because this insight into this process should drive your resume writing strategy. Typically, during recruiting season (August-November for full-time positions; January-March for summer internships), investment banks receive a PDF of hundreds of resumes from each school they recruit at. In total, thousands of resumes need to be reviewed. Because recruiting is not really core to any investment banker’s job, people always perceive resume reviewing as somewhat of a distraction to their day. As a result, a lot of the initial resume screening to determine which candidates get interviews falls onto the laps of the analysts and associates. When I started off as an analyst, the vice president I worked for used to dump this job on me, and I’d almost always leave this task to the very end of the day because I didn’t really feel like doing it either. A lot of times, each analyst or associate would be responsible for choosing 20 candidates to interview for every 300 or so candidates. So imagine going through 300 resumes. How much time would you realistically spend on each resume? At 30 seconds a resume, it would take 2.5 hours to review all the resumes. That’s a long time. In reality, we probably spend 15-20 seconds per resume. So why is this important? It’s important because it means your resume needs to stand out and be remembered within those 15-20 seconds. It needs to catch our attention. How do you do this? Here are some tips you should follow:
1) Prioritize brands: Each resume only gets a quick glancing, and we look for things that demonstrate the candidate is a high achiever and is hungry for success. By glance, I mean we’ll quickly take a look at the major headings of your resume: the school you went to, your major, your GPA, maybe some of the classes you’ve taken if you don’t have any prior finance experience, the names of the firms you’ve worked for in the past, your titles, your extra-curricular activities, and your other interests. If those are the only 7 or 8 things that these analysts and associates look at, how should you write your resume? The key thing to do is to prioritize brands that people recognize. If you went to a great school, put that at the top. If you have an awesome GPA, emphasize it, bold it, do whatever it takes to make it easily noticed (without flaunting it or else you’ll just come off as arrogant). If you’ve worked at Merrill Lynch before, even if it’s doing something that’s not related to investment banking, try and emphasize it. If you’ve had no finance experience before, this becomes even more important. If you’ve worked as an engineer at Microsoft, use that to your advantage. If you’re a biology major in college and you’ve interned at Pfizer before, emphasize the Pfizer brand. If you’re a lawyer and worked for a well-known firm, get it noticed. If you graduated in 3 years or paid your way through college, don’t just make it a footnote; instead, put it right below the name of your school in italics, bold, underlined, or some combination of these. Basically, think of your resume as a gradient. The closer the information is to the top, the more likely it will get read. So put your most important accomplishments near the top of your resume, and the least important information near the bottom. The only exception to this is the “other interests” section where you list your hobbies and perhaps other interesting tidbits about yourself. Investment banking analysts and associates are usually so bored after reading the 100th resume, often times they just hit the major sections and quickly skip to the “other interests” section since that’s usually the most interesting. This is actually an important section where you really have an opportunity to grab someone’s attention. If you have any cool personal facts about yourself or any unique achievements that don’t belong anywhere else, include it here. If you’re not sure what would catch someone’s attention or what wouldn’t, leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail.
Most importantly though, understand that people respond to big brands. Just as how we love brands like Nike and Apple, resume reviewers are subconsciously (and consciously of course) drawn to schools and firms that they recognize.
If you just absolutely don’t have any brands to show for yourself, no worries, I was in your position. There are still many ways to break into the investment banking. I’ll cover this topic in the next two weeks.
2) Perfect presentation: Your resume must look impeccable. It must look perfect and totally professional even from a distance before anyone actually reads it. Investment banks usually print the resumes out and flip through them really quickly. If your resume can’t catch the eye of the reader from a formatting and general aesthetics standpoint, then you risk the chance of it not even getting noticed. I know this all may sound obvious, but it’s honestly what happens. Your resume needs to look extremely professional, even if the content is shitty. How do you do this? You do this by choosing the right fonts, the right spacing between lines, the right font sizes for different sections, the right justifications, etc. Every single little piece of formatting must be thought through carefully. It must draw the reaction “wow, that’s a nice looking resume” from your friends even before they read a single word of it. If you are a bit lacking in artistic inclination, just get some advice from one of your graphic designer friends. Your resume must also be extremely precise and metrically perfect. For example, if I were to point to any single letter on your resume, you better know what font size that letter is. If I were to point to the spacing between any two lines, you better know the exact size of the line spacing. If I were to point to the left margin, you ought to know exactly the left margin setting. This is almost like your very first assignment in investment banking – perfecting a word document. The analysts and associates looking at resumes do this type of nitpicking on a daily basis, so they can spot inconsistencies and formatting laziness very easily.
By the way, don’t ever use a resume template from Microsoft Word or any other program or resource on the web. It’s so obvious when people use them. Create your own custom template so it looks like you’ve actually spent a substantial amount of time on your resume.
At the end of the day, you need to be so proud of the way your resume looks, that you’d want to frame it.
