50 ways to improve your resume to land a financial services job
This could be the most comprehensive list of tips for writing a resume yet! Ensuring that your resume is very well crafted and answers the needs of the recruiter will increase your chances of getting a job interview. A good resume is the first step to landing that job you want. Our tips:
1. Don’t write “Curriculum Vitae” or “Resume” at the top
This simply isn’t the done thing anymore; it should be pretty obvious what the document is.
2. Your name should come at the top
This is the current standard. It makes it easier for recruiters to sort out their pile of applications.
3. No silly email addresses
So, SexySuzy@hotmail.com or firstname.lastname@example.org felt like a cool email to have when you were 16. It unfortunately does not make you look professional or serious. Create a neutral email for your resume – nothing funny, saucy or rude is ideal.
4. Don’t include a title with your name
Your sex is not relevant. If you have a name like Sam or Alex, there is no need to write your title so that the employer knows whether you are male or female. In fact, having a gender neutral name might be an advantage. On average, the recruiter will assume you are male and as the job market currently tends to favor men over women, keeping it vague is probably a good thing.
5. The only necessary personal information: email, phone number, mailing address
Everything else does not matter and should therefore not be included.
6. Don’t include marital status or sexual orientation
Whether you are single, married or divorced, gay or straight is completely irrelevant to the job; don’t include any of these personal details.
Importantly, giving too much personal information opens you up for discrimination.
7. Don’t include your religion
It doesn’t add to your value as a potential hire.
8. Don’t include your political affiliation
It doesn’t add to your value as a potential hire.
9. Don’t include any salary information
That said, using the correct words and appearing mature will signal the sort of pay packet you are after. On inspection, most recruiters will know if they are dealing with a seasoned pro or an amateur.
10. Avoid age discrimination
It used to be common to include your date of birth on your resume but by law that is no longer necessary in many developed countries. Your age doesn’t impact your ability to do most jobs so don’t include it.
11. Font: use Arial size 9 or 10
Arial is clean cut and looks very professional. If you really want to get it all on one page and Arial is taking up too much space, use Arial Narrow.
12. Length: one page, ideally
Most people have a very short attention span so the shorter it is, the more likely that the recruiter will get through the whole resume.
Two pages is okay but even then, get the most critical job-grabbing information on page one.
13. How far back should you go? No more than 15 years, generally
As you gain work and life experience, you’ll need to start deleting some experiences because they simply don’t matter anymore.
For instance, my resume when I finished high school had some positions of responsibility: Head of House, Captain of This, Captain of That and I have deleted all of that now. It’s not relevant and has been superseded by my university and more recent experiences.
14. Use bullet points
Bullet points give structure to a resume/CV, they make it more punchy and much easier for the recruiter to read.
15. Don’t use narrative
Don’t use full sentences or write like you are telling a story. You can do that on your cover letter.
16. Don’t use personal pronouns – I, he, she, it, we, they, you
Get straight to the point. “I closed the largest sale of the year” is too long, just say “Closed largest sale in 2012”
17. No borders
Generally, a professional resume/CV does not have a border. If President Obama had to write a resume do you see him having borders on it? For some reason, I cannot. Even from the very outset, you want your resume to have the air of a Statesman – clean, confident, professional, to the point.
18. Don’t try to be too different, no fancy stuff
Take it from someone that’s had to recruit before. Above and beyond looking clear and smart, there is nothing more annoying than someone who tries to stand out by a) adding graphics to their resume or b) presenting the information in a totally different way to the standard.
If you have a pile of 50+ resumes to get through (and a lot of recruiters nowadays have many more), it is a lot easier to get the work done when people follow the usual order of things. Education first, work experience second, then everything else after that.
When I want to hire, I just want someone that can do the job and having a cool resume isn’t going to differentiate you. If anything, some might assume you are trying to compensate for a lack of something.
19. Format matters
Some resumes look downright shoddy. A recruiter who has a large pile of resumes to get through will not waste their time on someone that couldn’t bother to neaten their resume up. There are free resume templates to get you started.
