By Brett Good
Even with today’s low unemployment rates, the bustling job market is still a competitive one for accounting and finance job candidates. In an age of electronic resume submittal, hiring managers are often inundated with a large number of responses. Since your resume is likely the first impression you’ll make, you need a well-crafted accounting resume.
Whether you’re creating one from scratch or updating an old one, you’ll want to summarize your relevant experience and accomplishments in a concise, easy-to-grasp and well-written way. And since accounting jobs are all very detail-oriented, chances are employers will be scrutinizing every detail you include in your resume.
Here are seven tips for writing an accounting resume that will highlight your strengths in just the right way:
1. Start with a strong summary
Few people still include an objective at the top of the page anymore but instead use a two- or three-sentence summary that describes the key elements of their background, skills and attributes. Focus on your major achievements, echoing the preferred skills in the job description, such as “strong time management and analytical skills,” as much as possible. If you’re a new graduate, your emphasis will likely be more on your education than job experience.
2. Display your letters with prominence
Certifications count. Do you have your CPA? Put that designation after your name, in your summary and in a special credentials section on your accounting resume. The same advice goes for any accounting certification you may have — chartered global management accountant (CGMA), certified management accountant (CMA), chartered financial analyst (CFA), certified internal auditor (CIA) and so on.
3. Quantify your accomplishments
The work experience section of your accounting resume is the place to present detailed metrics whenever possible. You’ll have different numbers depending on your background, but here are some questions to show you how to draw out the numbers while describing your strategic efforts:
- How much revenue did you generate for your public accounting company by assisting the partners with business development?
- If you’re a finance analyst, what was the size of the budget you managed?
- How much of a reduction did you deliver when managing inventory costs?
- What was the amount of the investments you managed?
- How many people have you trained or supervised?
- How many accounting software platforms are you comfortable using?
- How much did your recommendations to management help decrease costs and increase income?
4. Review, edit and double-check your work
Never send out a resume with errors, because it reflects on your attention to detail — of paramount importance in the financial world. Recognize that spellcheck is not a perfect grammar tool. For example, you’d hardly want to describe yourself as “familiar with all faucets of accounting,” as if you were an accountant by day and plumber by night. Nor would you want to list “account retaliation” as one of your job duties, instead of reconciliation. It helps to print your resume for closer review, take a break and return with a fresh set of eyes — including those of someone you trust.
5. Shy away from buzzwords and humor
Stay clear of terminology that might be understood within a firm where you worked previously but has no meaning to an outsider who reads your resume. These include jargon and acronyms. And if the skills you used in a former position aren’t transferrable to the one you’re applying for, don’t give them space on your resume.
Oh, and humor? It’s best not to take any chances of coming across as unprofessional or immature. Hyperbole and colloquialisms may not translate in a resume. A summary at the top like this — “I need a job, pleeeeease” — may get an E for effort, but nothing else.
If you're wondering what hiring managers consider red flags in resumes, read Things That Make You Go Hmmm.
6. Identify and use keywords
Most job postings for accountants specify technical, software and interpersonal requirements. As you scrutinize the draft of your resume, ask yourself how well it matches the elements of the job description and if it conveys the match clearly and early in the document.
Pepper in (appropriately) some keywords the employer used in the job posting, but only if they honestly describe your abilities. Are they looking for someone with proven skills in account reconciliation? How about advanced modeling techniques, ERP systems experience or background in anti-money laundering?
Using keywords will help employers’ resume-filtering software find you when it’s scanning resumes. It’s true that many small and midsize organizations don’t use automated screening tools, but larger firms often use them to narrow the pool of resumes to be reviewed.
7. Showcase your soft skills
Obviously, technical skills are crucial for any accountant, but that’s not all you need these days. Provide examples of how you’ve effectively used qualities such as clear communication, a positive attitude, critical thinking or problem solving. Have you interpreted complex data and technical analyses for non-accounting audiences to make it understandable for them? Have you led team-building events or had successful collaborations with coworkers? Describe specific experiences that required these soft skills.
Some questions and answers
Some of our job candidates have had these questions with regard to their accounting resumes, and here are our answers:
• Should you include temp work? If you’re looking for a job in accounting and you’ve had a temporary position in this field, you should definitely include that experience on your resume. Temporary work is gaining an equal footing with traditional employment when it comes to job qualifications, an Accountemps survey shows.
Get the lowdown on how to reference temporary work on your resume.
• What about the length of the resume?
Applicants often want to know if they should stick to the one-page samples they often see. Senior managers tend to prefer one-page resumes, particularly for staff-level accounting candidates, but for more senior roles, they find two pages to be acceptable.
• Which resume format is best?
There are definite pros and cons for the three basic resume formats. Chronological shows your most recent wins first and is the format most used by finance and accounting candidates. The downside is that it might highlight employment gaps for those without a solid work history.
Functional targets the job you’re going after, listing your skills and experience most relevant to the position first. But it doesn’t show your career progression as clearly as the reverse chronological resume.
The hybrid format is a combination, with the first section a highlight of the skills and qualifications most relative to the position you’re seeking, followed by a work history section in reverse chronological order. This might be best for entry-level positions.
• What about resume templates? You can search for examples online, and if you decide to use one, take extra care to make sure you’ve completely turned it into your own professional resume.
Also, save your resume as a PDF rather than keeping it in Word, unless the job posting asks for a different file format.
What's your next step?
Brett Good is senior district president for Robert Half. He is responsible for overseeing operations for the company’s Accountemps, OfficeTeam, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, Robert Half Management Resources, Salaried Professional Services, and Robert Half Healthcare Practice divisions throughout the Southern California and Arizona regions.