Filtering resumes - what I looked for when screening 200+ resumes
Mod Note (Andy): This was originally posted 12/30/14 and is a great read for those getting prepared for Summer Analyst recruiting
We're preparing for our OCR interview day for summer interns from one of our target schools and our team received 200+ resumes from HR. Thinking "I can make a WSO thread about this", I volunteered to do the initial cull over the Christmas/NY break. This involved filtering the resumes into "Yes", "No" and "Maybe" stacks in the half a day I had patience to do this.
Some of my observations below from the experience below. But first, disclaimers:
- my comments and criticisms reflect my personal tastes and preferences;
- my comments are not nuggets of eternal truth falling from heaven and there is not one, canonical approach to writing a resume;
- if my comments contradict what you've heard elsewhere, use your discretion;
- my comments also reflect what I'm looking for in a summer intern coming into my team, which may not be the sort of team you want to get into
I commented last year that I barely look at cover letters (http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/resume-and-cover-letter-a-reviewers-perspective).
This year, our HR guys didn't even bother including cover letters. This made reviewing 200+ resumes a lot easier.
How do you review 200+ resumes in one day
Here's the thing. As wonderful as each applicant is, you are a commodity. Your resumes largely look the same in format (which I actually like - see "Format" below) and there is not that much differentiation in the content that I read.
Those italicised words are important - when I'm reviewing >200 resumes and looking to cull that down to a more digestible size (that I and others will review in more detail), I'm skimming through the content and applying high level filtering heuristics so I can get through the stack quickly and efficiently, largely by filtering out people.
Some of the comments below may seem petty or irrational. However, bear in mind that this culling process means I'm looking for any reason - or even emotion - to put reduce the stack of second look resumes.
As the clock ticks, I get more tired of looking at these resumes, just like you would get bored doing quality inspection on some other commodity product like apples. However, when sorting commodities, you're looking to maximise the "yes" pile. Here, I'm trying to maximise the "no" pile so I end up with a manageable stack of resumes for the next round of consideration. In this scenario, there is no benefit of the doubt.
What is interesting is some of the heuristics that emerge and what I learned about my own prejudices.
As you read through my observations, bear in mind that these just apply to the first round cull. In the next round of reviews, I and my colleagues will be looking at the content in more detail and more judiciously. So your resume must be able to make it through several readings which apply different benchmarks.
I became very attached to the standard resume format and font size. When reviewing this many resumes, I want to be efficient and I want to find the information I'm after where I expect it to be.
Don't give the prejudicial part of my brain a reason to shift the dial to "reject". This is more a risk the more commodified/less distinguished your work experience.
Formatting that annoyed me:
- Larger than normal font size and 1.5 line spacing - looked like you are covering up for lack of content; just looked odd after looking at 199 identical resumes
- Fancy bullet points - I like my bullet points round and solid, or dashes, not fancy pant bullets.
- Using prose rather than bullet points to explain professional experience
This is where the stereotyping heuristics start. I'm trying to build up a sense of who you are based on a very quick read.
What was interesting was how quickly latent stereotypes in my thinking would fill in the blanks. Good resumes counteracted any negative stereotypes.
I have an ethnic surname, are you a racist?
When I saw non-European surnames indicating possibility of international students (mainly Chinese, Korean and Indian names), the concern that came to mind was "may not speak English well".
This is prejudice and I am a bad, bad white Anglo Saxon man for it. On the other hand, my final pile contained mainly Chinese, Korean and Indian names (strongly outweighing the few European and African names), so perhaps sub-subconsciously, I'm a self-loathing white man. On the third hand, most of the starting pile were Indian, Chinese and Korean. Who knows?
Good tactics I saw that counteracted my possible prejudice:
Including an English first name.
- In terms of my prejudices, preferred to least preferred are: (1) Bob Liang, (2) Bob (Liuzhang) Liang, (3) Liuzhang (Bob) Liang.
- Unless you're applying for a role where being Chinese/other ethnic is specifically value adding to the role, I suggest (1).
- Note that you don't need to have the same name on your driver's license, passport etc. You can make it up today (but be prepared to live with the name).
- Indians - I include you guys here. India's English has a bad reputation.
Listing your US high school with start and end dates
- This tells me you've lived here a while, not just for your undergraduate degree, so you're more likely to be fluent.
- I appreciated seeing high school listed for ethnic names which suggested non-fluency, thought it was irrelevant for non-ethnic
Including references to "presenting", to participation in debate competitions or other presentations in an English context
- This tells me your English is pretty good
- I'd also include things like translation and editorial roles for publications here; just make it clear that you're editing English language articles if there is any element of doubt
- Similarly, if you write articles for student publications, online etc - include those in your extracurriculars
- Singaporeans who used high school education or something else to make it clear that, despite their Mandarin fluency and Chinese name, they grew up in Singapore, so are at least fluent in Singlish
US-based internships or other English speaking, Western nation internships
- Tells me your English was good enough to get through an interview process successfully, as well as working in an English speaking environment
- I've previously told people who are native English/ethnic name combinations not to list English here. However, this process has changed my view. If you think your resume otherwise does not make it clear you're down with English, put "Native English" here. The best one I saw for a kid who (I can only assume at this stage) grew up bilingual was "Native English and Mandarin".
Things I saw that didn't help:
- High school in India or China, even at an international school - instead, just don't list it
- Multiple internships in home country - Suggests that you're too native, not enough proof of ability to work in English speaking environment (and I do appreciate many Indian offices operate in English, but I'm not going to give you the benefit of the doubt because I'm looking to cull people)
I saw one resume where the applicant include one line below his name to explain he started in one degree, then switched to another. I'm currently in favour of this sort of touch - it made his resume more "eyeball sticky".
