Welcome to How to Work Overseas’ “Resume Teardowns” series!
From time to time I will reach out into the ether and grab a resume for perusal. I’ll review it, see what works and what doesn’t, and share this precious, precious knowledge with you.
The overall purpose here is to show you real-world examples of what works and what doesn’t on a resume. (Note that most of these resumes will be from the United States, so keep that in mind when I address country-specific issues like resume length.)
Also, for the privacy of all involved, I’ve removed any personal info from each resume.
Today’s resume teardown comes to us courtesy of an unfortunate soul in the finance industry that was recently laid off. My heart goes out to this person; that’s tough. He or she is now looking to get back into the saddle.
Here’s the resume in question:resume_teardown_1_original_version
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My first impressions:
Our intrepid applicant comes off as basically competent but uninspiring. The resume doesn’t suffer from any grave defects like typos or idiotic unforced errors, and he/she went to a solid university (though the document doesn’t say how their grades, etc. were).
But there just isn’t a lot of meat there to let me know whether this applicant was good at what he or she did or just sort of did-an-OK-job-and-didn’t-screw-up-anything-too-badly. Nothing tells me whether this person can GET RESULTS.
This issue is compounded because our boy (or girl) was laid off. The resume gives it away — s/he’s not currently employed — but even if the hiring manager missed it in the resume, they would know it in the interview.
(Real-talk moment here: Without any additional context, the first assumption most hiring managers have about a laid-off worker is that it is more likely he or she was so-so at best at that job.)
I know this assumption is sad and can be unfair, particularly in times where the job market is tough. Nonetheless, the reason people use this rule-of-thumb (heuristic) is that truly great employees are often the last to be shown the door in a layoff.
This is not to say that every person that is laid off is not a great employee — there are plenty of counter-examples — but without any other information, most hiring managers will assume that it is more likely that a laid-off employee wasn’t a truly great employee.
So if this is you, you need to add some context and other information that will reassure the hiring manager that you were, in fact, a good employee and were laid off through circumstances beyond your control.
Again — there are definitely exceptions. Big, wide-ranging layoffs (think Bear Sterns), redundancies due to mergers or sales (which are often quite political) — these are reasons you might be a superstar and still get the can. In fact, layoffs in certain parts of the finance world are a lot more common than in other fields just because of the unstable nature of financial markets.
But the hiring manager is not going to assume any of that — so you’ll need to show it to them through other information, in your resume and during your interview. In a future post, I’ll explain some useful ways to do this.
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Now for the details:
Here’s another look at the resume, but with my comments in red text:resume_teardown_1_edited
- The top margin — way too narrow. It needs white space, and feels super cluttered. I look at this resume and immediately I feel a little confused. Moreover, if this were resume #30 that I was reviewing that day, I would have to mentally steel myself to read this one. You want to avoid generating that feeling with something so easily fixed like formatting.
- Job descriptions — the first one is way too long. You were there one year. Cut some of this superfluous stuff (“Completed daily EXCEL analysis in response to ad-hoc requests” is super-duper-BORING), and make the font bigger. A bigger problem is that the candidate is engaging in “laundry list” syndrome. That’s why he/she managed to crank 16 bullet points out of a one-year job. Better to show the results they produced, especially since they were laid off. This applies to all the jobs they listed.
- THE ALL CAPS REFERENCES TO EXCEL: This is a little nitpicky, and I don’t know why, but the all caps EXCEL thing here looks weird. OK, after some thought, I think I have figured it out — the all-caps block really draws the eye. And then, when my eye realizes that you just are referring to Microsoft’s famous and ubiquitous spreadsheet software…it feels tricked into getting excited about something not very important. Basic Excel skills aren’t that exciting. So write it with just one capital letter. Also, given your field, they had better show me that they are really GOOD (caught your eye?) with Excel. The candidate is not communicating that here.
- This third job description has a really long write-up about the company. It spills into the second line. The candidate needs the size — it just seems weird and incongruous.
- Did this person do anything outstanding/relevant in college? This person has already been out five years, so not a huge deal if they haven’t, but since they were laid off, might be good to communicate anything particularly awesome they did in college (e.g., college varsity athlete — that tells me that at the very least they have some iron discipline).
- What’s up with the bottom margin? Way too much white space. Use it to offset the tiny top margin!
Overall grade: C+
The resume is adequate, which is why it passes. But it is not great. Also, because the job candidate is has been laid-off and is looking for a new finance job, they need to show that they weren’t shown the door because they were a below-average performer.
And the candidate could really make the resume a little more interesting to read. It pains me to say it, but dull resumes generally all blend together. You want your own resume to stand out in a crowd.