What should you have on your resume if you want a job in private equity? An equally valid question is what should you not have on your resume if you want a job in private equity? And that answer is too much detail: it’s not your autobiography – keep it simple, brief and relevant.
You need to recognize the role of the resume. Its main job is to ensure you get selected for interview.
So, think of your resume as a wrapper for your background skills and personality – a piece of packaging. It’s not just what it says, but how it says it and what it looks like. It's like the label on a bottle of red wine: you are choosing a bottle of red wine to take home for dinner, so which do you choose? The one where the label appeals to you! It might be the names on the label that persuade you; it might be the graphics. The bottle you didn’t choose may be superior in taste, but you will never know as you didn’t choose it. And frankly, you will probably spend more time reading the labels on the bottle of red wine than the reader of your resume did in making his or her choice to invite you for an interview.
Your resume will be read quickly and on screen. The key features need to stand out. The most salient points have to appear in the top two thirds of the page – i.e., before the reader scrolls down. So one page only: no funny formats and absolutely no PowerPoints.
Your name should be at the top. Your contact details at the bottom. Don’t bother with an address – the wrong zip code or country might put off the reader, and they’re not going to write to you until they make an offer, so it’s irrelevant detail.
Below your name, add your academic background next: college, degree and GPA only. Not every course you ever attended; again this is irrelevant detail for the decision – i.e., the decision whether to meet you or not. Prizes and scholarships should be included. I would recommend that on a resume for private equity, you need to show at least three occasions when you were "the winner," such as when your achievements were recognized.
Below your academic experience, add your work experience with all dates accounted for in terms of months and years, not just years. Don’t worry about gaps – just explain them. If you leave an unexplained gap, the private equity resume reader will assume the worst – after all, their job is about spotting gaps and unanswered questions in business plans. But explain the gaps, and they won’t think twice about them.
When you’re talking about your work experience, focus on the transactions or projects that you have worked on and be very clear about your responsibilities. Don’t fall into the trap of over- specifying your role. The reader will have a good idea about what you should have been responsible for at your level of experience.
Use lots of numbers – the size of transaction for example – and make sure you tick the boxes of financial modeling, strategic analysis, client management, fast track career progression and strong ranking within your team.
Good blue chip names for your college and current employer can help a great deal – if you don’t have these, then your experience must be really relevant.
Don’t give them your autobiography, don’t make spelling errors and don’t give insignificant detail.
Do keep it brief, do make sure it looks crisp and clear and do make sure that it stands out on that overcrowded supermarket shelf of resumes that the private equity recruiter is going to choose from.
Gail McManus is founder and chief executive of PER, a private equity recruitment firm.