Keywords to include in your banking resume and cover letter

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Picking the right keywords leads to success.

Even with the rise of applicant tracking systems (ATS), stuffing as many keywords as possible into your resume is not recommended. However, when you should have an action plan for including the right keywords in your banking resume and cover letter.  An ATS may do the initial screening, and if and when you do get in front of human eyes, that person is likely to have an incredibly short attention span.

Here are some keyword tips to improve your chances of landing a banking job.

You have six seconds to impress with your resume

When hiring managers skim your resume initially, they often skip over the skills section that almost everyone puts at the top of the page, according to Donna Svei, executive resume writer, interview coach and retained search consultant. They do a six-second scan; they look at your job titles you’ve held, the companies you’ve worked for, how long you’ve been at each job, and whether or not you’re local, she said.

“That’s what makes a recruiter decide whether or not to read the resume in depth,” Svei said. “It has to be easy to scan your employment history.”

Make sure your job titles hit the right note

It might seem obvious, but getting the right job title is key.

“If you have a funky job title, say your company has something quirky for your role, in parentheses say the more common job title, thinking about what people would search for,” Svei said.

One example is healthcare M&A or health care M&A.

“Play around on Google and social media to figure out how you can get the greatest number of hits,” Svei said. “If ‘health care’ spelled as two words gets searched a lot more, go with that.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment with keywords in past job titles so that they resonate more, and add them in parentheses if it’s not your official job title,” she said.

General skills

You have to be careful here. Using descriptive terms in your resume can easily fall into cliche. 'Passionate', 'dedicated', 'motivated' all fall into terms you should definitely avoid. What recruiters are looking for, though, are general terms like financial management, return on investment (ROI), budget management, profit and loss (P&L) statements or reports, team management and revenue growth.

“Investment banks want experienced people who have worked in that type of environment before, so keywords like ‘competitor,’ ‘fast-paced’ and ‘ever-changing’ are likely to play well,” said Roseanne Donohue, an executive recruiter, resume writer and career coach who worked previously at J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup.

Other examples that show a candidate is well-adapted to the current banking space include ‘works well under pressure,’ ‘tight deadlines,’ ‘flexible,’ ‘adaptable,’ ‘works well in an ever-changing environment’ or ‘…pressure-filled environment,’ ‘joint ventures,’ ‘mergers,’ ‘restructuring,’ and ‘agile enough to shift as the company shifts.’

Role-specific skills

There are a ton of hard skills for banking, and you need to list not only the ones you’ve mastered, but all of the keywords related to the specific role you’re applying for that man or machine might be looking for. Spell out acronyms in case an ATS is programmed to look for the full term.

For investment banking roles, mergers and acquisitions (M&A), business transformation, integration, financial modeling, research, deals, deal flow, deal making and negotiating.

“For certain positions, you’re expected to list even more specifically all different investment products and securities you have experience with, fixed income, equities, commodities, what have you,” said Donohue. “It needs to be tailored to what the specific role is.”

For many banking roles, keywords related to regulatory compliance and risk management are sought-after, according to Alyssa Gelbard, the founder and president of Resume Strategists. Examples include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), the Investment Company Act of 1940, the SEC, Finra, internal audit, external audit, due diligence and the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR).

“From a technology perspective, ‘information security,’ ‘cyber-security’ and ‘business continuity planning’ are hot areas that we hear about a lot in the banking world,” Gelbard said. “For some front-office roles, many hiring managers look for ‘global’ or ‘worldwide.’”

“If you have both buy-side and sell-side experience, that always makes you more marketable,” she said.


Investment banking hiring managers are typically looking for candidates with a pedigree, especially the more premier organizations.

“If you have it, don’t overlook it,” Gelbard said. “If you achieved honors such Phi Beta Kappa or Magna Cum Laude, every little bit matters.

“List any certifications, qualifications, Finra licenses like the Series 7, whatever numbers they are, make sure you list that, because could be screening for any of them,” she said.

Translate jargon to plain English whenever possible

There is a time and a place for jargon in conversation and to signal insider status, but you run the risk of annoying the reader or failing to use a simpler word that an ATS or hiring manager may be looking for.

If you do include a buzzword or specialized term that could be considered jargon, make sure you’re using it in the proper context, and, space permitting, spell it out in plain English.

“Only use jargon or buzzwords if you truly have those skills and experience,” Donohue said. “If it’s on there, you should truly know it and be able to speak to it in an interview – you should only use them if you can back it up.

“If it’s niche or internal terminology, spell it out because it’s not going to mean anything to someone outside of your own company,” she said.

It seems obvious, but look at the words the firm uses in the job description – usually that’s what they’re looking for.

“If they are looking at something really specific and jargony, ask yourself, ‘What is more common in the industry?’ and spell it out in layman’s terms,” Gelbard said.

“If you know the organization and type of role, look at social media profiles of people who have those positions and see what terminology they use to describe those roles,” she said. “They could be using current company jargon or describing it simply, which is good for you to know.”

Photo credit: JaggedPixels_iStock_Thinkstock


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