I built this site to share my insights into building great resumes.
I am a Senior at Princeton University. I spent dozens of hours crafting my résumé, and found that my hard work was rewarded with the opportunity to interview with many of the most prestigious consulting firms, investment banks, and private equity shops.
After securing a full-time position early in the fall, I spent dozens more hours helping several of my friends improve their résumés. They each commented on the dramatic difference my input made, and I really loved the editing and revising process.
I hope that you find this site useful as you develop your own résumé. If you send me your résumé at firstname.lastname@example.org, I will provide you feedback as soon as I can.
I will be gone for the week attending the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland. Should be an amazing time.
This reminds me of a friend of mine who has a section on his resume listing the dozen conferences he had attended over his college career. He later took a job with McKinsey. This should serve as a reminder that you can deviate from a standard format when there is a good reason to do so. So if you’ve scaled 4 mountains in 2 years, don’t relegate it to the “Additional Info” section if you think it merits more detail.
Every bullet point counts (aka: how I bombed my Goldman Sachs interview on the first question)
When interviewing last year for Goldman Sachs IBD, they put me through a stress test: two mid-level employees grilling me and picking apart everything I said. The first question they asked me was:
So tell me about the conclusions of your report on listing on the NASDAQ exchange vs. AIM exchange?
I was caught off guard, and even though I had legitimately done the analysis, this was the 2nd bullet point for an internship I had completed nearly 3 years ago. Not only was my answer not crisp and clean, but later I realized that which exchange to list on was a complicated issue that I didn’t fully understand. Looking back on the interview, when Goldman Sachs is taking 2-3 people out of the 20 they interview, you need to nail every question out of the park. I obviously didn’t prepare enough and lost out on a great opportunity.
Moral of the story: prepare a succinct and concrete explanation for each bullet point you have. This will be hard work, but if you impress with a well thought out answer you can slam the interview out of the park. Good luck!
McKinsey offers some great resume guidance on its website, but it’s not too easy to find. (It’s funny—most people freak out about consulting interviews, but if you talk to someone at McKinsey they’ll tell you that their website articulates EXACTLY what they’re looking for. My advice to budding consultants: spend a lot of time browsing their websites to get a feel for what qualities these firms are looking for. Their descriptions may seem like B.S., but these firms will evaluate you using a rubric based off of these descriptions, ESPECIALLY McKinsey).
While all three of their pages on the resume are worth reading, this sample with rollover comments is easily the most unique (and therefore the best). While some of their explanations are, in my opinion, pretentious, what they’re looking for is not: the ability to quantitatively measure your achievement and thoroughly and succinctly understand your story.
This post analyzes a resume that’s already very good and provides recommendations to make it even better. My title alludes to Jim Collin’s phenomenally researched book Good to Great, a book that scientifically approaches the question of what qualities define great companies. If you haven’t read it yet, you definitely should—easily one of the best business books ever written.
Candice’s resume (name changed, GPA redacted, specific leadership positions redacted, and high school name changed) is already great—she just secured an internship with Goldman Sachs, so obviously the resume has already gotten her places. Check it out:
Too much text: Candice is using size 10.5 font, and she needs to simplify and condense her activities so her resume (a) is more easily readable and (b) highlights and distinguishes the 2-3 truly unique and important attributes she offers. When I told Candice, she protested, “But I have to compete with all the Yale kids who’ve done 1 million things!!!” I felt the same way when I was a Junior, but when I cut 200 words from my resume, all my friends unanimously said it was way better. Cutting those extra words really reduced the fluff, and I recommended the same thing to Candice: I told her to perform the “12 point challenge”: Increase your font size to 12 points, increase margins to 1”, and cut words and sections from your resume until it fits. It’ll really highlight for you what’s important, and the condensation will force you to display your information more succinctly.
Weird timeline that is left unexplained: What did you do in the Summer of 2008? Employers immediately look at your progression and the unexplained gap will definitely raise some questions
Activities are not distinguishable: Candice has some leadership positions across a bunch of different clubs at Yale, but I have NO idea how significant these are. In clubs, it is always important to quantify your impact. Did you work with 10 students or 100? How large was the budget you managed? What initiatives did you implement? Even if your contribution was small, employers need the detail to gain clarity on what you’ve done.
