Mod Note (Andy): Check out Wilowallstreet's AMA here. The AMA is still open and he is actively answering any question that you may have.
My last post "Advice from an ex-IB MD on how to make it to Wall Street" covered how to make sure you get a job offer and make it to Wall Street. Some users wanted more details, so this post will go deeper into that. If you haven't read the initial post, I'd recommend you start there, otherwise this won't make as much sense.
Also check out my other recent post: "Advice from an ex-IB MD - on how to make VP".
So what do you do if you are doing steps 1-5, but aren't getting job offers. Having reviewed many thousands of resumes over 15 years, I'd say this is the first step. Most people trip up on the resume.
Does your resume stand out - this is a fairly standard weakness.
IB's see many hundreds of resumes. Initially all resumes start with the HR department. They make the first cut. Then they give the smaller batch to the businesses, the M&A desks, theto make their decisions.
Each resume initially gets looked at for about 20-30 seconds. You definitely want to make sure you make this cut. The reviewer will either mark your resume as someone to come back to, or put it in the trash pile. That decision literally happens in 20 seconds. This is the reviewer's thought process in those 20 seconds:
Mistakes - Make sure there are no mistakes, grammatical or typos - if no mistakes proceed to next question, else trash resume.
Interest - Has this person shown any interest in finance, do they have any background in finance, do they care about banking, have they interned at a bank, have they taken any courses ? - if yes, then proceed to the next question, else trash resume.
Grades - Do they have a reasonable GPA from a reasonable school - if yes then proceed to the next question, else trash the resume unless there are other mitigating factors.
Accomplishments - Did this person do something interesting, do they look like a leader, do they have any other accomplishments - if yes, then this can mitigate (c) to some extent.
And that's basically it for the first cut - at this point you will either make it, or not. About 70% of resumes get thrown out here.
The next cut is more competitive and decides whether you get called in for an interview. This cut will narrow the pile down by another 70-80% and it might take 1-2 minutes per resume. People will read your accomplishments more carefully and will try to understand your goals more fully. Here's the thought process here:
Brands - Brand names matter in this cut. They will look for a brand name with respect to your last internship or the school you went to, or other activities you were involved in. If you don't have this, you need to fix it as soon as possible. There are just too many other candidates that have a brand for you to compete with. A brand name is just a badge to say that you were good enough to go through some one else's exclusive process - its like getting 1500 on your SAT's. By the way this isn't that hard. Just find a way to do a short internship during the school year at a large bank, PE firm nearby. Work for free if you need to. That experience will be help, and the name on the resume is priceless.
Grades - Are you smart? You need to make sure you are above 3.0 and ideally above 3.5 to really make the cut. If you aren't then, we need to find another way to show them that you are as smart as the other candidates. If you are below 3.0, we have serious issues, though I had friend with a sub-3.0 get hired bya long time back.
Leadership & People skills - Do you have any experience in difficult interpersonal situations, have you shown any ability to lead people ? Have you done any 'interesting' extra-curricular activities ? Have you achieved something rare ? Have you shown passion for something that wouldn't be expected of an 18 yr old ? Again if you haven't done any of this stuff I would quickly try to figure what you can do. I created an Investment Club in my last year to be able to pass this.
If those all work in your favor, you will get called in for an interview.
Now there are some secrets here. You can short cut this process somewhat by making direct contact with the teams hiring. This will get your resume excluded from the 1st cut, you could even make it to the top of the pile if the MD from your last internship puts in a call to the hiring team. You can also make it easier if you have already interned at the bank before.
Having hired people for 15 years, reviewed thousands of resumes, interviewed hundreds of people, the ones that made it to the interview stage were the candidates that had interesting, memorable resumes. The ones where I felt that this was an interesting, passionate person, who was destined to achieve something. They were not the ones with the best SATs, or the best GPA. That stuff is important, but we know that those scores do not signify 'real world' success.
The question you have to ask yourself is how can you prove to someone reading your resume that you would be a good hire, that you would add value and that you are better than other candidates. Put yourself in the reviewer's shoes and ask 'why should they choose you ?' If you can't answer that question then they can't either.