The last few weeks I’ve been editing resumes for friends applying to MBA programs and the strategy group I work with at Google. I tend to see the same issues over and over again so I wanted to address this by grouping them into 5 key points.
- Have a clear readable and consisting format
Your resume gets about 60 seconds of attention from a screener so you shouldn’t waste his or her time by making it hard to read. Apply a simple format, make sure text is aligned and indented as needed, and use styling such as bold and italics sparingly and consistently. Consultants are hardwired to notice formatting issues so don’t distract your screener from your content by being lazy. If you need help, I’ve attached a sample of how my resume looks.
- Remember the inverted pyramid
Many people think that the sections and order of your resume are set in stone : education first, work second, and personal final. This is definitely not the case. The golden rule is to make sure your resume looks like an inverted pyramid – the most important parts should be at the top while the least important parts should be at the bottom. So for an industry veteran, it might make sense to have experience come before education. Apply this principle to each section of your resume as well so when you are listing your hobbies you list out your most important ones first.
- Address the so what? in your experience section Every time a consultant finishes a slide, he makes sure they’ve addressed the so what?. The so what? is the meat of the argument and the impact of the point you are trying to make. Every bullet item in your experience section should be an answer to so what? Unfortunately most are a plain description of the project, role, or responsibilities. Use lots of action verbs and numbers when possible. Instead of “conducted a brand study which led to a new positioning approach” write “led a brand analysis study with a team of two analysts which convinced CMO to focus on customer service in future ad campaigns, leading to a 30% increase in brand awareness”. Notice how the latter highlights leadership abilities, interaction with executives, and quantifiable impact. Every point in your experience section should address leadership ability, client skills, project impact, or achievements.
- Show your brilliance Consulting firms like to hire the “best and the brightest”. Don’t despair if you didn’t graduate from top of your class at Harvard – you can still show brilliance. Make sure your resume shouts out your top academic and professional achievements. For academics, you can focus on things like merit scholarships, GPA, honors programs, etc. For professional achievements, you can talk about your stellar promotion history, awards you have won, or entrepreneurial projects you have run. Regardless, make sure you do not omit anything significant - this is not the time to be humble. As an example, my resume still lists my SAT score (since it stands out) and also details how my previous promotion history was in the top quartile of my firm.
- Keep it simple
Consultants hate reading lots of text so keep things concise but powerful. Unless you have more than a decade of experience (or you have C-level experience), your resume should not be over one page. Your screener has 60 seconds for you so keep it short. Also, don’t overlist items; instead of listing out 10 extracurricular activities, list the two or three that you are most passionate and involved in. Don’t overload your screener so that when he walks away from his resume, he has no idea what kind of candidate you are.
For those who want more info, Stanford GSB has a great resume tip site.