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How to get past CV bloopers that could sink your job search

Assuming your CV makes it through banks’ application tracking system, or rouses the attention of a recruiter who has merely seconds to scan it, there are certain red flags that could deflate your job search before it’s even begun.

This isn’t a case of not having the right skills or experience for the job, but simply unexplained events that could convince a recruiter that it’s not worth pursuing your application any further. Here’s how to circumvent or disguise them so that you can at least explain them in more detail during the interview process.

1. You’ve been forced to stack up numerous, not overly relevant jobs

It’s not uncommon, considering the recent downsizing in financial services, for many people to have a CV that resembles a job-hopper. This may have been a case of accepting a more junior role as a stop gap, or being unfortunate enough to join a new employer shortly before another round of redundancies.

“I’d advise people to include the years, but not the months, you were working in these roles, or for more senior candidates to be selective with what jobs they include,” said Victoria McLean, managing director of City CV. “It may be that you left one job in, say, January 2011 and started another in July 2012, but this can be explained later.”

2. You’ve taken time out doing something unrelated to your field

Increasingly, investment bankers and other financial professionals have spent a year either indulging in a spot of consulting, or helping friends or family with private business ventures and are now looking to break back into the market, said McLean.

“The key is to highlight your achievements during this period in a quantitative manner so that a potential employer can see that you’ve not been wasting your time,” she said. “Show how you applied your skills to increase revenues, or boosted the venture by changing its strategy.”

3. You have a gap that is difficult or sensitive broach

Gaps are common, but they’re also one of the primary reasons why CVs are thrown in the bin. If you’ve been unemployed for an extended period of time, you need to be upfront about this, but if you’ve been out because of ill health, this can be even harder to explain.

“We coach people returning from work after beating, say, cancer that sometimes a small amount of detail can be useful to ward off assumptions,” said David Leithead, managing director, Michael Page Banking & Financial Services. “An interviewer is likely to be uncomfortable asking questions, so by educating them you will show that you have had the resilience and tenacity to overcome this huge life challenge.

4. You’ve worked in a niche, shrinking sector

The chances are that if you have expertise working on collaterized debt obligations, or other asset-backed securities, you haven’t had many recruiters beating down your door in recent years. Or, say, you’ve worked on a Delta One desk for years, and no firms are hiring. Getting boxed in, particularly if you’re applying for jobs through third-party recruiters, and then locked out seems inevitable.

“Just because you’ve been working in the same sector for 25 years, doesn’t mean your skills can’t be applied elsewhere,” said Mclean. “We’re coaching people with specialised experience to focus on their expertise, rather than their employment history, and make this shine through in their CV.

5. You are perceived as an institutionalised lifer

Despite the perception that investment banking is a hire-and-fire industry, many people stay at the same firm for decades – something Nicholas Johnson, an MD at J.P. Morgan, believes is a good thing. However, what happens if you never make it to the upper echelons of the bank and need to take the decision to move firms to progress? John Delaney, for instance, spent 20 years working for Goldman Sachs and didn’t make it above executive director before moving to J.P. Morgan last month.

“You need to demonstrate that firstly you have worked in a number of roles within the organisation, and that you’ve adapted to a period of change, or evolved as the company changed strategic priorities,” said another careers coach in the City. “The last thing you want to be seen as is institutionalised.”

6. You’ve been made redundant

This is more a case of damage limitation; redundancies have become so commonplace that talking about them is no longer taboo. However, assuming that you didn’t work for Lehman Brothers – or latterly UBS – it’s not always assumed that you fell victim to largescale cuts.

“Make it obvious that this was part of a downsizing move, and not that you were part of the bank’s annual cull of the bottom 10-15% of underperformers. This wasn’t because you had a period of underperformance and a series of bad appraisals – this was out of your control,” said the careers coach.

7. You are working for a company going through a very public bad patch

If your bank is going through a period of underperformance, it will hit the headlines during the reporting season. More specifically, anyone working in your particular sector will have granular knowledge about you division, so if it’s clear that you’re going through a bad patch, this could impact your chances.

“Highlight what you personally delivered during this period,” said McLean. “A lot of people simply regurgitate their job description in their CV, but banks really want to see achievements. This is particularly important if your firm is doing badly.”

8. You have a history of mediocre academic achievement

If you have a 2.2 degree, your chances of getting a front office job at a graduate level are pretty much sunk. However, assuming you’ve managed to gain some experience, a few bad grades at college are not something most employers will be overly concerned about, but it could still count against you in the initial stages.

“I’d say just take them out of your CV,” said McLean. “If you get a job offer, they’ll come up in the background checks, or it may emerge during the interview. However, by that stage it’s unlikely to be a make-or-break issue.”

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