How to craft a good resume? What are resume peaks? Part 2 in my latest series of articles on how to crack MBB interviews.
I cannot overstress the importance of a good resume. This is what gets you the opportunity to interview for a consulting firm. Hence, you must focus considerably on your resume. Now, as with every article of this series, I’d like to begin by clarifying that I’m no resume reviewer nor a career guidance expert. But, as someone who’s been through the process and gained a lot of insights from the people I’ve interacted with, I feel that this platform is a good way to broadcast those ideas and my personal learnings. So, let’s begin.
So, what’s a resume? It’s essentially a snapshot of your professional life and personal achievements so far. While it’s important to gain experience through internships, competitions, pursue hobbies etc., it’s equally if not more important to convey them in a manner that will best reflect all the effort you’ve put in. So, both the core content and design of your resume matter.
For those of you who are hard-pressed for time, two words you should remember are as follows: Prioritize, Strategize
Here are some detailed tips for building a good resume that I’ve learnt over the past year:
1. Tips on Overall Structure and Design
- Keep it to one page: This is very very important. Restrict it to one A4 page. Also, don’t confuse a resume with a CV.
- Segment your resume smartly: All the resumes I’ve seen have the following basic structure — personal details, educational qualification, projects, internships and work experience, positions of responsibility (head of the oratory club, music club etc.), extracurricular and co-curricular activities. This is a good structure and helps with the easy identification of peaks (I’ll elaborate on this in a bit). But, if you’ve done a lot of work in the public policy space, then you can go ahead with adding a section titled ‘Public Policy’ and add all relevant content there. This will help you stand out but, you must also exercise caution. Adopt this strategy if you’re confident that you have strong content for it. Further, if any firm you’re applying to has strict guidelines regarding a resume, stick to that strongly.
- Use bullet points, not paragraphs: Say you want to write about your internship at a startup. Don’t write it as a paragraph but use bullets. It’s pleasing to the eye and quantifiable as x number of bullets. It also allows you to segment your description point-wise.
- Don’t let sentences exceed one line: This may be my personal opinion, but I strongly believe that one bullet point shouldn’t exceed one line. Try to ensure each sentence reaches the end of the page or the table (if you’re using one). Don’t let words run into a second line. This ensures uniformity, easy readability and the resume looks good overall.
- Highlight your peaks: Now, consulting firms usually look for ‘peaks’ in a resume (based on my experience). A CGPA over 9, being an institute secretary, doing a really cool intern, getting into an exclusive research program, effecting huge positive change at a startup are some examples of peaks. These peaks aren’t codified and aren’t set in stone. It depends on a lot of factors. So just focus on giving your best at each stage, looking for good opportunities, and presenting them well on the resume. Remember that a reviewer would spend only around 30 seconds looking through your resume. You want him/her to learn as much about you as possible in that short timeframe. So, highlight brand names and follow a uniform format for the same. I tend to highlight company names and place this information in cells (of a table) to the left across my resume, so a reviewer can understand what I’ve done just by glancing over the left portion.
- Use colours wisely: Unless there are specific restrictions, I don’t think using colours would hurt. Keep a black & white version (black, white and greys for highlights) and a colour version. Needless to say, you’re not applying to Coachella, so keep the colours mild and pleasing. Please, no fluorescent colours or bright reds! Muted, pastel shades are alright. Another pro tip is to print out the colour version in black & white and see how the resume looks. In case companies are printing out the resume, you don’t want them scratching their heads to discern the content.
- Use segmentation tools: Tables, lines…Go to town to ensure that your resume looks nice and readable.
- Manage real estate strategically: Have wonderful extracurricular achievements that you really want the interviewer to notice? Then offer it the appropriate amount of space and a prominent enough position in your resume. Don’t have a very strong projects section? Consider removing it entirely or relegate it to a less prominent location.
- Take a call on footnotes: Some prefer to have it, others don’t. If you choose to use footnotes, use them only when necessary. People don’t have the time nor the patience to cross-reference in 30 seconds. Try to be clear enough through your main content itself.
2. Tips Regarding Wording
- Retain only useful lines: Every line on your resume must convey something useful. Else, remove it without remorse. Don’t utilize too much space to describe the history or background of the company or institution you worked with. Focus purely on what you did and the outcome or impact.
- Impact, Action, Context: Ensure that as many lines as possible convey impact and action. Buttress it with context as and when needed. Don’t just write out your job description but convey the impact of your work. Here’s a good example sentence: Achieved 18% cost reduction by establishing partnerships with new vendors. Here, I’ve highlighted the impact and then conveyed the action I took. As an experienced consultant once told me, “Focus on the outcome, not the process.”
- Removing the ‘I’: I personally prefer using a bullet point that says “Achieved 18% cost reduction by establishing partnerships with new vendors” rather than one that says “I achieved 18%…” I believe this looks professional and formal.
- Reduce verbosity: This is something I struggled with initially. It’s very hard, I understand. But, try your best to keep things concise. You’ll get better at it with practice. Here are some golden rules from the consultant mentioned above: Each bullet <10 words, each point = 3 bullets.
- Don’t get too technical: Did a very fancy deep learning internship? Great. Don’t populate your resume with too much jargon. Distil down excess tech terms and processes and convey the outcome and essential processes. Again, I’m not asking you to not use fancy words. Use it with caution and don’t overdo it. You want to project intelligence but in a manner that the reader can grasp as well.
- Try to provide a reference point for comparison: Say you won first place in a case contest. Was it an intra-college event? Inter-college? State-level? National-level? International-level? How many teams participated? So you see, just mentioning that you won isn’t of any relevance unless we know the context. So, try to include that. Good examples are as follows: Placed 2nd out of 400 teams; National runner-up; Won 1st place in the inter-college oratory contest out of 300 students from 20 city colleges. Again, highlight key numbers.
Now, this isn’t the exhaustive list of resume tips, one can always find scope for improvement. But, I can say that these include all the tips that came in handy personally and all my learnings over the past year. If this seems a bit overwhelming to you, don’t fret. Tackle it one step at a time and you’ll be good to go. Also, you can look at Cracking the Consulting Interview’s resume review service if you’re interested in polishing your resume.
Do stay tuned for the next article in this series where I cover the nitty gritty of case prep!
If you enjoyed this article, do follow Swetha Srinivasan for future editions of the Cracking the Consulting Interview article series. You can also check out my articles on finance and business topics like SPACs, REITs, litigation finance and my cryptocurrency series amongst others. This will greatly help in building your industry knowledge. Also, do take a look at my initiative Cracking the Consulting Interview for case solving sessions and resume reviews.