Hello Wolf Pack!
Our prior posts have focused on the various ways you can break into investment banking. Depending on your profile, you can either go through on-campus recruiting, networking (including attending info sessions), or cold calling/emailing. If you missed those posts, I highly recommend checking them out before continuing this post. I think you will find lots of useful nuggets! Go ahead, I’ll wait. This post will still be here when you’re done, I promise.
Already done that? OK great. Regardless of how you plan on breaking into investment banking, we all know that one of the most crucial documents you need to get right is your resume. So today we’re going to cover how to write a perfect investment banking resume so that you can get those coveted interviews.
But First, a Cautionary Tale…
Most of you who are reading this now have probably never heard of Aleksey Vayner. Back in 2006, he applied for investment banking jobs with a video resume titled “Impossible is Nothing” – which ironically made it impossible for him to ever get a job on Wall Street thereafter. To save you almost 7 minutes of your life, he started the video by giving some sage advice on how to achieve your goals in life, followed by edited clips of him performing various awe-inspiring feats: bench pressing 495 pounds (…with the help of three other guys. WTF?), downhill skiing while getting mad air on his jumps, making huge 140mph serves on the tennis court, ballroom dancing with a very attractive female, and breaking apart seven bricks with his karate chop. Needless to say, the resume was forwarded around by a banker from UBS and quickly went viral. His Wall Street career was over before it even started.
Now that is the most extreme example of what NOT to do. But jokes aside, let’s give you what you’re here for: tips on how to write the perfect investment banking resume.
Put Yourself in the Investment Banker’s Shoes
Before you can write the perfect investment banking resume, you need to first get inside an investment banker’s head to understand how they think. Most candidates don’t know this, but investment bankers generally spend 30 seconds or less before deciding whether your resume goes into the “yes” or “no” pile. Why do they spend so little time? Because 1) they have hundreds of resumes to go through besides yours, and 2) they’re extremely busy people. Now that you have this context, what do you think is important when it comes to an investment banking resume? It basically comes down to two things:
- Your high level “stats” is the most important thing. To be blunt, your school, GPA, and work experience are the three most important things in determining your chances. These things are important because bankers need a shortcut to quickly filter the candidate pool down to a small group of people they want to interview. Unfortunately, by the time you are updating your resume for the application process, these things are kind of what they are already. We will do our best to make your work experience sound as impressive as possible, but do NOT even think about lying about your school or GPA.
- Formatting is more important than you think! Formatting, on the other hand, is something that’s totally within your control, and is usually the biggest area of improvement for most candidates. Your resume needs to be easy to read, and highlight the things that you want the bankers to pick up at first glance. Formatting your resume nicely also shows the bankers that you have great attention to detail, the importance of which cannot be overstated in an industry that is notoriously picky about even the smallest formatting errors. Once you’re on the job, you will spend hours editing your Powerpoint slides for formatting consistency. This is your first chance to prove that you’re up to the task.
Now before we continue, have you downloaded our resume template yet? To help you get started on your perfect investment banking resume, I’ve prepared a FREE resume template you can use. I’ve also included a list of action verbs (more on these below) that you can use to start your bullet points. Click below to get it so that you can follow along for the rest of this post, it will make everything easier to understand.
The Must-Have Sections of Your Resume
OK now that you’ve downloaded our resume template, let’s go over the must-have sections of your resume. In reality, these are not just the must-have sections, they’re really the ONLY sections you should have on your resume. Do not try to get cute and stray from this formula:
- Header: this is the first section at the top of your resume. It should include your name and contact information (address, phone, email, and Linkedin profile). Do NOT include an “objectives” section – it’s pretty obvious that your objective is to get a job in investment banking. This section should take up approximately 5-10% of the real estate on your resume.
