Improve your Resume!
Yesterday at something called the World Finance Job Conference — an event that gave jobseekers an opportunity to meet with executives of various private equity, hedge fund and investment banking firms — I sat on a panel along with Vault Law Editor Mary Kate Sheridanand Career Coach Moshe Kravitz and, “American Idol”-style, the three of us judged prospective employees’ resumes, offering our opinions on areas of CVs that look polished as well as those needing improvement. After the panel event, I spoke to numerous other (incredibly kind and interesting and enthusiastic) finance jobseekers, many of whom whipped out their resumes, wanting further advice. Most of the resumes I saw were impressive — they included well known schools and name-brand firms as well as many accolades, awards and accomplishments. However, a majority of these CVs included the same five problems:
1. Repetition. There’s a rule in journalism that holds for resumes: say it once and then never again. That is, notice if your resume contains any information twice; if so, delete one mention. Here’s another rule: don’t summarize a summary. Your resume is already a summary. It’s by no means an exhaustive picture of your experience, education, skills and accomplishments. So, if your CV includes some sort of summary (as several resumes did I came across yesterday), get rid of it. Likewise, if you summarize your job duties underneath a section including a particular job, hit delete. Doing so will make your resume appear cleaner and more spacious and not waste precious reading time. Remember, hiring managers take about seven seconds to read a resume and make a decision, if that. They don’t want to read anything twice.
2. Excess fat. During the course of my employment … While at XYZ Inc. … As a … are all unnecessary phrases. Delete them. They don’t add anything to your resume and, again, only take up space and waste reading time. Try this: check out your resume word by word and ask yourself which words are essential. If any aren’t, delete them. Only the absolutely essential should appear on your resume. Also, never include a vague job duty, or a duty that could be true of any job. For example, this is vague and vanilla: Helped to improve the efficiency of my group. So is this: Provided financial and strategic analysis. Make sure to include details. How did you help improve efficiency? What did you provide analysis on? And what did you use to analyze with? If you can answer these questions, then include the answers. And if you can’t, then exclude the duty.
3. The un-bolded beautiful. One resume I saw yesterday contained three tiny bullet points, three-fourths of the way down the page. Next to one bullet was some finance club award, next to another was a two-month soup kitchen-type of volunteering job, and sandwiched between the two was a Fulbright Scholarship. Of course, not highlighting (in some way) the impressive scholarship is a glaring example of a missed opportunity. It’s possible that someone reading this resume would’ve missed the mention of the Fulbright. And I’d argue on that detail alone, a hiring manager might place the resume in the Yes pile. So, make sure you haven’t buried anything on your resume that might catch an eye. Anything that’s a potential dealmaker should certainly stand out. At the very least, put the more impressive of your miscellaneous accomplishments, experiences or skills at the very top of the list.
4. Not minding the gap. A common CV-related fear is this: how do I explain those 12 months before business school when I did nothing but surf, snowboard and scuba dive? Another is: how do I explain those 18 months after I was laid off from my last job and then those six months at that part-time retail gig at which I sold ties and suits trying to earn extra cash while I searched for a proper job? Or this: how do I explain the missing year on my resume I took off to take care of my ailing father? These fears are more common than might you think, and I believe can be handled in the exact same manner: by telling the truth. That is, lying about a gap by manipulating dates is never a good call. So, try doing one of two things: (1) Insert a very brief explanation of any significant time gaps at the bottom of your resume or (2) Don’t include the explanation but if asked about the gap in an interview, be 100 percent honest — don’t hide a thing. Chances are the gap will work to your advantage, adding a human element and colorful story to your application.
