Monday, October 13, 2014

The Finance Resume' and Recruiters

A bank Vice President is tapped to be involved in recruiting new bankers for the upcoming year. The group plans to expand its business with new deal flow, new clients, new accounts, and perhaps a new office presence in London or Tokyo. The group must, therefore, expand the number of associates who analyze and rationalize deals, prepare presentations to clients, research markets and market trends, and explain the pros and cons of financial instruments.

She and others on her recruiting team are asked to review a handful of resumes' to determine who should be offered chances to interview in first rounds or who should be rewarded with "call backs" for further rounds.

For each resume', the team reviews, sizes up, summarizes and concludes in just a few minutes. What did they notice? What stood out? How can they decide who's worthy of more attention (and eventually an offer) from mere glimpses of resume' material that candidates took years to accumulate? What do they see? What do they look for? And what do they target on a page filled with words, recruiting jargon, and an array of experiences?

Or how does the candidate in finance (before the interview, before the laborious second and third rounds) make a resume' impression in just a few minutes?

Career advisers and MBA counselors like to refer to the "elevator speech,"  the 30 seconds a candidate might sell himself when he encounters a senior department head at a reception, after a meeting or, in fact, in the elevator.  On a resume', the candidate must sell himself to the recruiting team in a frightening flash.

If the role is in finance (corporate finance, banking, trading, investing, asset management, equity research, corporate banking, e.g.), in the midst of a list of highlights of candidates who, say, captained their debate teams, recruiting teams look quickly for clues that the candidate can do the work. First things first, does the candidate have first-rate technical skills? Can the candidate excel in the day-to-day requirements of the job of a job in finance?

In finance, for MBA's, that often means proving competence in accounting, corporate finance, financial analysis, and capital markets.  At some firms, it will mean proving competence in much more:  financial modeling, corporate firm valuation, and financial products.

Recruiting teams can't give a test to ascertain competence. (That can wait for second-round interviews.)  But they can look for familiar clues.  An MBA in finance, a CFA certification (even Level I passing), a CPA certification, and experience in banking and finance will be superb clues that the candidate can thrive in a world of numbers, spreadsheets, projections, forecasts, ratios, sensitivity analyses, and financial theory.

Sometimes listing specific courses (in an MBA course) will help, too.  Courses in intermediate corporate finance, intermediate accounting, options theory, mergers & acquisitions, derivatives markets and equity valuation will confirm competence.  If an MBA candidate has thrived in a course expounding on Black Scholes options theory or if the candidate has studied how FX currency markets are tied to interest-rate expectations, then recruiting teams will check with a plus.

There is no one way to promote technical skills and competence on a resume'.  They should be highlighted clearly and, if possible, headlined (not buried).  Recruiting teams must get over this hurdle before they begin to look for other qualities. The MBA student or graduate from Dartmouth-Tuck with a specialty in corporate finance, who studied corporate valuation, who worked previously at Lazard Freres, who has an engineering undergraduate degree, and who won prizes for stock-market valuation, will vault to the front lines in the eyes of prospective employers.

Unfortunately large numbers of candidates will meet these initial tests.  So finance professionals looking to hire will look for other qualities.  They then cast their eyes on clues that demonstrate productivity, professionalism, engagement, impact, creativity, and teamwork.  They ask:  What is there on the resume' that will show us that the candidate will get work done, can produce an enormous amount within tight deadlines, will show special insight and make useful recommendations, and represent the company in a professional way.

This exercise is more difficult for recruiting teams. Sometimes it requires a dissection of intangibles and qualities. If the candidate uses numbers to show priority or impact, employers must understand the context.  Still, on the resume', the candidate must maximize impression with specific experiences, good examples, and clarity.

Yes, clarity counts for much in reading resumes'.  Some of the best candidates hurt themselves because when they describe experiences, they retreat to fancy jargon or awkward (or erroneous) terminology.

Even the most qualified technical MBA's should showcase intangibles and special qualities on the resume'.  There is no formula, but they can ask themselves what examples and experiences will show impact, creativity, and productivity.

What hurts on the resume'?  Remember, the recruiting team is dissecting a lifetime of activities in a few minutes.  Tedium, detail, and illogical presentation of material slow down the reader.  Or they  distract the reader.  Unexplained, confusing descriptions of past experiences hamper the reader, too.  In an effort to upgrade experiences or embellish them, sometimes candidates end up describing gobbledygook. Simplicity and clarity work best.  If busy finance professionals can understand the experience immediately, there is another check plus.

Hyperbole hurts, too. Too often candidates slip and exaggerate past achievement, not realizing how the description sounds.  If the MBA student says he started a $100 million hedge fund at age 21, a fund that exceeded all benchmarks during years when many funds stumbled and closed, is that believable? Will recruiting teams apply a question mark, instead a check plus?

Recruiting professionals and career counselors will say resume' preparation also involves promoting a brand, becoming marketable, and showing ambition.  But first things first, the experienced recruiting teams at big banks and notable firms take a first-things-first approach:  Prove technical competence (from classes, courses, and previous work).  Prove impact, productivity, creativity and professionalism with crisp, simple descriptions of past experiences and past accomplishments. And then survive the second and third rounds.

Tracy Williams

See also:

CFN: MBA's Eye the Summer, 2014

CFN:  MBA Recruiting:  Working the Game Plan, 2013
CFN:  MBA Job Hunting:  No Need to Panic Yet, 2012
CFN:  First-year MBA's:  Internships and Recruiting, 2011

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