20. Show dates clearly
Place dates either on the left or the right so it’s easy to follow your education and work experience path. Merging it all together with your bullet points is a) messy and b) can suggest you are trying to hide career gaps.
21. Date formats should be consistent
Generally, if I just have a year, I write the full year. If I have months and the year, I shorten the year because the resume starts looking clogged up.
Good format for year: 2012
Bad format for year: ‘12
Good format for month and year: Sep-12
Bad format for month and year: September 2012 (it takes up too much space)
22. No pictures
Unless the employer asks for it, you don’t need to have a photograph of yourself on your resume/CV.
If you’re applying for a modelling job then your portfolio of pictures might be necessary as it is obviously a very necessary feature of the job.
23. General rule: most recent information goes first
Put the most recent education and the most recent work experience first. So, under education, university comes first and then secondary or high school information. Under work experience, the most recent work experience is put first.
24. Relevance rule: most job-relevant information goes first
If the most recent work experience is not the most relevant, place the most relevant work experience first.
25. Use the correct spelling
Applying for a job in the UK? Then use British English. Applying for a job in the USA? Then use American English.
By the way, to the British it’s a CV; to Americans it’s a resume.
26. No typos please
It will definitely reduce your chances of getting a job. If I’m recruiting and I see a typo, I’m probably going to throw that resume/CV in the trash unless there are other redeeming features.
27. Don’t use text language, jargon, acronyms or slang
This is a big no-no.
Text language is essentially a typo. It should not feature anywhere on your resume.
Jargon will make it difficult for the recruiter to understand your background. Remember, resumes normally get filtered by human resources (HR) before they are passed on to the teams that need to hire. HR might not be familiar with some jargon. Same applies for acronyms; unless they are accepted acronyms like USA, UK etc. an acronym is essentially jargon. You should spell out your acronym first (like HR in the previous sentence) if you intend to use it.
Slang is simply not professional, do not use slang.
28. Use a descriptive title
Especially if you are applying as an experienced hire, under education and work experience, make sure the job titles are very specific and that they sell you. Specific titles allow the recruiter to very quickly decide if you have the necessary qualifications and experiences for the job.
Bad title: Analyst at Bank X
Good title: Analyst on Energy Team in Investment Banking Division at Bank X
29. List all the positions you held in one firm separately
If you’ve been with one company for a long time, it’s likely that your title and/or job function has changed over the years. It is helpful to potential employers if you can break down that timeline. Segmenting the information gives an employer useful insight into the nature of your experience.
30. Lacking in work experience? Focus on skills and qualities.
When you are just starting out, you may well not have any work experience. However, if you have time, get some work experience. Even unpaid work e.g. volunteering at a charity shop or at an Olympics or other event is great to have on your resume/CV.
31. But don’t just list qualities
It doesn’t matter if you say you’re a great team player or have fantastic communication or leadership skills unless you can back that up. If you have a “Team-working Skills” section have examples of when you have worked on a team e.g. in sport. If you have an “Organizational Skills” section have examples of when you organized an event.
Always validate skills and qualities with examples.
32. Include Positions of Responsibility
Positions of responsibility e.g. being Head Girl, Head of House or Captain reveal that you have experience in being a leader and managing people. Indeed, they might also reveal that your are popular and personable – more often than not, to be Head Girl, Head Boy or Head of House teachers or the whole student body have to vote for you.
If you’re still in school or university and there’s time, try to attain a position of responsibility in some club or society.
33. Include Achievements
Achievements reveal very different information to Positions of Responsibility, they show you are a goal-setter and an achiever in either sport, the arts or academics. This in turn reveals you’re a hard-worker, persevering and have initiative. Getting an award for something is not usually easy, it requires some amount of grit and determination.
34. Be careful about including interests. Don’t include hobbies.
Some interests open you up to being judged harshly. Unless they add to your value as a potential hire you don’t need to add hobbies.
At times including a hobby may relay useful insight, for instance, if you’re applying for a role where a lot of reading will be required e.g. reading legal or other documents, then mentioning that you’re a prolific reader and that you can read a 300-paged book in one afternoon is of value.
