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10 juli 2015

How to craft the perfect CV, letter and interview to land the job of your dreams in finance

This is an article about what to do during job interviews and when writing your CV/résumé, as well as what not to do (i.e., the things I did)

Let’s start with my own spectacular failures – entertaining in retrospect but frustrating for my father (I didn’t really care, I saw myself as a winner for just getting to the interviews at BCG, Andersen, Goldman, McKinsey, ABB Financial Services etc.).


Do your research

– know what you are getting into, if nothing else to appear interested

To start with I had no idea what I was doing, meaning I just took the free food on the company presentations at school and sent in my papers (applications) to the biggest and the baddest chicken curry subs.

That landed me interviews with most of the largest management consulting houses and investment banks. I can’t recall ever being rejected in that stage, even though it might have happened. There were a lot of application processes and interviews back in the spring of 1994.


Trim your application

I didn’t

I can’t see why I was called to all those interviews, since my CV and letters were a mess.

I included exactly everything, despite my only relevant experience being my then unfinished studies at Stockholm School of Economics. I included translating a technical manual for my father, building a model in Excel for his wife, two weeks as a street peddler for a dating agency, speaking French, Italian and Latin (I did have the book The 1500 most important words in Latin), being a ninja and having competed in Tae Kwon Do, and so on…

You will not come through as a renaissance genius that way. Consider every entry as being a link on a chain – do not add weak links.



Do not stand out

-unless it’s unequivocally positive

In one of my most infamous interview rounds, I got called in for three consecutive rounds, each consisting of 2-3 interviews and “cases”. I was asked to estimate the market for train  signalling equipment in Poland and other real life business scenarios. I thought I did really well and it seemed as if they thought so too, since they kept calling me for another round of talks. At the end of the third occasion, we had a semi relaxed conversation (approximately interview nr 8!) just to seal the deal…

He asked me if I had a role model in literature, and I promptly answered in my then slightly autistic and robotic flow of words “Ford Prefect, in the fifthinstallment of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy trilogy, when he jumps out of the window at the 26th floor to keep the element of surprise on his side”.


Glacier jumping during summit climbing Aconcagua

“Eh, don’t call us. We’ll call you.”


Do not propose genocide

Another time, ABB Financial services complemented their interviews for the position as trainee (a much coveted position among the top students since it entailed 5-6 different one-month positions throughout ABB Financial Services), with a math test and an IQ test.

The managing director Peggy Bruzelius was responsible for the tests this day. I aced the math test and she took that as her cue for some chit chat, excusing the IQ test as a bit crude and not too informative but perhaps still somewhat useful. Nevertheless she was sure it wouldn’t pose a problem for me.

I didn’t think so either, and to make her less embarrassed I said “It’s problably still true that if the lower half on the IQ scale were shot, the upper remaining half would do better. Not that I propose that”.


These are but two of many, too relaxed, interviews that ended badly when it seemed I had already won them over.

At least at Andersen my dismissal was more to the point: “I’m sure you would do excellently here, but I’m also certain you would leave within two years to join an investment bank in order to make more money

My thoughts: “1) No, no, no, just give me the job and 2) WHAT?! I can make even more money in this thing called investment banking? What and where is that?




How the alpha student became an errand boy

I eventually got a job, but not one of the fancy ones above. I got the possibly lowest of low jobs there were in the finance industry (stock broker assistant at a third tier very small Swedish outfit). I, however, was happy as a camper – doubling my “income” from 1k USD/month (student loans) before taxes to 2k (wage).

Actually it was a little less, but let’s round it to 1k USD/month after taxes or 10-12k/year. That was not what was expected of the top student from the top business school in Northern Europe, so take all my advice on job seeking with a bit of salt :)


The Retarded Employer

Fortunately for you my, career turned out okay and I eventually found myself screening applications and interviewing applicants.

Here is my advice for applying for a job in finance. It’s not comprehensive or statistically significant. It’s just my view, my way, from myperspective as an employer at one single firm – The European Hedge Fund Of The Decade. By the way all people we hired turned out to be extremely valuable and useful, so we apparently picked the right ones, and they made sure they were picked by sending the right papers and providing the right answers at the interviews.


Here is how to write a CV (what caught my eye)

Language – your CV/letters should be correctly spelled, punctuated, natural-flowing and not too formal (like a serf addressing the king – those get dumped in the big round archive right away). Write naturally, relaxed, with not too big words unless necessary.

