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11 ways to make your application stand out to Wall Street recruiters

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Waiting for a call back from a recruiter or hiring manager is no fun.

It’s a tough job market for finance professionals right now, which means your chances of getting called back by recruiters deluged by resumes are diminished, but there are other reasons why you keep striking out.

Sometimes a talented individual with great experience just isn’t a good fit for a particular role. On the other hand, sometimes it is you – something you said, did or failed to do could have disqualified you from the process.

“The most common reasons you aren’t called in for an interview are GPA not above a 3.6, caliber of school, too many jobs without significant deal experience, the firm you are at has a reputation for doing deals that aren’t solid investments,” said Ahmad Popalyar, executive senior partner at Lucas Group. “Or they have already hired someone or put the job on hold.”

If none of those apply to you then bear in mind that many financial services firms get 250 to 300 resumes or more at a time per search and sometimes hiring managers miss a qualified candidate’s profile.

Here are some dos and don’ts ensure you get over the first hurdle:

1. Make sure your resume isn’t ‘weird’

While it’s obvious that you can’t have any typos, misspelled words or incorrect grammar in your resume and cover letter, sometimes something relatively minor like a formatting error, strange or tiny font, or overuse of all capital letters can annoy a hiring manager.

“Formatting errors or illegible font on your resume shows a lack of attention to details,” says Brianne Toole, principal consultant for the investment banking team, Americas, at Selby Jennings. “I’ve seen hiring managers not want to bring a candidate in because the formatting or font made the resume difficult to read.”

2. Make sure your job titles hit the right note

It might seem obvious, but getting the right job title is key. If you have a funky job title, say your company has something quirky for your role, in parentheses say the more common job title, thinking about what people would search for.

3. Ensure that you’ve provided enough details about deals

Make sure that your resume fits the job that you’re applying for, highlighting the skills that are in the job description that you have. It has to be clear that you’re proficient in the requisite areas.

On the investment banking side, that means highlighting the M&A deals that you’ve worked on.

“Hiring managers need to know what deals you’ve actually worked on – from research and due diligence to negotiations and close – to make sure you have the skills necessary to succeed in the role,” Toole said.

4. But keep your cover letter concise

Length is the first thing recruiters and hiring managers mention when it comes to cover letter errors. Decision-makers don’t have the time or patience to read a novel.

A good cover letter should be made up of three fairly short paragraphs containing between 300 and 500 words.

5. Don’t stretch the truth

If there was a particular deal that you were a part of and you list on your resume, it’s natural to want to make yourself sound good. However, if you claim an important role in a transaction but can’t talk through the strategy or many specifics, then you will be found out in the phone screening or in-person interview, if you do eventually make it that far. Recruiters serious about hiring a candidate will always do a thorough background check that will expose any egregious truth-stretching.

“Be honest in the level of involvement in each deal,” Toole said. “What did you do in the pitch phase, how heavily involved were you involved in the financial modeling, did you see it through to close?

“Recruiters want candidates who have worked on at least a handful of deals from start to close,” she says. “They don’t want candidates who have worked on deals in bits and pieces.”

If you were involved in a huge transaction that would be a huge resume booster, by all means list it on your resume, but acknowledge that you were only involved in the pitch phase, for example.

“When it comes to third-tier skills and experience, if you’re honest, ‘I included it on there but put it lower down because I didn’t see it through to close,’ they might look past it, if you show enthusiasm and have other good experience,” Toole said. “They don’t want people who aren’t up front.”

6. Do demonstrate your tech-savviness

Turning to the technology and operations sides of the business, it is important to demonstrate fluency in various in-demand programming languages. Having knowledge of C++, Java and Python, among others, will help you get a call back from recruiters and hiring managers.

“Hiring managers are looking for candidates with strong programming experience,” said Ryan Mazza, senior consultant in the quantitative analytics team, at Phaidon International. “It’s harder for banks to teach them the skills they need, so they want candidates to walk through the door with experience in particular programming languages.”

7. But don’t fake it

Make sure you can talk the talk on the screening call. If the hiring manager asks a question about one of the programming languages that the candidate has listed, you better be able to demonstrate your mastery of it.

“If you list C++ but can’t really speak to it, that’s frustrating,” Mazza said. “It’s a pet peeve of managers, because it’s a waste of time.”

8. Context matters

When presenting their on-the-job accomplishments, people often throw in numbers and feel that takes care of quantification, but you have to provide context and include results so people understand what you’re talking about. Saying that you grew revenue by 250% is great, but anytime there is a percentage increase, the questions are “From what base number?” and “Over what period of time?”

9. Project the right personality

Researchers found that perceived personality, as inferred from your resume and cover letter, influences your likelihood of getting hired. Be aware how recruiters might make personality judgments based upon your résumé and seek to balance these out.

For example, if you have mediocre academic grades, you will need to project conscientiousness through consistent work experience and supervisory roles. If you describe a lot of managerial roles, you need to make yourself seem more agreeable with some interesting team-based extra-curricular activities.

10. Never draw attention to your shortfalls

There’s never a perfect candidate. While you may be missing some elements of what the recruiter is looking for, the chances are that other applicants will also have gaps in their experience. However, employers do want someone who can slot in immediately. Explain why you’ll be able to get up to speed right away without relying on cliches like “I’m a quick learner.”

11. Do follow up

While you don’t want to pester, being proactive in following up – within reason – typically doesn’t hurt and can get you back on the radar screen.

“My suggestion to you is resubmit your information, and try to contact a hiring manager to introduce yourself,” Popalyar says. “HR teams sometimes don’t know the technical aspects of the investments you did, and being able to sell yourself to a hiring manager that actually does the investments increases your chances quite a bit.”

Photo credit: diego_cervo/iStock/Thinkstock

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