Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Some general resume and interview tips for Entry Level People

With a plethora of resume and interview tips out there, I still want to give my two pence in advice to the entry level position seekers out there. We recently hired two interns for the position that I occupied a year-and-a-half ago. I personally went through around 60 resumes and was present at around 15 interviews.

Here are some of the obvious and ridiculous mistakes I came across:

· If you are recycling a cover letter, which I am sure you are, admit it, I did it too, please proof read it ten times and get someone to do it to. Do not send the resume addressed to Mr. X and starting with "Dear Mr. Y..." True story, by the way.

· I can't stress how necessary it is to get someone else to proof read your resume and CL. One of the obvious mistakes I came across is a person taking Marcoeconomics. That's MARCOeconomics!!!

· Make sure the resume is readable and does not irritate the reader by funky design/format. Make sure it is centered, margins are equal and your name is clearly mentioned at the top. Make sure the bullets are aligned for each workplace you were at and each activity you participated in. Also make sure that some of the apostrophes and comas do not turn into blank squares. I don't know exactly why it happens, but I suspect that if a foreign language is installed on the computer it may display these items incorrectly.

· Most importantly, buy/download/borrow Adobe Acrobat, not the reader, but the writer. PDF your resume and cover letter into two separate files. The advantage of pdf format is, I am sure you know, in it being small in size and that it appears exactly how you see it on any screen and operating system. Your resume may align perfectly on your screen in WORD, but my screen can show it completely screwed up. Make the body of the email short and mention that resume and the cover letter are attached. Do not make it too short like "See attached". That's just plain rude.

· Even though people say that sometimes adding stuff that did not really happen, but sounds cool is great for an entry level resume, do not lie!!! Lies are easy to check in today's googlable world and I dismissed a few people just because they said they won the Trading Contest at U of T and a different person was listed as the winner for that same contest and date! Really embarrassing!

· Sure, everyone is a member of Finance Organization, Trading Circle, Consulting Club, participated in Business Plan competitions. Right? Well, don't just mention it. Mention what you did there, what you got out of it and what was so different. Be prepared to talk about it in detail and with passion on the interview. Show that you are knowledgeable, yet different from other knowledgeable people out there. Show entrepreneurial spirit and drive.

This brings us to the interview portion:

· Be able to talk about the relevant books your read. If you read business magazines, frequent websites, attend shows and seminars, talk about them. Show that you can think outside the box. If you like math, which quite a few of our applicants did, tell the interviewer that you like its applications in real life, not just on paper or in the classroom. The best bet is to talk about fictional/historical finance books. Absolute must on your reading list should be Barbarians at the Gate, Liars Poker, When Genius Failed, House of Morgan, Bonfire of the Vanities. The last book is very true about the industry. Read them and even if you are not asked directly the question to talk about the books/publications, fill the silence by talking about it. Which makes another powerful statement:

· Do not let the conversation wind down. One of my bosses liked to stop talking and asking question to see how the person handles silence and how he/she fills it. Albeit mean, shows a lot about the person.

· Most importantly, be able to tell the interviewer why he or she should choose you and not one of twenty other applicants. Responsible, reliable, hard-working etc just does not do it anymore. Give some spice!

· Don’t be nervous. Easily said than done, I know, but it’s not like you’re on death row. The person at the other side of the table is also human and at some point in his/her career was in the same position you are now.

· There are a lot of points of advice to give, most of which are common sense. Treat your resume, cover letter and interview with common sense. Rarely do people ask numerical and tricky questions, at least that I know of. I am sure this happens if you are applying directly for an actuarial position. Investment banking is more social, however, know your shit, don’t lie, be confident and social.

When preparing for my first actuarial/finance interview, I came across one story that someone was asked yesterday’s S&P 500, DJ Industrials, NASDAQ and S&P/TSX Composite closing prices. I started paying a lot of attention to those numbers and, as you may have guessed it, no one really asked me about them. I actually still listen to the radio and memorize those numbers, out of habit, I guess.

I hope some of this helps. If you want to comment/add/critique these points, leave a comment for this post. If you want to drop off your resume at my company for a volunteering position, send me an email. We are always looking for volunteers and co-op students.

A few more things came to mind after I posted this:
1. If you speak any other languages other than English, make sure you mention this. Corp. fin. companies are always looking for people with this knowledge as most deal with international clients.
2. An almost absolute must is thorough knowledge of Microsoft Office. I know that everyone knows Word, but you also have to intimately know Excel and Powerpoint. If your boss tells you to do something he won't take "I can't do it" for an answer!