3) Perfect grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation: I don’t think this needs any explanation. Your grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation needs to be absolutely consistent and impeccable. If someone reviewing your resume catches an error, your resume could easily get tossed out. If you don’t have great grammar, ask your English major friends to review your resume. When I say be consistent, I literally mean every single letter, word, and sentence should conform to whatever “standard” you choose to follow. You should also ensure that everything you say is succinct and to the point. When talking about accomplishments, your language should sound objective to give what you are saying more weight. We’ll spend more time on language style and tone in my upcoming post about how to really make the content of your resume shine.
4) Length and density: No matter what anyone tells you about resume etiquette, please keep your resume to 1 page. If CEOs of Fortune 500 companies can keep their resumes to 1 page, then you can too. There is absolutely no reason why your resume needs to run over 1 page. If it does, then you’ve included too much useless information (e.g. a list of research publications you’ve worked on, a common mistake actually). The density of a resume is always a debatable topic. While I agree that wordiness isn’t desirable, my opinion on this matter is that a dense looking resume that’s fully filled up with good content looks a lot better than a sparse looking resume with too little content on it. Why is this? Resumes that are filled up nicely just look more professional. When you have a lot of content fitted densely onto 1 page, we just assume the author spent a lot time on it, even without reading it. While someone with a more sparse resume might have also spent a lot of time on their resume, it’s more difficult to “see” that effort. Just like anyone’s first day on the job, first impressions count. You’ll realize in investment banking, that perception is often times more important than reality. In fact, perception often becomes reality. Just like we how we make long, dense, content-packed pitch books in our jobs to show potential clients how hard we’ve worked, investment banking job seekers should likewise present a content-packed resume to demonstrate their hard work and high level of interest in the job. I know it sounds superficial, but it really does work.
5) Font sizes and style: Other than major headings like your name or perhaps your school and your former employers, don’t use any fonts bigger than 12 point. This may contradict what other people have told you, but smaller fonts simply look more professional. If you take a look at any of the pitch books we create or information memorandums we write, the font sizes are always small. Just take a look at any IPO prospectus (here’s Google’s: http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1288776/000119312504131481/ds1.htm). The font is quite small isn’t it? Your grandmother may not like small fonts, but investment bankers live and breathe small fonts.
In terms of font styles, I’d stick to Times New Roman or Arial. There are other font styles that work too, but more often than not, a lot of the other fonts end up looking unprofessional.
6) Use bullet points: Keep in mind again that investment bankers are impatient. While you should try to make your resume look filled, don’t overdo it by squeezing an entire essay on one page. Break up your key points into bullets. This will help the reader get through your resume quickly. If you write in long, rambling, full sentences, the resume reviewer may just throw your resume aside because they’re too impatient to slog through all the text.
7) Objective lines: Please, leave these out. Schools always tell their students to put in a sentence or two about their objective for a resume. Now c’mon, if you put something, more likely than not, it will either be so generic that investment banks will immediately doubt the genuineness of your interest in the job, or it will be so perfectly catered to the job description and firm that it makes you come off as someone trying too hard to kiss ass. Just leave this out.
8) Make it as relevant as possible: A great way to demonstrate a genuine interest in a job is to make your resume very relevant. For example, if you’re an engineer with no finance experience, then somewhere in the upper half your resume, list all the finance, accounting, and other quantitative courses you’ve taken, list the financial news publications you follow on a regular basis, list any business clubs you are part of, list hobbies like personal stock investing, mention you’re studying for the CFA, etc. The key is to show that you didn’t just wake up overnight and decide to apply for a job in investment banking. If you sprinkle this type of stuff all over your resume, it will greatly improve your chances of getting noticed. While it’s ideal to have prior finance experience, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t. You just need to work harder to show a genuine interest in the field and that you’re capable of handling the job.
Other things to avoid, especially for engineers, is including technical information in your resume. In fact, your resume will likely get thrown out if you’ve included any technical engineering jargon. There is ALWAYS a way to “businessfy” a resume. This is what I’ll help you do in my next post in my “Writing A Great Investment Banking Resumes” series – molding the content of your resume and positioning your previous work experience to demonstrate that you have good business sense.
These may seem like trivial things to point out, but trust me, when a resume only gets 20 seconds of attention, these things do matter, and they matter a lot. When I pick up a resume, I can immediately tell how much time someone invested in it. Making your resume fantastic from a presentation standpoint is the first step in demonstrating your interest in investment banking and that you’re capable of producing high quality work. In the investment banking world, we do judge books by their covers (at least from a resume standpoint).
In my next post for my “Writing A Great Investment Banking Resume” series, I will focus on helping you improve the actual content of your resume. Once your resume gets noticed and gets put into a “let’s review further” pile, how you position your previous experiences will be critical to surviving the cut from the 50 resumes in the “let’s review further” pile to the 20 resumes in the “let’s interview them on campus” pile. At this point, most of the resumes in the “let’s review further” pile are relatively strong, so you’ll need to really make your resume stand out by getting the content to really sing.