How to handle the blanks in your CV when you're applying for banking jobs
If you've spent your career in banking and finance, the chances are you've got some spaces in your CV. Maybe you've been bringing up children (men and women)? Maybe you quit to try a different career and then realized that was a bad idea? Maybe you've been ill? Maybe you found yourself out and couldn't get back in again, or just wanted a break?
Whatever the reason for your gap or gaps, you can still get back in. You'll need to start by rewriting your CV, from scratch - don't just edit what you had before! Here's how to go about it.
1. Structure your CV to beat the applicant tracking systems (ATS)
If you’ve been out of the job market, you might not understand the importance of the Applicant Tracking System or ATS. Some 99.9% of recruiters now use an ATS (recruitment database) and 80% of jobs advertised online are within an ATS. If you don't understand how to get past one, you're not going to get anywhere.
An ATS is basically an algorithm which screens your CV to see if it's appropriate for the role you're applying for. It’s vital you get the right key words in the right places, or you will be stuck in online limbo forever and your CV won’t even get to a human being. Be warned that an ATS cannot normally read data in a table, text box or PDF. Don’t use abbreviations, unless they're universally recognized in your field (eg. ECM or DCM are fine).
If you have less than four years' experience you'll need to be sparing with keywords. In this case your CV shouldn't be longer than one page. However, if you've got more than four years' experience then go for it: use as many key words as possible.
2. Title your CV with your target role
What are you? If applying for the same job you had before, then under your name and contact details, give yourself the professional title that you had before you left the industry. ie Corporate Finance VP, Business Analyst, Operations Director. If you’ve never had this job title, then try: ‘Seeking: Project Manager’. This immediately aligns you with your target role in the mind of the recruiter.
3. Make a 'career break sandwich'
You need to surround your career break with information which will appeal to recruiters. Think of this information as the bread and the career break as the filling - like a sandwich,
The top layer of bread is your profile at the top of your CV. This should detail all the very best bits about you in relation to your target role. Even if it happened 10 years ago, it doesn’t matter – it’s all about how you sell yourself. Avoid pronouns and soft skills. Think impact. What can you deliver?
Then comes your filling. This is where you squeeze in your break from finance. Keep it short and to the point: ‘Following planned career break from finance, now seeking a return to ......’ Don’t make this the focus of your CV.
Then comes some more bread: your professional experience section. This is where you emphasise what you've done professionally. The sandwich analogy (tried and tested by WomenReturners.com) applies to every part of your job search, from your cover letter to your interview.
4. Talk about your achievements, not your responsibilities
The market has changed. It’s no longer okay to paste your old job spec into your CV.
You need to talk about YOU, not the job you did.
The only reason you’ll be hired is because of the value you’re going to bring. Demonstrate that you can and have delivered. Think about challenges, initiatives, clients, projects, efficiencies, revenues, awards and impacts in your previous roles. What did YOU do? What was the outcome? Every point made must illustrate something specifically about you - remember FAB - fact, action and benefit.
5. Sell your breaks
Did you spend your career breaks doing something interesting? Have they made you a better person? Give a flavour of what you got from your time out. Talk about what you were up to in the ‘Additional Information’ section. Especially include pursuits that kept you commercially aware and developed relevant skills. Voluntary work shows integrity and leadership. Marathon running shows stamina, energy and commitment. Helping friends with start-ups and consultancy shows you've been thinking financially.
6. Mind your language
CV and cover letter language has changed. Phrases like “extensive experience, proven track record, motivated, results oriented, dynamic, team player, fast-paced, problem solver” are old fashioned, clichéd and meaningless. Don’t state the obvious. If you’re looking for work on a trading floor, of course it’s fast-paced – there is no need to say it. “Exceeded expectations” is an archaic term left over from the 70s.
Focus on solo achievements where possible. State the value you have delivered in the past and what you will deliver in the future. If you topped your goals, explain how and what the outcome was. Give tangible examples.
7. Don't say the F word (at first)
Lastly, if you've been out of the market you might want to work flexibly. City empoyers are aware of the importance of flexible working, but you won't want to ask for this upfront. Flexibility is part of the negotiation once the offer is on the table, not a condition of them making you the offer from the outset.
Victoria McLean is a former recruiter at Goldman Sachs and founder of City CV, a UK-based CV writing service.