The One Rule Of Resumes

I actually just got done polishing up my resume. I do it about once a year. No, I am not quitting the Dirtnap and going to be a working stiff at some broker-dealer. In fact, I don't plan on working for anybody ever again. But it's nice to have around, like the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency thing, because, well, you never know. And if you need one fast, you don't want to be scrambling around trying to remember everything you did for the last five years.

So when I started as a new guy at Lehman Brothers back in 2001, in the MBA class, they took everyone's resumes and bound them all together in a book. There were about 80 of us in capital markets, maybe less. Then they had a picture of us up in the upper right hand corner of the page. It was like an actual "face book," before Facebook.

Well, the first thing I noticed was that my resume was pretty crappy. I had a gmat score that was slightly lower than the class average, my college grades were poop, and I had literally just come from the Coast Guard, so nobody's resume made any sense to me, and mine certainly didn't make sense to anyone else. I thought people would think that it was pretty cool that I was a federal law enforcement officer and carried a gun, but nobody seemed to care.

Like most students, I was busily trying to fill up that resume with every trivial accomplishment, like getting "Most Improved" in the intramural racquetball league my sophomore year in college. I'm exaggerating, but not by much. I was trying to fill up space, and the reality is, when you're 22 or even 27 years old, you just haven't done all that many interesting things. In fact, at that age, everyone is pretty much alike. Everyone has gone to good schools and gotten good grades and taken good classes. When you're on the other side of the desk, conducting the interview, all the resumes start to blend together after a while. They do. Trust me.

So anyway, back in my associate class, I became friends with this guy Dave. You might remember him from STREET FREAK-Dave Lane. You wouldn't know much about Dave Lane from reading his resume. Went to Dartmouth, English major-wait, it says here he had his own magazine for a couple of years. That's interesting. And he played Ultimate Frisbee. But you would look at this guy's resume, and it kind of left you hanging, like, you wanted to know more. It was just a teaser.

As it turned out, there was a lot more to Dave Lane than meets the eye. The guy was a total stud, and ended up being the unofficial leader of our class. And he's gone on to become even more successful-he runs billions of dollars. So I asked him, what's with the resume? There's nothing on here.

He said, "Less is more."

And it was like someone hit me over the head with a frying pan. It's totally true. There is no bigger turn-off than trying to read some resume that has .005 inch margins, with 8-point font, going on and on about winning Most Improved in the sophomore intramural racquetball league. Guys. People are realistic. Everyone knows that you're a dweeb out of college and you haven't done anything. And if you have done something interesting, put it down. But be brief about it. Keep it simple, and elegant. Use the full one inch margins. Times New Roman only. It's not a contest to see how much shit you can cram into a single page, like writing up a formula cheat sheet for a math exam.

One more thing. After you've read fifty or a hundred resumes of people from the same schools, taking the same classes, getting the same grades, the first thing you start to do is let your eyes fall to the bottom of the page, where it says "Interests" or "Other." Do you ride a unicycle? Do you write erotic literature? Please, let me just find somebody interesting.

I recruited one guy who was the World Memory Champion for being the fastest to memorize a deck of cards. He was in the Guinness Book of World Records. Needless to say, that guy was hired on the spot.

Comments (28)

 
Best Response
Feb 27, 2014 - 9:03am

One more thing. After you've read fifty or a hundred resumes of people from the same schools, taking the same classes, getting the same grades, the first thing you start to do is let your eyes fall to the bottom of the page, where it says "Interests" or "Other." Do you ride a unicycle? Do you write erotic literature? Please, let me just find somebody interesting.

This is so true. Funny how applicants usually put the least emphasis on this section of the resume when it's one of the first things that we read...

On that note, I couldn't help but embed our new video we just released explaining our resume review service -- you can learn more here: http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/wso-finance-resume-review ...be easy on me, talking to a camera is tough :-)

 
Feb 27, 2014 - 9:51am

Awesome article...kinda made me think. I am wondering how to understand where is the fringe between enough information to make someone curious and not enough information that will make someone look, let's say incompetent. Can you also share more interesting facts that would catch your attention as an employer. Thanks

 
Feb 27, 2014 - 9:59am

Great post, Jared!

iulian.baxan:

Awesome article...kinda made me think. I am wondering how to understand where is the fringe between enough information to make someone curious and not enough information that will make someone look, let's say incompetent. Can you also share more interesting facts that would catch your attention as an employer. Thanks

I second this. How do you find the right balance?