Does not highlight her most interesting experiences: As a finance person, what I am IMMEDIATELY interested in is the two programs she’s done with Goldman Sachs and Barclays. If I was interviewing Candice, I would immediately ask her a bunch of questions about each of these, so why is she low-lighting these activities? My suggestion: move Barclays and GS to Work Experience, and change the title from “Work Experience” to “Professional Experience”
She should cut high school: Since Candice does not mention any great awards or other accolades, she should cut high school and move her SAT score under her college education
That said, this is still a really good resume. Her descriptions are action oriented, and she is clearly an impressive candidate. Great job Candice, and good luck!
One error that many of my friends make is they minimize their extracurricular activities. I find this unbelievable, but I’ve seen it half a dozen times.
Bankers don’t want every single person they hire to be some nutcase finance geek who is VP of the Investment Club on campus. The skills you demonstrate through extracurricular activities of teamwork, project execution, ability to manage a budget, etc. are transferrable to most jobs.
When I was accepted to Wharton, I hadn’t done anything business oriented in high school, but I was an award-winning speaker, a Student Body President, and captain of two varsity sports. If Wharton believes these activities are transferrable to business, why wouldn’t employers?
Some things my friends have downplayed (or completely left off) are:
This is a resume I worked on last fall for my friend Laura (name changed). Though Laura is clearly a very smart individual (a perfect 4.0 in electrical engineering at UCLA!), she clearly had not realized that a resume needs to be a one page brochure. Laura and I have been friends for many years now, and she was extremely motivated to work in management consulting. However, because UCLA is typically not a target school for the top consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, and BCG, her resume really needed to stand out of the pile. I’m happy to say that her revised resume ended up getting her multiple interviews with at least one of these consulting firms and several others.
I have two theories for why this resume was sub-par to begin with:
Engineers are not natural marketers: Most business oriented students intuitively understand the need to market themselves, but engineers and scientists sometimes do not. This leads to resumes which simply summarize their activities and educational background, rather than a convincing, succinct sales document that highlights the individual’s awesomeness. Remember, though resumes aren’t fiction, they should read like pulitzer prize winners and not encyclopedias.
Public school students bullshit less: I go to Princeton, and while most of the students here aren’t any smarter than my friends back home at UCLA and UC Berkeley, they’re way better at getting what they want. The culture of “playing the game” is HUGE at Ivy League schools. But guess what? It matters. That’s why kids at Princeton, Wharton, etc. are so successful, because they know how to play the game, and that game starts with the resume.
I’ll elaborate after the jump, but what turned this from a bad resume into a great resume was the fact Laura was extremely motivated to put effort into its improvement. We went through 3 or 4 iterations, first focusing on a few big picture items and then moving on to word-smithing each line individually.
Here’s her original resume. What do you think my comments were?
As you can see, though Laura is obviously both smart and motivated, there were many issues with her resume:
Not action oriented: Laura does a poor job of describing what her role in each of her internships was, and what impact she had in each position. Both consultants and bankers like to see that you make an impact. Who cares if you worked at Blackstone if you just got coffee all day? On the other hand, if you were the CEO’s right hand man and brought in $20mm worth of deals at a small boutique, anyone would be interested in what you can bring to the table.
Poor Formatting (excessively large margins): I’ve seen a lot of people who leave an inch-wide column solely for their section titles (Education, Research Experience, etc.) and I absolutely hate it. You’ll see in the revision how much more space you have to work with if you simply change the format slightly.
Education section does not sell her main strength: Laura has had a phenomenal career at UCLA, and does not highlight how strong her educational achievements have been. Her academic awards, honors, and research are split over 3 sections, but they should be condensed into one. She should be marketing herself as one of the brightest students at UCLA, and this resume simply doesn’t do that.
Downplays extracurricular achievements: Employers want to see leaders and go-getters. They don’t care if you were a go-getter on the job, on a sports team, or in a rock band. They just want to see you make a difference. Laura here had done some incredible and very time consuming extracurriculars, and those are totally downplayed in this resume. If I hadn’t personally talked to her about how meaningful these ECs were, I would never have been able to bring them to light on her resume.
No interests section: Multiple employers have told me that after looking at your most recent job and your academic experience, their eyes jump right to the interests line. Without an interests line you can come off looking robotic. Even worse, if the other person with an A+ resume DOES have an interest line, they look way better next to you. It’s a great conversation starter and the interviewer can feel more connected to you and know what you’re about.
Here’s the finished product after several iterations. The section above only touches on the main points of things we’ve changed. At some point I may elaborate more, but I hit the big points above. Can you see what a huge difference the resume makes?