The Fourth Thing I hate about your CV


In the discussion area there has been an interesting increase in the rate of worried (and worrying) questions about the way banks look into your past.

There seems to be a common idea that banks need your written permission to look into your past. That's simply untrue. I'm not a lawyer, but the idea simply does not survive any real scrutiny does it ?

The law varies from place to place, but banks have a legal duty to check that you are a "fit and proper person" to handle serious amounts of money. Of course a lack of bad evidence does not mean you are honest and competent, but they have to at least show that they tried to find out.

Often this is outsourced to firms like Kroll who get the business mostly becauase the banks has heard of them, and mostly because they do it cheap. I cannot promise that the background checking outfit will obey all laws, but I will say that their fees are simply too small to make organised law breaking worth the effort.

Who are you Banks will often want to make sure that you are the named individual, and that you have the legal right to work for them in that country. There is no point going through the checks below and proving that "X worked at Y firm and studied at Z university", if they don't know you are X.

University The whole point of the university examination system is to inform others of how well you have grasped a subject. Of course there are many universities and they often get really quite odd legal advice, so it is quite possible they will go through a phase of refusing to give it out on an effectively random basis. They also vary in how much detail they will give out. Headhunters are also supposed to check your background. I will say openly that it is easily the most pointless part of the recruitment process for me. The referee is chosen by the candidate, so is the person they think will say nice things, and will usually say you were a good person, even if they have just fired you because of your inability to work with them.

Credit Checks Most large firms have a credit check done on you. It is cheap, and may catch some evidence of "suspicious" activity. Many newbies have incurred debts and students are known to have a rather relaxed attitude to paying bills, so minor glitches are rarely a problem. There is a reasonably good system for international credit checks as well. They are less relaxed about when the courts are involved, and you may need to settle debts. If you have an issue here, then as soon as you get an offer, you should tell your HH and then HR. It is much better to tell than be found out, so that you can put your own spin on it.

Media Check Some background checkers search your name in various newspapers and other media. This is a highly noisy process since names are far from unique. Google on "Dominic Connor" and most of the first couple of page are me, but Star Trek is in there too...

Previous Employers Most contracts of employment explicitly tell you not to ever give any form of reference ever. Banks have been sued for serious money for giving bad references and your employer does not want to be sued because you said nasty things about the idiot who used to work with you. HR departments typically give minimal references with dates of employment, possibly a job title. No permission from you is need for this check.

Gaps Banks ask for explanations of gaps between jobs. They are an indication that leaving an employer was not your choice, and that needs to be covered. Typically they want an explanation of anything above 2 months or so.

The most important thing to know that HR is trained to get very interested if they think you have something you are trying to hide. Even before I became a HH, I had managed people and knew that a larger % of people have "interesting" sections of their career than you might think. Do not try to lie. Although the process is far from perfect, lying about when one job ended and the next begun is likely to cause serious pain, and most probably loss of the job after you've started, which creates another hole, of an even worse kind. Being fired for lying on your resume does not look good to future employers. Many things about your employment are on records such as tax, company directorships, shareholdings and of course court cases. Much of this is publicly acessible to some degree.

In these troubled times, being fired is not such a badge of shame, and a large % of people have had various forms of involuntary career transition. Do not be tempted to hide things that go wrong. You don't need to use big fonts, or draw attention to it, but be prepared to honestly and carefully answer questions on this so that you present your case well.

If you have a gap, even if it is not "suspicious", you do need to show that the time was not wasted. Study, read papers or textbooks, write some piece of software or something. The important thing to show is that you did not sit around watching daytime TV waiting for the phone to ring.

The third reason I hate your CV. Your religion.

Some people seem to think I care about their relationship with God. I don't, and nor do the people who might hire you.

Your CV is a list of things for someone to hire you, so the world can be divided into a few overlapping sets.
1: People of a different, hostile religion.
That is pretty much everyone, even if you belong to a relatively common sect.

2: People of a similar religion.
Those who care about religion often are quite specific in what they believe, and can have quite negative views about people who "aren't really like us".

