If you’re working on your first professional resume, chances are you’ve spent more time than you care to admit staring at a blinking curser on a white screen. Let’s face it, writing an entry-level resume to begin your finance career can be difficult. You don’t have years of relevant experience, and on the surface there’s not a whole lot that sets you apart from all of the other recent college graduates you’re competing with for the job (although there are ways to deal with that issue as discussed here). Here are five things employers are looking for on entry-level resumes, as well as some strategies you can use to help your resume stand out from the pack.
The first thing they’re looking for is the one thing you don’t want them to find. Attention to detail is critical in a finance position. Employers don’t just focus on the words you use to demonstrate your skills and abilities; they also pay attention to how you spell and punctuate those words. If you’re going to miss out on an opportunity for an interview, don’t let it be because you spelled a word wrong or inconsistently punctuated your bullet points. If you aren’t good with spelling and grammar, ask a friend or family member who is to take a look at your resume. You can’t unsend a mistake-laden resume or cover letter.
Many entry-level job applicants will use the same resume for every job opening they apply for. If you want to truly stand out from the competition, consider modifying your resume to focus on the specific requirements of the job. Use the information in the posted job description to figure out the specific type of person the employer is looking for. Edit your resume to highlight the skills and educational experience you have that make you the perfect candidate for the company and the position.
This one probably seems obvious, but many applicants barely scratch the surface when it comes to explaining what they’ve accomplished. Employers are interested in where you've interned or worked, but they’re even more interested in what you’ve done there. Focus on skills you developed, systems and software you were exposed too, and anything else you did in that role that makes you a better job candidate than the average recent graduate. And don’t necessarily rule out volunteer work or a summer job because it doesn’t seem relevant. Some experience always trumps no experience. If you think about it, there may have been something you did in that role that made you a better job candidate today. Soft business skills, while not directly related to the specific tasks in the job description, have value and can set you apart.
Employers receive a ton of resumes every day. In fact, the very position you’re applying for might have hundreds of applicants. In competitive job search situations, it’s not enough to meet the qualifications that were listed. Nearly everyone applying can do that. How can you exceed them? What makes you an irresistible potential employee? Are there academic awards that you’ve earned? Have you participated in leadership training, or a seminar on effectively working in a team? Are there specific scenarios where you’ve demonstrated initiative to pick up a project and run with it? These things matter to employers and can be the difference maker if your resume is sitting side-by-side with one that is otherwise very similar to it.
This tip is probably more effective when used in a cover letter than the actual resume. Employers are looking for team members, not just employees. The hiring and onboarding process can be daunting for an organization, so it’s important that they make good decisions when deciding who to add to their team. Clearly articulate your ambition to work for the company and the reason you feel that way. If you’re passionate about the specific position you are applying for, say it and explain why. You’d be surprised how far you can go with genuine enthusiasm. Employers recognize and appreciate when you’ve done your homework on the company and the position—present yourself as motivated to join their team.
Remember, the purpose of the resume is to get an interview. You already know you’re an awesome fit for this company and this position. The resume is your opportunity to catch the employer’s attention, so you can show them what you’re made of in a face-to-face meeting. Make it memorable for the right reasons, and you’ll go a long way toward getting that interview call.
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