- Education: this comes right after the header section if you’re an undergrad, or after the work experience section if you’re an MBA/experienced hire. It should include the name of your school, your GPA, your major(s), your test scores if they’re good (for the SAT, 1400+ on the 1600 scale, or 2100+ on the 2400 scale), any awards from school (i.e. magna cum laude, dean’s awards, etc.), relevant courses you’ve taken, as well as study abroad or any other special programs you’ve participated in. If your GPA is bad (under 3.5), you can also show your major GPA instead if that is better (but make sure to clearly label it as such). If your GPA is REALLY bad (under 3.0), consider breaking out your GPA by year to show an improving trend (assuming you have one), or even including a bullet point explaining any extenuating circumstances (i.e. you had to work full time to support yourself through college, etc.). Lastly, do NOT include any education details from your high school – bankers do not care. This section should take up approximately 10-20% of the real estate on your resume.
- Professional Experience: again, this would come before your education section if you’re an MBA/experienced hire. Otherwise, this should follow your education section and be the “meat” of your resume. Try to include at least 2-3 work experiences you’ve had to date. These could be paid or unpaid internships, or part-time jobs you held while you were in school. If you’re an MBA, you would definitely include the full-time jobs you held prior to business school. If you have more than 2-3 work experiences to choose from, choose the ones that are most relevant to banking. You do not need to include every single job you’ve had, especially if you’re still an undergrad student. Again, bankers spend very little time on your resume, so take the “less is more” approach and don’t distract them with irrelevant experiences. Each work experience should have at least 3-5 bullet points that describe your accomplishments. At a very high level, each bullet point should have two components: 1) what did you do, and 2) what were the results of your actions (quantified with dollars and percentages wherever possible). For the “what did you do” portion, you should start each bullet point with an action verb, and avoid using a passive verb. Passive verbs are words like “helped”, “supported”, and “worked” – they are lazy and don’t really tell the reader anything. Action verbs show achievement and include examples like “achieved”, “analyzed”, “delivered”, and “initiated” just to name a few. While action verbs are good, avoid overly cliche descriptive words like “dedicated”, “dynamic”, “excellent”, “motivated”, “passionate”, “seasoned”… you get the point. If you think the reader may roll their eyes when reading the word, you probably shouldn’t use it. These are all subjective descriptions and you should stick to the facts. Lastly and needless to say, to the extent you can spin each bullet point into being even somewhat related to finance, even better. This section should take up approximately 40-60% of the real estate on your resume.
- Leadership and Extracurricular: this is the section to highlight any of your extracurricular activities. Try to include at least 1-2 organizations you’re actively participating in outside of the classroom. This could be a fraternity/sorority, a club, a non-profit organization, a case competition, or anything else you can think of. The key here is to demonstrate some of your “soft skills” – such as teamwork, leadership, time management, etc. It also gives a glimpse into what you’re passionate about. As always, if your extracurricular activities are relevant to finance, it helps your candidacy. This section should take up approximately 15-25% of the real estate on your resume.
- Skills and Interests: this is the last section at the very bottom of your resume. It’s an opportunity to highlight any special skills you have (language, financial modeling, programming, etc.). Just know that if you list something as a skill here, you could get tested on it by the interviewer. It’s not something worth lying or exaggerating about, as it doesn’t make a huge difference in your chances but could actually hurt you. I personally know people who have been tripped up during an interview when asked to perform a skill they listed. It’s rare, but it could happen. As for your interests, it’s good to list your interests or hobbies that are either 1) unique and therefore good ice-breakers, or 2) things that bankers are also likely to be interested in so that it builds rapport. Common examples are sports, music, stock trading, and poker, just to name a few. This section should take up approximately 5-10% of the real estate on your resume.
Two BONUS Tips on the Resume Structure:
What if I don’t have enough work experience? The structure I’ve listed above works well if you have enough work experiences to highlight. However, if you don’t, a cool little trick I like to use is to collapse the two sections into one and just call it “Professional and Leadership Experiences”. What this does is it allows you to spin some of your non-work experiences into something more like a work experience and put it higher up on your resume where the prime real estate is. For example, maybe you’re a freshman and you haven’t had any internships yet to date. However, you did participate in an investment banking case competition during your first year, and that is actually the most relevant experience you’d like to highlight. You could move that case competition to the top, and write an entire section on what you did for the case comp and what the results were.
