Application 101: How To Write A Great CV

There are only a few instances when I say "it's that time of year." Among them are the following:

  • When Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas begins to be played on the radio in late October. It's the start of a two-month process in which you'll become enraged every time the song is heard, but in which you'll also be unable to prevent your head from bobbing to the music as much as you try to resist.

  • When it starts to warm up in mid-March, and our British hopes for a heatwave are crushed by weeks of snow and cold weather.

  • When summer holidays fade into a new academic year, and investment internship and graduate scheme applications open.

Fortunately for us, the latter is true as of this week. Many financial institutions have begun to open their applications for spring weeks, summer internships, and full-time graduate positions, and it's important that, when you find the role that you want to apply for, you're in the best position possible to be offered that job. Therefore, over the course of the next few weeks, we'll be creating an Application 101 series, designed to help you on your journey to secure that ever-elusive equity research, accounting, investment banking, or trading internship or grad scheme position.

In this article, I'll be offering my top tips to improve your CV. I don't claim to have the 'perfect' CV, but I do know that these tips are some of the most important lessons that I've learnt along the way. Feel free to add your own advice in the comments section below!

  1. Consistency Is Key

I've seen so many CVs that feature different fonts, different bullet point styles, and different formats, all on the same page. Don't do this! A CV should be presentable and clear. It should be consistent. If, for example, you are using the Calibri or Arial fonts for one paragraph, make sure that every other paragraph maintains this font style. If you indent a subheading, ensure that all subsequent subheadings are aligned on the page. Presentation in a resume is pivotal, and can often be a distinguishing factor between candidates who succeed and those who don't.

The CV above is an example of what not to do! Font sizes and styles change in each section, and some titles are in bold or underlined, while others aren't. The spelling is atrocious, and the format is not aesthetically pleasing. (And don't even get me started on the grammar)! Whatever you do, keep it consistent!

2. There Is No Perfect Template

In many instances in life, we spend time striving for something unachievable - perfection. The same can be said for the CV creation process. Many students use the same templates for their CV. Some will adopt the same format as their friends, while others will pay a service online to provide the 'best' template. However, there isn't a perfect template as such. Presentation and layout are of vital importance, but what you include in the CV carries just as much weight. There is no one right way to construct a resume - it just needs to be clear, concise, punchy, and consistent.

In this way, I advise the following:

  • Write out all the relevant information to fill your CV on a Word document. The most important sections to include are your name and contact details, your work experience, education, and wider skills and qualifications.

  • Go online and browse free template styles - you don't need to pay for one! Try out different templates and see which one catches your eye the most. Ideally, you want to find a simple one that frames your writing nicely, and allows you to maximise your unique selling points.

  • If you're struggling to find a template that suits your style, simply comment 'Yes' below to receive a free CV template that I like to use.

3. Start Each Bullet Point With A Verb

Your work experience section is arguably the most important area of your CV - especially in the competitive finance and investment industries. You want each point to have a purpose, a direction, and to show why you'd be a good fit for the role. The best way to do this is to start each bullet point with a verb. An action word immediately catches the eye of the reader and entices them to read on. Below are some great verbs to start resume bullet points with:

  • Conducted

  • Analysed

  • Examined

  • Presented

  • Covered

  • Operated

  • Gained

  • Performed

  • Created

Below is an example of how I would feature my experience with The Student Investor on my CV. Note the action words at the beginning of each bullet point.

Recruiters want to see that you're innovative, creative, analytical, and meet their role criteria. The best way to do this is to start your sentences with punchy, engaging, and strong action verbs.

4. The Two-Page Rule

The country that you plan to work in may have different rules, but generally speaking, a CV/resume should be between 1-2 pages. In the U.S., a resume tends to be only one page, while in the U.K., two-page CVs are common. However, a CV should NEVER exceed two pages. Recruiters want to know what you can bring to the team, and when they're sifting through a pile of thousands of resumes in a day, they want that information presented to them as clearly and concisely as possible. After all, you should imagine your CV as an A4 poster advertisement of your strengths, qualifications, and experiences - it is NOT your life story!

This point is also relevant for Tip #5: If you played the clarinet when you were eight years old, or once went to Barbados, that's lovely, but if writing that on your CV is going to take you past the two-page mark and could be replaced with relevant financial experience (have you done an internship?/attended a webinar?/completed an online financial modelling course?/passed a CFA exam?), it should be eliminated. Because your CV is limited to two pages (maximum), you should only look to include relevant details to the role that will help you in your application.

This is not to say that you shouldn't include wider skills and interests - recruiters love well-rounded candidates who are not one-track minded. For example, I have a strong passion for investment and equity research, which I demonstrate through my work experience. However, outside of the office, I love writing (hence the existence of The Student Investor), football, volunteering, and charity work. Consequently, this information features in theWider Skills and Interests section of my CV, but still maintains a link to the requirements of the role. If a firm is looking for a candidate who exhibits strong teamwork and leadership skills, I can still make my volunteering as a summer camp leader look relevant, as the role developed my leadership and teamwork skills. My wider passion for writing and journalism suggests that I'm analytical and would relish the opportunity to write equity research reports. The message that I'm trying to convey is as follows - include your wider skills and interests. Show that you are not a one-trick pony. However, find a way to maintain a subtle link between these interests and the role's requirements.

5. Tailor Your CV To The Role

Students often have a one-size-fits-all resume. Even when they're applying to jobs in different industries, different divisions, and different types of businesses, they'll use the same CV throughout. If you only have limited experience in that field, or in general, there is not so much you can do to change this except for finding ways to upskill yourself (online courses/internships, etc). However, if you're fortunate enough to have lots of work experience and qualifications, make sure that they're relevant to the role you're applying for.

Picture this: A candidate is applying for an investment banking (IB) role at Goldman Sachs. They've already undetaken four different IB internships at different firms, as well as work experience in an unrelated field such as theatre or retail. If they use up the limited space on their CV to talk about the time they worked at Tesco's as a shelf-stacker instead of the three IB internships they've completed with J.P. Morgan, Barclays, and Morgan Stanley, it is a wasted opportunity to show that they have relevant experience and relevant skills. This happens more often than you'd think, and it can be a fatal mistake in the application process. If you have relevant information, show it off! If it's not relevant, evaluate whether it will enhance your application. Remember that the CV is an opportunity to sell yourself for the role, and the more relevant skills, experience, and qualifications that you can offer, the more chance you have of success!


How can you make sure that your CV is suitable for the role?

Update it constantly, and change your content to meet the job criteria. Look at the requirements of a job vacancy that interests you and tailor your CV to meet those requirements where possible.

How can you improve the competitiveness of your CV?

Immerse yourself in the industry you want to go into. Network with professionals, learn about working life and culture at your dream firm, and apply it to your lifestyle. Apply for internships and spring weeks. Complete online courses. Read books, watch YouTube videos, listen to podcasts, attend webinars.

How can I make sure my CV is good?

Have people check it. The most ideal CV checker would be a professional within the industry or field that you'd like to enter, as they know what skills/experience are needed. However, getting a second pair of eyes to review your CV is always useful, regardless of whether they're your mum, tutor, or friend, because they can often spot mistakes or improvements that you cannot see yourself.

Another fantastic resource is Vmock. If you're a university student, by registering with your student email address, you should be entitled to access their free CV checking service. The feedback is extremely detailed and helpful, and although the algorithm isn't 100 per cent foolproof, it definitely is a great starting point for tidying up your CV. Charities such as Work Avenue have also helped me to improve my resume.

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