 
Feb 27, 2014 - 12:34pm

I think the point he's trying to make is that you need to put interesting things you've worked on or accomplished in the first place, but don't give all the gory details on that single page. Hold something back so that when they ask about it, you've got something to talk about beyond what's already on the page. Here's a summary/example from my personal experience.

1) Have interesting things to say. E.g. I took a class where we used a volatility model to predict and actively trade volatility. On my resume, I listed two bullets saying we used volatility to increase portfolio Sharpe ratios, and that we used a time-series model to predict and trade on volatility. That was an interesting bit of information when I was applying for trading jobs.

2) Be prepared to expand on those small bullet points in interviews. For me, I actually modified the final presentation slides from the class project and brought them in with me for interviews. I thought it was a really strong talking point that allowed me to have a discussion with the interviewer about something relevant to the job. Also, because I was proactive and brought in these slides, we spent a lot of time talking about something I had thought a lot about and was very comfortable with, which I think made me look like a stronger candidate because I could speak with authority.

 
Feb 27, 2014 - 5:48pm

Jared Dillian:

Well, let's just say that it's much harder to get away with the sparse resume gambit if you really haven't done anything outstanding.

I feel like there is a whole continuum with this...the more outstanding a point is, the less that needs to be said about it, and arguably vice versa.

 
Feb 27, 2014 - 2:59pm

Very true. I was recently on the job hunt (thank God, it's over) and the one question that was invariably asked by everyone company was the little bullet point I had at the very bottom of my resume: my interests (musician).

Honestly, at the point where they are interviewing you, especially in person for an on-site/superday/whatever, they know you're "smart" enough for the job. I'd rather talk music for 15 minutes than go over any number of technicals. Hell, if they like you enough, they could even gloss over some less-than-perfect tech. answers.

 
Feb 28, 2014 - 7:21pm

zeropower:

BTbanker:

book antiqua size 8...

My resume looks like a solid black rectangle with a 1 inch white border.

I see your Book Antiqua and raise you Impact size 9. CV reads like a script.


Surprised no one has thrown in the typical "eggshell and Romalian" comment yet.
Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P) Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)
 
Feb 28, 2014 - 5:59pm

Jared Dillian:

and I had literally just come from the Coast Guard, so nobody's resume made any sense to me, and mine certainly didn't make sense to anyone else. I thought people would think that it was pretty cool that I was a federal law enforcement officer and carried a gun, but nobody seemed to care.

That's cause the only difference between the Navy and the Coast Guard is when your ship sink in the Coast Guard you can wade to shore.

I got that one from my Uncle, he seems to have an endless supply when he's around my dad.

"You stop being an asshole when it sucks to be you." -IlliniProgrammer "Your grammar made me wish I'd been aborted." -happypantsmcgee
 
Mar 1, 2014 - 10:17am

Agree 100%.

The only thing I would add is since less is more, make what you put on there relevant. If you're applying for an M&A internship, do not write 4 bullet points on how you won XYZ hedge fund competition by buying gold highly levered, and especially don't break out your strategy in great detail. Just write you won the competition, and that you considered the relative valuations of many market sectors, ultimately focusing on commodities as a bullet.

The reasoning behind this short term is that I will want to talk to you about it to hear your thought process, this is likely to get you an interview, on the other hand the long winded explanation doesn't work.

A.) It tells me nothing about your ability to work in M&A short-term and makes you appear uninterested long-term.

B.) While I would have asked about the competition in an interview if it was a small point on the bottom of your resume, I'm not looking to have you breakdown how leverage and returns work and I will avoid the topic (or not schedule an interview in the first place). If I do ask at that point, it's because I'm going to try to pick you apart on it since the resume wording most likely is way overblown and makes you sound like you already think your a PM.

It's not the company. It's the credibility. My credibility. I can't just sit on the bench and let other people play the game. Not my game. Not with their rules. - Henry Kravis, Barbarians at the Gate
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