How to Format Your Resume for a Private Equity Opportunity

July 28, 2020
  • Leaders aspiring to a career in private equity must understand their resume is equivalent to the executive summary of a prospectus for a $100+ mm solution. 
  • Best case, flawed resumes create headwinds heading into an interview. Worst case, they derail an executive’s candidacy entirely. 
  • Candidates for a PE-backed CEO or CFO role face fierce competition, and many applicants overlook the value of a well-formulated resume.

Utilize a Clean, Professional Format 

Before a private equity firm reads a single word of your resume, they will judge you by its format. 

If the most relevant information is difficult to quickly find and digest, you have failed. The sponsor will have doubts about your ability to organize and communicate information within seconds of opening your resume.  

The ideal private equity resume features ample white space and a format that clearly illustrates your professional story. Readers must be able to quickly identify previous experience, context, scope, responsibilities and relevant performance metrics. 

While the right format will not win you the job, the wrong one will impair your chances or eliminate you from consideration. Falcon recommends candidates adhere to several best practices in the general formatting of a resume. 

Avoid headshots. Headshots are considered a vestige of a European CV. The inclusion of any picture on your resume, regardless of quality, will likely come across as unprofessional. 

You can have an “Executive Summary” or “About Me” section, but they are inconsequential at best. These sections often turn into a hodge-podge of clichés, as seemingly every candidate presents themselves as a “strong leader” with a “proven track record” and “excellent communication skills.” Vague self-assigned platitudes do little to impress PE firms. While this section is not necessarily something to be avoided, it is also in no way a requirement. If you choose to include one, avoid an all-encompassing description of an implausible leadership toolkit. 

Your resume must be chronological. While it may sound rudimentary, start with your current or most recent job and then work backward, job by job, to your education. More recent jobs deserve greater detail. Many funds prefer a candidate with a career foundation in one or more blue-chip companies because those experiences emphasize solid early career training. Illustrating where foundational skills for the desired role were first honed provides important context to your career trajectory.

Your resume should format well on multiple operating systems. PDF formatting will help ensure the document correctly displays on all operating systems and tech platforms. 

Master the Fine Details

Along with leveraging an orderly, digestible format, candidates whose thoughtfulness extends to even the finest details of their resume have better odds of advancing to sponsor-facing interviews. 

Do not advertise you are open to positions beneath your functional target. Either omit any mention of the title you seek, or tailor said mention solely to the opportunity at hand. For example, do not indicate you seek a CEO/President/COO role on a resume submitted solely for CEO consideration. Or, if pursuing a CFO role, do not imply openness to CFO/VP Finance/Controller positions. This approach will lead private equity readers to assume you are only qualified for the lowest role mentioned.

Your email should be professional. Utilize a personal email address that is professional and not tied to a colorful nickname. If your current email does not meet these standards, set up a new one. 

Your resume must precisely match your LinkedIn profile. Discrepancies between the two will be cause for concern, additional questioning and, in egregious cases, elimination. While your resume will likely contain greater detail of recent work experience, it should align with your LinkedIn page on essential items like job titles, employment history, and relevant timelines.

Ensure Accurate, Concise Job Descriptions 

Each entry in your career history must begin with the name of the organization, the title most recently held there, and the start and end dates of the position.

For example: 

Next, provide a 1- or 2-sentence description of the company’s product/service, business model, sales channel, rough revenues, and rough employee count. Do not assume the reader will be familiar with any business other than a Fortune 50 company.

In the first bullet, clearly and vividly paint a picture of your role and provide a high-level overview of how you create (or created) value. Avoid obvious job descriptions — a CFO wastes valuable resume real estate by pointing out they were “responsible for all accounting and finance activities” for the company. 

If you have previous experience inside a PE portfolio company, highlight that fact and name the sponsor. 

Executives must be clear about their career advancement and promotion history within a company. 

Do not merely include your most recent title if you held multiple positions during your tenure, as that can lead to false impressions around your career narrative. If you did hold multiple positions within the same organization, begin with the most recent and work backwards. 

Leverage Data to Add Impact to Your Work Experience 

The first points underneath each organization/title should be used to provide an overview of the company and the specific role. 

The subsequent 4-6 bullets should be used to highlight your biggest “wins” in that position. Sponsors often lament that many candidate resumes fail to effectively quantify an executive’s impact on a business. 

Witness how weak bullet points are made stronger by the inclusion of data.

Weak bullet points:

  • Grew revenue of power tool division.
  • Introduced new pricing initiatives.
  • Implemented financial controls.
  • Participated in sale to a strategic buyer.

Strong bullet points:

  • Drove power tool division revenue growth from $6.4 million to $20.8 million while streamlining SKUs from 27 to 12.
  • Worked alongside finance to design and implement a comprehensive pricing architecture plan by channel, increasing EBITDA margin by 3% and growing top-line revenue by 2%.
  • Implemented new financial controls to reduce D.S.O. from 71 days to 17 days, cut monthly close times by 50%, and save over $300,000 in annual operating expenses. 
  • Guided company to a $400 million, 12x EBITDA sale to QRE Capital in April 2019, delivering the 787 Group a 4x cash-on-cash return.

When applicable, draw clear lines between your performance and the improvement of big-picture numbers like revenue, margins, EBITDA and enterprise value. 

The scope and sector of past positions may warrant inclusion of more niche metrics. For example, a candidate applying for a SaaS business CEO role should highlight experience growing monthly recurring revenue.  

Experience with an exit is also of great interest to sponsors. Capture any such information inside your resume along with essential details such as the seller, the buyer, transaction date, the EBITDA multiple and the return on invested capital (MOIC). 

While candidates should do their best to make work experience details compelling, they must not claim responsibility for things they did not do. Any manipulations of the truth will be revealed in the deeper interview process and reflect negatively on the candidate. Any significant omissions from the resume will likely be discovered, as well. 

Demonstrate a Long History of High-Achievement 

Many sponsors read resumes from bottom to top beginning with education and credentials 

Many candidates devote little thought to the education/skills section of their resume. Efforts to polish this information can have an impact. 

In addition to the basic details of your higher education, clearly indicate any accomplishments such as graduation honors, athletic endeavors, team captaincy, etc. For CFO roles, leaders should denote professional certifications such as CPA, CFA or CMA, even if said license is currently expired (though that fact must be disclosed).  

Strong Candidates Can Be Undone by Typo-Riddled Resumes 

Typos are the single most common resume complaint voiced by PE firms. It is astonishing how many well-qualified individuals submit resumes that contain careless mistakes. Seek out a trusted proofreader to sign-off on your resume after the copy is finalized. 

Falcon provides C-suite talent solutions for middle-market private equity firms across North America. Follow us on LinkedIn.