3: The tiny set of people who share your exact views.
I've asked religious people about this, and they say they'd be quite offended if someone thought they would hire them because of a shared religion.

4: People who don't care.
You've just wasted space that could be used for something useful.

Not only do P&D not care about your religion, but our contracts with large firms actually forbid us from telling them because they don't want to be sued. The logic being that you can't claim discrimination if the employer doesn't know.

The second reason I hate your CV ...........The "L" Word

You are a leader.

I know this because your CV says so, and I know you would not lie to me. But do I believe you ? Do I care ?

If your current job involves telling people what to do then that is leadership, and of a rare and precious kind. Leading and managing quants is like herding cats, and if you an do that you have earned my respect.


If you are at entry level, I get worried, and occasionally entertained by claims of "leadership". It is clear that some careers advisers push this concept, and perhaps in some industries it looks good, but not in banking and certainly not to me.

Some people have led men in battle, or at least in hazardous and unpleasant conditions. That's pretty rare in American and British quants, but in countries fuckwitted enough to still do conscription, it is a plausible way to have learned leadership.

Although I'm some dumb ass pimp, decades ago I got some sort of education, and remember what it was like to be a student and try to get my classmates to cooperate in any task.

But I have to say I apply a discount factor to "leadership" gained in university clubs. A bigger discount if the "L" word is actually used.

Leadership in a summer or part time job is extremely hard to express without looking like you are bullshitting on a grand scale, and sadly most people fail at least partly on this, wasting space that could be used for something useful (and believable).

Part of leadership is the ability to work without someone holding your hand, telling what to do and how to do it. This is a significant factor in why there is a premium for PhDs even when the stuff they study is entirely unrelated to investment banking.

Up to Masters level you are mostly a taught person, and so I and your hiring manager are uncertain whether you can work on your own, but at the same time not too much on your own.

Leadership in this context means being able to lead yourself, and maybe others will follow. If like me you've actually had leadership training, then you will know that you can take charge of a rabble sometimes merely by clearly expressing a reasonable course of action.

The other problem with the L word is that without care you look as if you are arrogant. The idea that you will be "difficult to manage", or worse "arrogant", can hurt your cances of getting a job, and is expressed to me by managers as a reason they are reluctant to hire an otherwise good candidate.

The first thing I hate about your CV.

You did a PhD didn't you?

You spent 4 or 5 years solving unreasonably difficult mathematical conundrums, wrote your own operating system to control a particle accelerator of a fundamentally new and more powerful type using a household fridge to cool the new high temperature superconductor material you extracted from minerals they you won in single combat in a cage fight with an 8 feet high alien. Not only did you use it to discover the higgs Boson, but you keep one as a pet and you've not only house trained the Higgs Boson, but made it play dead and fetch your newspaper.

Did you? Did you really? Or did you work in Starbucks, and perform outstanding work in customer relations and hygiene management?

How would I know? A stupidly high % of the CVs waste stupidly large %'s of the space on dross like summer jobs. It is actually quite common for a description of something like the complexity of the local bar's stock control system to take up more space than your PhD. About 10% of the PhD CVs I get don't describe the PhD as far as bothering to tell me the title.

OK,I am just a fat ignorant old pimp, so my ability to evaluate just exactly how ground breaking your research might be is finite.

But I've got to sell you to some bank, hedge fund, software house, consultancy, prop shop or insurance outfit.

So imagine how the conversation is going to run:

Client: "Hey Dominic, got any good newbies?"

Dominic: "Yes, like this guy, he's got a PhD"

Client: "In what?"

Dominic: "Physics"

Client: "What sort of Physics?"

Dominic: "Really hard physics, you know tough ones, big physics, miles long, really hard, you know like physics"

Client: "Solid state?"

Dominic "Could be, this is a smart guy, I'd expect really solid work"

Client: "Can he program?"

Dominic: "Of course, all kids learn to program these days, don't they? Did I mention he has a PhD in physics?"

Guess how likely you are to get the job? Guess how much I am going to get paid for all this?

Mention your summer jobs if you must, but make sure that you describe your PhD enough that we can see how you would be useful in finance.