Let many people read it before sending it. It’s worth it.

One of my best hires ever was a guy with slightly less impressive merits (schools and grades) but with the best flowing letter of all applicants. My partner said (a weak) no, but I still got to interview him as a wild card. He passed the quantitative management consultancy “cases”, got the job, and stayed on for 8+ years and became partner.

Keep it short – the CV and letter should be respectively maximum 2 pages. MAXIMUM! I can’t really see you needing more than one page for either, but perhaps in extreme cases a second page might be needed.

Clarity and space is of course more important than cramming stuff on one page just for the sake of it, but first think about cutting. Imagine you are about to hire yourself. What is really relevant for the employer?

Do not include foreign languages you don’t intend to use. Do not include that lemonade stand in 4th grade or your 8 week summer job. Do not include jobs shorter than one year full employment unless they are directly relevant for the position. Do not include every hobby you have ever had, or sports you have ever practiced – just the best, formative or current ones.

Achievements, experience and skills should be the focus, not (long) job descriptions

Include character forming experiences such as organized sports (swimming, football, computer gaming, programming etc.) -anything that made you attend practice several times a week for several years, made you rise early, that disciplined you (it shows you understand the value of “long term” and of taking orders…). Achievements!

Winning – If you won anything hard that didn’t include luck, show it off: a math contest, a scholarship, a national chess tournament, a computer game. Achievements.

Excellence – climbing a high summit, swimming across the English channel, making and selling a computer program. Achievements.

Example of a CV, perhaps a bit too boring for my taste, but good enough (structure not content): http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/media/words/assets/cv11.pdf

Please note that I was publicly shamed on Twitter by the finance gurus at Wall Street Playboys before clarifying the latter.

Once you get called to an interview, here are some pointers:

The interview

This is what I was looking for, and what I think you should aim for

Analytic versatility: Demonstrate that you manage switching back and forth between a bird’s eye view and minute details, that you can keep track of data points from both perspectives and draw conclusions from combining them.

Interest: Show that you are actually interested in the tasks*, not just the potential winnings – that money is secondary and would come anyway. Personal investing experience in some form is mandatory. 

*understanding business models, various accounting methods, micro/macro, reflexivity (feedback loops)


Markers of genuine interest, in stocks, valuation, business models, human behavior and micro/macro interplay, rather than money, were inferred from the applicants casual talk about his life, his investing experience, his stock picks, his personal life. This was of course highly unscientific, but it’s what I did.

Organized: (applicants asked questions during case studies, wrote down the answers, read the interviewers’ intentions and behavior, knew where they had written what and why, and could use it for further calculations and conclusions)

Calm: (applicants wrote things down methodically in their own time)

Clear: Able to communicate conclusions and results in layman’s words, rather than trying to sound professional (all the best investors and analysts that write typically write in very simple sentences and paragraphs, see Roach, Dalio, Klarman and many more). Being able to talk about personal investment decisions without stolen soundbites is just as important.


Focus on concrete skills: My hiring style had its emphasis on tangible competences and all but ignored extra curricular activities. That said, exciting and unusual jobs, hobbies and other experiences, that were hard, tough or complicated were markers of excellency for me.

Subliminal influence: Flatter subtly and copy the employer’s body language. Read Dale Carnegie’s book (see my summary and review here: http://mikaelsyding.com/lessons-from-carnegies-book-on-human-relationships/) about influencing people, and possibly Neil Strauss’ The Game,… or then again, perhaps not the latter.

Remember names. Firm handshake without overdoing it. Do not interrupt, ever! If you say something you sincerely regret, take it back immediately and clearly, and move on.

Be one of the guys, whether that is being a vegetarian, a tee-totaler or a banana chumping gorilla. Don’t stand your ground unnecessarily during the interview. Avoid subjects that matter highly to you if you don’t agree, maybe even lie outright (you don’t have to stay at that very firm your entire life, but you need to get in).



Really? How do you summarize this article that is a a kind of summary in itself? Well, here goes; the ultra short version of landing your dream job in finance:

  • Write a short CV and letter with immaculate language, and focus on achievements and skills
  • Be clear, methodical, interested and adaptive during your interview. Don’t space out, but demonstrate your wide-ranging analytical skill.


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