Maybe even you could include a sort of mission statement here (short, brief, no more than one line).
I haven't firmed up a view on this. If I saw this too many times, I'd probably think they were all cliched.
I really didn't spend any time thinking about this. We have a GPA cut off of 3.2 or 3.3, so all I need to know at this stage is you've made this cut.
At this stage, GPA is not relevant and I'm more interested in your work experience and the rest of the resume.
GPA will be more relevant later as a tie-breaker for candidates, which is after we've interviewed, after we've tested, once we've got our final shortlist.
One thing to note - some people did list their GPA to 3 decimal places. 2 dp I can understand if you're just under something like 3.45. 3 dp is just silly.
Being silly has a negative influence on my heuristics when I'm making a quick yes/no/maybe decision.
Course and coursework
I'm not from the US, so I'm still a little in the dark about the relative strengths of B.Sci with Finance major vs BA with Economics major vs etc etc.
I did appreciate a listing a relevant course work as it gave me more colour. I particularly liked to see "Accounting" listed, because it demonstrates some familiarity with financial statements and working with financial numbers.
Unless you're trying to reverse language/cultural prejudices your name may trigger (see above), I don't care where you went to high school, what your SAT or high school GPA was, whether you were school captain, whether you captained a sports team or if you were voted "Most Likely to Succeed" (and this was just on one resume).
Renaming this section something else
I don't want to see volunteer positions mixed in with professional (put them in Leadership Experience/Extracurricular Activities or whatever else you call the next section).
I want to see professional experience ie roles where you've worked under paid, professional discipline and had to pass through an interview process to get there. Having made it successfully through interview processes for earlier internships or jobs is important, as interviewing you is what we plan to do.
Case study competitions
Some people listed these. These are no professional experience. Including them just looks like you don't have enough professional experience to fill in these area enough. Don't do it.
Not professional. Send it to extracurricular.
I like to see names in the PE/banking/HR universe that I recognise, because it tells me you could get through their interview process and you've done an internship in something that has reinforced your academic finance skills.
I'm sure I'm missing out on many candidates who could do the job wonderfully who don't have finance names on their resume, but my job at this stage is to cull, not to give the benefit of the doubt.
However, if someone has done a BB internship, particularly in IBD or something else that is not PWM, I start to ask myself "Is she/he a serious candidate, or will she/he just go back to the BB? Or will they just trade that name to move further up the BB ladder and reject any offer we make?". I screened out some people who had BB names in their history on this basis.
For the ethnically named - multiple internships in home country
This flows on from the language discussion above. A few comments on my reaction to multiple internships in India, China, Korea from people with names from the same place:
- Suggests that you're too native, not enough proof of ability to work in English speaking environment (and I do appreciate many Indian offices operate in English, but I'm not going to give you the benefit of the doubt because I'm looking to cull people)
- Also suggests that you got these positions through family connections rather than having to work for them (particularly for internships in Korea and China) and couldn't get through interviews in the US - bear in mind perhaps this prejudice is rare and I only have it because I worked in Asia for a long time and understand how things are done there
- Also suggests that you're more attached to mother country than US, so that you won't return full time after your internship
Key words I liked to see
I was skimming the bullet points, maybe then only skimming 50% of what was written. Key words that caught my eye (which reflect my teams' focus):
- comparables analysis
- competition or industry analysis/research
- due diligence
- DCF valuation
- leveraged buy out
- distressed debt
Key words that made me scrunch my forehead in puzzlement
Resumes that had things like "used VLOOKUP to..." in the experience. This looked odd. I appreciate you're trying to signal you are an intermediate Excel user, but still, it looks odd.
Funky name start-op, Founder
This is an emerging trend. There seems to be an online market place for second hand books for every 10 students at each university. I expect this will increase. I've done some research into some of the websites and they are nothing but facades. I call bullshit on most of these. No harm including these, but not much upside at this stage in the filtering process unless it's clear that real work was involved (eg flying to China or Bangladesh to source clothing).
LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE/EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES/WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL THIS STUFF
- Everyone lists case competitions. I like to see finalist positions.
- Everyone has funded something through a kickstarter campaign, you little exemplars of crowd-sourced funding, you. Whatever.
Generally, this section will confirm a tentative view I've already formed after going through the professional section or it will count for nothing.
That is, if there is great voluntary stuff in here, but it doesn't reinforce strengths already apparent from the foregoing sections, then it's not going to count for much.
On the other hand, something could hit an interest spot for me that moves you from borderline to "maybe" or "yes". There's no way to predict what that may be, so shoot wide and be diverse.
SKILLS AND INTEREST
- See my comment above on languages. Languages are a plus. List languages.
- One applicant listed "Interested in learning [language]". Weird. I'm interested in making $10bn on a share trading portfolio, but I wouldn't put that unfulfilled intention on my resume.
- I like sports listed here. It demonstrates a rounded personality and ability to work in teams in a fluid environment. Fencing is clearly popular among Asian applicants.
- One kid listed boxing at the boxing gym I go to. That made me revise his resume and put him in the "yes" pile, even though he was otherwise borderline. Such is luck.
- One kid listed some award or exam result as "prestigious". I immediately though of the prestige threads on WSO and looked no further, put his resume in the "no" pile.
I had more observations, but I need to do some work today. I'll come back with those comments later, along with some higher level comments.
Again, bear in mind that my comments are about how I conducted the initial screening. These comments are not universal in their application - eg a resume that got through this initial stage will be reviewed in more detail later, possibly screened out.