What if I actually have highly relevant work experience? What’s considered highly relevant? I would say an internship or job in banking, PE, VC, hedge funds, and to a lesser extent maybe even consulting or private wealth management. These are jobs where you’ve worked on specific deals or transactions. In this scenario, for each section under your professional experience, you can start with a generic sentence that summarizes what you did at a high level, and then list out each of the transactions as a separate project under “transaction experience.” This is pretty much how experienced bankers format their resumes, and will definitely make your resume look the part.
Formatting Best Practices
Now that you know the structure your resume should follow, let’s talk about some best practices for how to format your resume. First of all: keep it simple. I alluded to this already in the opening paragraph about Aleksey Vayner. This is not the place for you to get all creative and try to stand out. You’re not applying for a graphics design job. Stick to the boring templates and fonts that are safe and have been proven to work.
Other nitty gritty details:
- Keep it to one page. Again, bankers don’t have time to read more than that
- Have a font that is not too cute (i.e. no Comic Sans) and a font size that is easy to read (suggest between size 8-12). Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, and Garamond are some safe options
- The margins around the page should be at least 0.5′, but ideally 0.75′ or more. While it’s a good idea to minimize the amount of white space on the page (visually, a full page makes it seem like you’ve accomplished more at a quick glance), this is not the way to do it
- The way to minimize the white space is by making sure all of your bullets stay to a single line (or in rare instances, two lines), and to use up the full row or close to it whenever possible. This will require you to play around with the wording a bit to get it to fit perfectly
- Consistency, consistency, consistency! This goes for everything you do on the resume. Some examples include:
- Make sure all of your elements are aligned – section titles should be aligned with section titles, bullet points should be aligned with bullet points, etc.
- The spacing between each section and each bullet should also be the same
- Your date conventions should be the same; don’t write “September 6, 2017” for one job and then “Sept 10, 2015” for another job you had two years earlier
- Use the same font, font size, and bold/italics/underline for each type of element. So if one section title is bolded and all caps, then all section titles should be bolded and all caps. If the date range for your first job is right aligned and italicized, then all date ranges should be right aligned and italicized
- Don’t use periods at the end of your bullet points
One BONUS Tip on Resume Formatting
Make sure you include keywords that are relevant to investment banking as much as possible, without trying so hard that it reads weird to a human. This is important because more and more companies are using Application Tracking Systems (ATS) nowadays, which means a software is used to scan your resume for keywords as the first filter before a human actually reviews your resume.
The bigger the bank, the more likely it is that they’re using ATS because of the sheer number of applications they get. Using the appropriate action verbs will help. The other thing to do is to go through the job description and pick out relevant keywords and phrases, and work them into your resume where appropriate. Example keywords I can think of include “discounted cash flow”, “market research”, “mergers & acquisitions”, and “valuation”, just to name a few.
This last point is really part of formatting best practices, but I’m breaking it out separately because of how important it is, and how often I see resumes that don’t do this.
Sequencing is an important concept because again, have I mentioned that bankers have very little time? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to drill into your head that bankers are only going to be scanning your resume, not reading it. They usually scan for the following things (in order): 1) school name and major, 2) GPA, 3) company names and titles, and then maybe the first or second bullet point under a work experience if it looks relevant. With that in mind:
- When possible, you want to highlight the more relevant experiences in the more prime real estate. What do I mean by that? The higher up on the resume, the more prime the real estate. This is because the banker is going to scan from the top down, and if he doesn’t like what he sees at the top, he may never make it to the bottom
- You usually want to put your experiences in reverse chronological order, with your most recent work experience at the top, then working backwards. Hopefully, each of your work experiences has been a “step up” from the previous one and also is more and more relevant to banking as you’ve progressed
- But it doesn’t always happen that way, and sometimes depending on your experiences you may have some flexibility in deciding which section you want to put a certain experience in, or even combine two sections into a single section (again, see the bonus tips section above)
- Within each section, also reorder your bullet points so that the most impressive and impactful ones are listed first
Alright that’s it for now. I tried to be as detailed as possible with the tips and tricks so that you can do this on your own. Here’s one last reminder to go download the resume template and action verbs list I’ve prepared for you, so that you can easily incorporate all of the advice above without even having to think about it.
As always, if you’d like more hands-on and personalized help, you can check out our coaching program here. If you have comments or questions, please drop a line down below. Otherwise, remember: