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Mistake number one: A lot of people underestimate the difficulty of writing a strong resume.
Let me explain why. A resume is really a summary of a lifetime of achievements. Let’s assume for a moment that the average applicant is about 25 years of age. Some are clearly younger; some are clearly older.
For the typical 25-year-old applicant, they’ve been alive for 13 million minutes; truly a lifetime worth of experience. And the challenge is, the typical resume is one page. You should have one-page per decade of work experience (unless you have an academic curriculum vitae) and it should consist of at most, 400 words.
The challenge then to writing a strong resume is figuring out how to condense truly a lifetime worth of time, 13 million minutes, into the most appropriate 300 or 400 words. And the reality is, to do it effectively; it is not that easy, so it does take time to do it right and a lot of people don’t devote enough time to writing a strong resume.
Now as a point of comparison, I find a lot of candidates are willing to devote a lot of time to other activities, other very worthwhile activities, including spending 100 – 1000 hours or more writing a thesis or a dissertation, investing 2000 – 4000 hours a year working in a demanding job or 4000 – 8000 hours of studying to earn a degree.
But yet, some people will only spend one or two hours writing a resume, which is crazy, I think in comparison because here’s the simple fact: A bad resume means you get no interview; a good one means you get an interview. It really is that simple. There’s no other way around it.
So after a lifetime of effort, make sure you put in the extra effort to get the resume right. That’s the big takeaway here and you will absolutely never regret having a stronger, more concise, more impactful resume than your competition. It really is worth the extra effort.
The second big mistake many people make is they follow advice from their career center, or from a book, or from some template online for a standard resume, instead of creating a consulting specific resume.
This can be, in many cases, a pretty big mistake. Consulting firms are really different.
Here’s why. It takes a unique combination of skills to be an effective consultant—combination being the key word.
You’ll see me mention this theme over and over and over again. And because this combination of skills is so particular, consulting firms are very picky about who they’ll interview.
Standard resumes don’t work nearly as well as consulting specific resumes, so be sure to follow guidance specifically for consulting resumes. And if the person or the source of materials you’re using to write your resume, if you ask them, “How does the format change, or how does the approach change for a consulting firm?” if they say it’s all the same, go look somewhere else for better information.
The third big mistake is not getting full credit for your resume due to something missing , what I call an incomplete resume.
I’m shocked at how many resumes I see that are literally incomplete.
I’ll give an example. I recently evaluated several dozen resumes from readers of my blog at CaseInterview.com. Using the same standards I used at McKinsey, which of course is very comparable to the resume standards at Bain and Boston Consulting Group as well as many others.
And what was really shocking to me in receiving them, looking at these resumes, was how many I had mentally rejected purely for being incomplete.
Not because they were not qualified, but simply because things were missing on the resume. Now these resumes in many cases were perfectly fine standard resumes, but for a consulting firm they would be judged incomplete.
So you want to make sure you have all the requirements of a consulting resume, that you meet all of those requirements.
The fourth big mistake is not getting maximum credit due the incorrect allocation of resume bullets.
Let me explain what I mean by that with an example. So let’s say we have a candidate. On the resume they list their first employer and their job title as Engineer and there are several bullets here describing what this particular person did as an engineer.
Let’s say they did one thing really well across multiple projects, let’s say five different projects or experiences within this one employer.
Now as you go down the resume and look at the second employer listed, you find that the person was also an Engineer, just at a different company, and they did the exact same thing they did for the first employer at this second employer. And they, too, did it really, really, really well.
And the same thing on the third employment experience: same kind of role, same kind of skills demonstrated with ample examples of being very competent at this one skill.
So my question to you is what’s wrong here with this kind of resume?
Here’s the answer. Here we have an example of fifteen bullets or examples on the resume focused on only one skill area.
Remember what I said earlier: candidates need a combination of skills to be selected for an interview.
When you allocate, you want to allocate your bullets across all of the skill areas resume readers look for, not just one or two areas where you happen to have the most examples, typically in your strongest areas.
The fifth mistake is failing to compensate for weaknesses.
See, resumes are valued across multiple criteria. If you have what I call a triple H resume, an HHH resume, a lot is forgiven.
Now what exactly is a triple H resume? It is a resume where the person went to Harvard undergrad, has a Harvard MBA and is a Harvard medical doctor all at the same time. Now there aren’t many of these resumes out there, which is why when you have one it works really well.
And there truly are people I knew at McKinsey that had this kind of background. But it’s about one person out of five hundred; one person out of a thousand actively employed people in the top firms has this kind of background. So they’re pretty rare.
For the rest of us, we have some strong spots on our resume and we have unfortunately some weak spots. Now the thing that we need to realize is you don’t need a perfect resume to get into the top firms, but if you do have one or more weak spots, you need to do two things: first, be aware that that’s a weakness, and, number two, you want to compensate for that weakness.
So to summarize the top five mistakes people make on consulting resumes are:
- Underestimating the difficulty of writing a strong resume. It’s not easy; it takes time. Devote the time you need to get the resume done right.
- Using a standard approach to resume writing as opposed to a consulting specific approach.
- Submitting a resume that’s incomplete. You don’t want to lose for incompletion. It’s one thing if you’re not qualified. Submitting an incomplete resume. You don’t want to be rejected because the resume just did not include the right information. That’s like going to the Olympics as an athlete, striving to win gold except you can’t get into the building because you forgot your key card, your security pass. All right? It’s a terrible way to lose, because you don’t even get the chance to really compete.
- Incorrectly allocating resume bullets. You have a certain number of bullets to use; you want to use them wisely. Most people don’t allocate those bullets properly.
- Failing to compensate for weaknesses. You can get a job interview at a top firm with some weaknesses. The key is to be aware of them to work around them and make adjustments to compensate for those weaknesses. If you don’t do that, it can be a big mistake.
So let’s talk about how to avoid these mistakes, which is the subject of my second video titled, “How to Write a Consulting Resume that Gets Interviews.” If you like to see part two of this video series, just request the next video by filling out the request form below. Thanks and I’ll see you on the next video.