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Resume keywords bankers must include – and those they should avoid

A great resume can help you to get your foot in the door for an interview, whereas a CV gaffe can disqualify you.

A great resume can help you to get your foot in the door for an interview, whereas a CV gaffe can disqualify you.

While many candidates have a ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ attitude to their resume, as the initial screening tool for most roles, the quality of a CV can make or break your application.

Filling your resume with keywords just to get through banks’ applicant tracking systems (ATS) and beat the robots is a big no, but you should still be looking to pull key phrases from the job description you’re applying to. Weaving job titles, software programs and priority job functions throughout your resume will ensure that recruiters’ must-haves are hit without creating the appearance of having been stuffed keywords for the sake of it.

“When we work with candidates to help them land the most competitive jobs in banking or hedge funds, the first thing we ask for is the job description of their ideal role so we can clearly capture the skills and experience in that person’s background on their CV,” says Francis de la Cruz, the founder of The Write Resume and The Private Placement Group.

Getting the jargon right 

Candidates should search for job postings of similar roles across the industry and make notes of what keywords other similar roles are using. While using jargon for the sake of it is unlikely to impress, sometimes a well-placed buzzword can resonate with decision-makers.

“If everyone says ‘analytics,’ then don’t say ‘analysis,'” said Jane Cranston, the president of ExecutiveCoachNY.com. “Every sector of every industry has its own lingo, and you have to sound fluent by using it in the right way so that the hiring manager says, ‘This person gets it.'”

You should also strive to include clear, active, and descriptive phrases in your CV to show tangible achievements.

“We tend to favour words like ‘generated,’ ‘delivered’ or ‘achieved,’ followed by a succinct description of what was accomplished by that individual,” de la Cruz said.

It cannot be stressed enough that job-seekers should always use active verbs – in fact, Cranston recommends starting every sentence or bulleted phrase with one. Her preference is for present-tense verbs.

“Some words that work well are ‘collaborate’ and ‘initiate,’ things that show that you are a thought-leader, but that you can work well with people,” Cranston said.

Finally, communicate your qualifications and past successes using numbers whenever possible. After all, financial services is a numbers-based industry. Be as specific as you possibly can to showcase your accomplishments.

“Everything that can be numerated or dollarized – that is, expressed in terms of numerals, percentages and dollars – should be,” Cranston said. “If you think hard about it, you can do it for almost every statement, such as ‘Manage….'”

“I don’t if you manage one person or 100 people, which is a big difference,” she said “I don’t know if you managed $2m or $2b, and if you work at a public company, then anything that’s out in the press or in a statement for investors is open season.”

Keywords and phrases that job-seekers should avoid including in their CV

Candidates should avoid superfluous descriptor words such as “savvy,” “dynamic” and “engaging,” as these are subjective and may be perceived to be clichés.

Other examples of overused or awkward phrasing include “passionate” and “seasoned” – they don’t differentiate candidates from the competition and might even carry unexpected negative connotations.

Stick to the facts and speak in achievement-driven language and results-focused stories, said Lisa Rangel, executive resume writer and managing director of Chameleon Resumes.

“These latter items will be great foundations for interview questions, allowing your interview to be more engaging,” she said. “Responsible for…” is another oft-used phrase that may send the wrong message. Nannies and dogwalkers are responsible for children and dogs, respectively, but the rest of us do something,” Cranston said.

As a general rule of thumb, candidates should avoid passive language whenever possible.

“We see plenty of bullet points that start with words like ‘worked’, ‘helped’ and ‘supported’ – phrases like these are lazy and really don’t add any value to a CV, especially when you compare a resume before and after it’s been properly thought out and proofed,” de la Cruz said.

Furthermore, job-seekers should always avoid qualifiers such as ‘just,’ ‘only’ and ‘potentially.’

“Steer clear of all of those kinds of equivocating words that cause hiring managers to say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ or worse, think that you’re fudging or actually lying,” Cranston said.

The types of education and experience hiring managers look for on a resume

Despite research suggesting that finance graduates achieve lower than average grades, the fact is that recruiters will look for two key pieces of information on your resume when it comes to education – grades and the quality of the institution you attended.

“We have seen our candidates with both liberal arts and technical/engineering/computer science degrees do equally well with securing interviews from hedge funds and investment banks,” de la Cruz said.

But if you’re not studying economics, math or a financial degree, then you really need to have a brand name on your CV. It’s a matter of risk for the hiring manager – so if a candidate is coming from a university outside of the top 10, then they must have impeccable grades – no less than a 3.8 GPA – to be considered seriously.

To work at a top investment bank, a GPA above 3.5 is OK, and might suffice for an Ivy League graduate, but a GPA above 3.8 will significantly enhance your odds of getting your foot in the door. The less prestigious the school you went to, the more important your GPA becomes, and graduating with an honors distinction such as magna cum laude helps as well.

“I had a candidate who we assisted who came from the University of California, Santa Barbara – not a target school by any means – ultimately land an investment banking position at J.P. Morgan, and he was a double finance/economics major who had a 3.9 GPA,” de la Cruz said.

So while there is certainly nothing you can do if you didn’t go to the right university, different organizations have different success rates with different schools, and if a particular hiring manager has found success with a graduate of a less-prestigious institution, he or she may be more inclined to hire such a candidate again.

“Big firms tend to go to the big names, although not necessarily just the Ivy League,” Cranston said. “For example, an econ major from Williams – some might thing it’s a fuller person or a broader person.”

Photo credit: Creatas via Thinkstock


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