35. Look decisive, don’t tarnish your loyalty card
Employers want to hire someone that will stay for a while. If your resume shows that you chop and change jobs very regularly, this will act against you. It will show one or more of the following:
You’re not loyal
You’re a risky hire
Overall, the resume needs to be consistent.
36. Throw in some stats
Numbers help to further credentialize you.
If you’re applying for a sales position add examples of sales targets you have reached or exceeded.
Emerging Market FX Sales, Bank X
Increased sales revenue by 20% in first year and a further 15% in second year.
Was one of the top three sales people every single year for 5 years
You can also throw in statistics showing your ranking at school or in university.
37. Don’t include reasons for why you left your old job
It’s not necessary on a resume as it doesn’t add value to why you might be a good candidate for the job. Of course, it is likely to come up in interviews so make sure you have a good response to the question.
38. Don’t say anything negative
There is no space on a resume for complaints or criticisms of previous employers. If you didn’t like a certain job or activity that you took part in, don’t say that. Recruiters don’t like complainers or problem-makers.
39. Don’t lie, don’t exaggerate
Your employer will find out when you start work if you exaggerated anything or a background check might bring out inconsistencies. You could lose your job, or end up in court if particularly egregious. It’s not worth it, don’t do it.
40. Have different resumes for different roles
If you are applying for exactly the same type of job in different companies then the same resume will suffice. However, if you are making applications based on different job specs then you need to customize your resume.
41. Before you send it off, match your resume against the job specification
Ensure that your resume includes as much as possible regarding what the employer has asked for. That said, a major point to keep in mind: you don’t need to have 100% of what has been requested.
Statistics show that men frequently apply for a job even when they only partly match the person specification. Women usually only make the application when they have everything. I say, be a man!
42. Check it twice then get a fresh pair of eyes to look over it again
This is related to the point on typos. When you have been working on your resume for a long time you might fail to see inconsistencies that a fresh pair of eyes will pick up immediately. Get a professional resume writer to review your resume and increase your chances of getting a job interview.
43. Key words matter
Nowadays recruiters including head hunters frequently use searchable databases to find a candidate. This is also true on LinkedIn. When I am looking for someone I will type “Head of Diversity Recruiting at Company X” or “Marketing Expert, New York” etc.
Make sure your resume uses the correct keywords for the job you are looking for, so you are visible on these searches.
44. Mention any prominent industry specialists that you’ve worked with
This will help to credentialize you. Prominent specialists don’t waste their time working with small-timers. Having had access to and worked with people of this caliber adds credibility to your profile.
45. No need for references
It is more common for people to just write “References available on request”. Some people think this is daft because that’s stating the obvious. However, I would say include this line if there’s space. It doesn’t do you any harm.
46. Update your resume and your eFinancialCareers profile regularly
Ensure you have an updated resume/CV and profile so you’re ready to take advantage of your next opportunity.
We live in a fast paced world; your next job offer is always around the corner. Headhunters are constantly scanning people’s profiles to fill new positions. Gone are the days when people sat in the same job for 30 to 40 years at a time.
47. Print your resume on a high-quality printer
This ensures it looks attractive and professional.
48. Print your resume on high-quality textured paper
This adds to the look of professionalism. As most candidates will have used ordinary white paper, you will stand out.
49. Email your resume in PDF format
PDF looks cleaner and can be viewed in the same way on any computer. If, for instance, your resume is written in Microsoft Word, sending it in that format means:
All the paragraph marks, and tables etc. will show – that’s not very attractive.
A recruiter using an Apple computer without Microsoft Word installed will have the formats re-arranged – again, this is unappealing.
50. Consider getting professional help
Especially during recessionary times, employers are inundated with resumes for available positions. Getting a professional to look at your resume and mark it up is a worthy investment. It’s especially useful if you’re new to the job market. Sent your resume out for many positions and heard nothing back? Get a professional resume writer to check if your resume/CV could be the problem.
Lola Esther is the pseudonym of a former junior banker.
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