One of the quandaries of producing a top quality CV selling yourself effectively without resorting to clichés.
Terms like ‘innovative,’ ‘team-player’ and ‘strategist’ are enough to turn the stomachs of most recruiters. If you’re not innovative to think of another word for innovative, then you have a problem.
Choosing the right words is important because most banks screen CVs with an applicant tracking system that searches for keywords. Once the robots are done, junior-level recruiters take over. “Most people in finance have to make it through the applicant tracking systems (ATS), which just searches for keywords, and then often junior recruiters who don’t fully understand their business area,” said Victoria McLean, managing director of City CV in London.
So, what words or phrases can you use to ensure that your CV makes it past the robots and also impresses banks’ recruitment teams?
1. If you’re a grower, show it
Words like ‘grew’, ‘doubled’, ‘trebled’, ‘exceeded’ and ‘widened’ will grab the attention of recruiters when used in the right context, rather than more passive phrases like ‘developed’, ‘improved’ or ‘advanced’.
“These have to be accompanied by tangible achievements, highlighting specific deals or revenue generating activities where your own input drove the results,” said Andrew Pullman, managing director of People Risk Solutions and a long-standing investment banking human resources professional. “Things like ‘grew revenues by £30m through XX deal’ or simply throwing in some numbers about your personal achievements in the role will make a difference.”
2. Don’t back out if you’re from the back office
It’s all very well boasting about revenue growth if you work in trading, investment banking or sales, but what if your work is in the back office? McLean suggests that operational staff are the guiltiest of all when it comes to passive descriptions of their experience and often bore recruiters senseless by simply regurgitating their job descriptions.
“The back office needs to think of the impact they have on the business, this means highlighting efficiencies, how you minimised errors, business enhancement – all of these things, backed up by examples, will boost your CV,” she said.
3. Stay on PAR
This is less about the words you use, and more the structure of the points you choose to highlight. The Problem, Action, Result (PAR) format is the way to go when concocting your bullet points, suggest both McLean and Jeremy I’Anson, a career coach and author who works with bankers.
“Highlight what the challenge was, what steps you took to address it and what the outcome was as a direct result of your actions,” he said.
4. Become a culture vulture
If you’re applying for a banking job in Asia, there are unlikely to be too many differences in the sort of power words that will grab the attention of recruiters, argues Kyle Blockley, managing partner of Singapore headhunters KS Consulting.
What they do want to see, however, is an understanding of the local culture. Terms like ‘Managing multiple cultures’ or simply ‘Asian experience’ will benefit your application, he said.
5. Turn downsizing into a positive
Let’s face it, when a bank talks about ‘change’ it invariably means streamlining. It’s now increasingly important to highlight that you’ve worked, and thrived, in an environment where a firm has sought to get away with doing more with less.
“There are phrases that will demonstrate that you’re a hard worker making it through leaner times, and have helped the bank’s bottom line,” said McLean. “For example: ‘“Re-engineered business processes across entire commodities back office, which streamlined workflow and optimised efficiency by 20% following bank restructure.’ This puts a positive spin on downsizing.”
6. Keep interests both interesting and relevant
If you insist on keeping interests in your CV, something I’Anson advises against, then at least keep them relevant. Interests will either be used to try and generate a rapport with a potential interviewer, or simply demonstrate that you have the right stuff to fit into the organization.
Highlighting your involvement with charities, or pointing out that you’ve scaled Mount Kilimanjaro show that you have both determination and are an active team-player, said Pullman. However, most people’s interests are decidedly more boring. In which case, obfuscation is the order of the day.
“Don’t boast ‘Extreme kite-surfer’ and don’t bore: ‘Reading, going to the movies’,” said Pater Harrison, a former Goldman Sachs executive director who now runs Harrison Careers. “Be intriguing, something like ‘I enjoy walking up mountains in the rain and wind’.”
7. Mix technical with a softer approach
Making it through the ATS programmes, and the unsophisticated eyes of junior recruiters, means packing your CV with technical keywords that will ensure you make it over the first hurdle. However, it’s not all about demonstrating knowledge of your sector.
“I recently worked with a foreign exchange derivatives analyst who was finding it very difficult to progress to the next level,” said I’Anson. “Her CV was packed full of strong financial markets terminology, but lacking words that suggested her managerial abilities. It’s at times like these when ‘leadership’ and ‘development’ can be used to greater affect.”
8. Don’t play wing man
You may not have reached the point in your career when you’re leading all projects that you’ve worked on, but this doesn’t mean you should highlight second fiddle status. Bypass words like ‘worked alongside’ or ‘assisted’ and big up your achievements.
“Get a Thesaurus to hand and make sure you don’t use any passive words,” said Linda Jackson, managing director of outplacement firm 10 Eighty. “’Directed,’ ‘maintained,’ created,’ 'instigated,’ these are all words that suggest an active involvement, even if you weren’t leading the project.”