5. Page Two. Is a two-page resume okay or should I edit to one? was perhaps the most popular question I received yesterday. And my answer was (and is): it depends. My personal preference is for one-pagers — but only when possible. Certainly, for jobseekers who’ve circled the block numerous times (that is, seekers with decades of experience), two pages might be needed. But to them, and to anyone else with a two-page resume, I recommend keeping in mind this quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of Le Petit Prince): Perfection is attained not when there’s nothing else to add, but when there’s nothing else to take away. I also recommend doing the following: Imagine that a one-page resume is a requirement for the job you’re applying for, and then force yourself to squeeze the most essential items of your CV into one page. After you’re done, take a look at what you’ve cut and ask yourself, Are any details I’ve cut 100 percent absolutely necessary to include? If the answer is Yes, then fine, put them back in. But if it’s No, then keep them out — and admire your new, one-page masterpiece.
The ‘Weakness’ Interview Question–Why It’s Asked and How to Answer It
By Deborah Federico
The dreaded weakness question—the bane of every college student’s interview. I should know: As an undergraduate career counselor, I conduct plenty of mock interviews with students every semester, and they always flop and flounder on this question.
Admittedly, it is probably one of the most difficult questions to have to answer on interviews. The problem, I think, is that most students believe it to be a sign of weakness to admit they have a weakness. In one recent mock interview, I asked a student why it was so difficult for him to answer this question honestly. He replied, “Well, aren’t the interviewers screening out candidates based upon how bad their weakness is?” While I could definitely understand why he felt this way, I told him that this was not the case (unless you give a horribly horrendous weakness!) and proceeded to explain why interviewers ask this question and the appropriate way to answer it.
Interviewers ask this question for a number of reasons. To see if you can remain confident and positive when discussing a negative aspect of your life, for one. It’s also used to determine if you are mature enough to routinely reflect on areas of your life that offer room for professional growth. And often, the question is invoked to see if you will answer it honestly, without pretending like one of your strengths is actually a weakness. As in, “I’m such a perfectionist that I end up spending way too much time on my projects.”
The typical way that many career experts say to answer this question is to state a true weakness, but then show how you’re working on overcoming that weakness. If the thought of stating your true weakness makes you break into a cold sweat, then consider my approach to answering this question. Reframe this question in your mind: “In which areas do I need to grow professionally, and how am I accomplishing that?” This is what interviewers are trying to evaluate with this question. And if you’re not growing professionally, then that is undoubtedly a weakness. As I always point out to students, every professional, no matter what level, needs to be continuously assessing themselves to find ways to improve in order to increase their chances of upward mobility and to remain competitive candidates in the job market.
Listed below are a few examples showing how your answer to this question can be changed from the weakness approach to the professional development approach.
Weakness approach: “My public speaking skills are not that great.”
Professional development approach: “Because my public speaking skills were not up to par, I enrolled in a Toastmaster’s course.”
Weakness approach: “I tend to dominate team discussions and not listen to others’ opinions.”
Professional development approach: “Being an extrovert, I tend to get excited about sharing my ideas, but now I’m stepping back more to give everyone else a chance to speak before I present my opinions. I’ve realized from doing this that my teammates have a lot of great ideas to contribute.”
Weakness approach: “I tend to be really shy and don’t like to attend networking events.”
Professional development approach: “I am attending at least two networking events each semester so that I can improve my professional networking skills.”
One last point: Never state a really big weakness—that is, one that’s directly tied to the job’s responsibilities. For example, if an internship requires strong analytical skills, don’t say, “I hate working with numbers.” If the position requires strong customer service skills, don’t say, “I always lose my patience with people.” If the job involves a lot of writing, don’t say, “My writing skills aren’t the best, but I’m taking a creative writing course.” If writing is a major requirement for the position, you should possess that skill right now. If you’re finding that your true weakness is in direct opposition to the job requirements, then it might be time to pursue another career direction, or find a way to overcome that weakness through some form of professional development before you embark on your internship or job search.
Deborah Federico is an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Career Services in the School of Management at Boston University. Prior to her career in higher education, Deborah worked in the corporate world, primarily doing marketing and market research. She blogs about career advice here and her LinkedIn profile is here.