How to Tell (and Sell) Your Accounting Career Story
You’re desperate to score a new accounting job. You’ve stagnated and want a new challenge. Maybe a role with more responsibility and better pay – you haven’t had a decent raise for two years. The trouble is that you aren’t receiving invitations to interview. What’s wrong?
In our experience, if you have the skillsets required for the jobs that you’re applying to, but you aren’t getting interviews, your resume isn’t doing its job. That’s probably because you’ve made one or more of the classic resume writing mistakes.
Considering that an eye-tracking study by Ladders found that recruiting managers spend only around seven seconds screening your resume, any mistake is costly.
Here are the seven big resume mistakes that you must avoid and how to avoid them.
What Is a Resume, Anyway?
Your resume should be your professional life story on a page. More than this, it’s probably the most important sales document you will ever compose. Its job is to get you an interview. You must make every word count. To do this, avoid the following mistakes like the plague.
Mistake #1: You Don’t Detail Your Experience
Employers want evidence that you have the experience to do the job they require of you. The trouble comes when you don’t show that experience. You analyzed financial statements. OK. But didn’t the job description ask for experience in analyzing financial statements of mid-sized firms?
Solution: When you include your experience on your resume, be sure to give enough detail to make it count. Look at what you have written. Does it answer what you did and for who?
Mistake #2: You Don’t Demonstrate Your Progression
You’re applying for accounting jobs that ask for, say, 7 to 10 years of experience. Bang in your range. The dream job is in a management role with a team of 12. You send your resume off and hear nothing. Why?
It turns out that your resume reads like a rollcall of duties, with the same standard “Supervised a team” under each job. There’s no pzazz and no progression shown.
Solution: Be more specific and make sure you add that little piece of detail that demonstrates your progression. Instead of writing ‘Supervised a blah, blah, blah…’, consider how much stronger this is:
‘Supervised a team of 12, managing accounts for $10m+ turnover firms.’
‘Managed a team of four senior and 12 junior accountants responsible for the financial statements of $25m+ turnover companies.’
Mistake #3: You Don’t Detail Your Specialties
The employer has asked for specific areas of practice and experience in particular industries. Your resume doesn’t make it plain that you have these specialties. It’s bland and generalist. It doesn’t let the recruiting manager tick the boxes they must.
Solution: Ensure that your resume highlights both the areas of practice and the industries you specialize in serving. We often receive resumes that bury this information. Bring it out and be bold with it.
In one of the best examples that I’ve seen of doing this, the candidate included a sidebar that listed their practice areas and industry lines. This kind of tactic makes it easy for the recruiter to understand who you are professionally and meet the role’s requirements.
Mistake #4: Too Many Jobs/Unexplained Employment Gaps
I’ve put these two errors together because they have the same solution.
Generally, employers don’t like candidates who change jobs regularly (less than an average of two years is a good rule of thumb). It begs the question of why you have had so many jobs (is there something you’re hiding?) and makes you a flight risk (do you find it hard to commit?).
Similarly, significant employment gaps cause eyebrows to rise. Why did it take you so long to find another job? What did other employers see that I don’t want to?
Solution: The only way to handle this is to include an explanation.
If you are explaining regular job changes, then explain why you left each. Perhaps to gain more experience, or to broaden your specialties, or to take on more responsibility. Ensure that you demonstrate that your reason is genuine by showing the progression.
If you’re explaining employment gaps, anything more than three months begs questions, so explain the why. For example, you took time out to care for a family member, travel, or return to school – only exact reasons are accepted, of course.
Finally, never try to hide employment gaps. Always include dates of employment – if you don’t, the recruiting manager will think that you are hiding something and probably put you on the reject pile.
Mistake #5: Your Previous Employers Don’t Match the Hiring Company’s Profile
Rightly or wrongly, most employers want to hire candidates with experience of working at similar companies. Does your resume show this? It may indicate that you worked for six years with Cohen, Cohen, Smith & Jones, but what does this tell the recruiter? All you have done is given them an extra job to do, searching the firm and discovering who they serve.
Solution: Make the recruiting manager’s job easier. Besides an employer’s name, place a brief description of the firm in brackets. For example:
‘Cohen, Cohen, Smith & Jones (Mid-sized accounting firm serving healthcare and insurance sectors)’
Mistake #6: You Don’t Include Your Tech Ability
Employers are leveraging the benefits of technology in accounting jobs, and they are keen to hire candidates who can help them achieve this. You may work remotely, full time, or some of the time, and it’s crucial to demonstrate that you can do so.
Too often, candidates take it for granted that the employer will ‘know’ that they can operate with the technology they are required to use. Another mistake is their knowledge and experience are buried in the text (‘Used Sage software to analyze and reconcile financial statements’). You can also be too specific (listing all Microsoft Office applications, for example) or not detailed enough (‘Adept with accounting software).
Solution: Place your technology skills in a separate section where they are in plain view and ‘ticked off.’ Be specific about the software you can use (e.g., QuickBooks Online, Sage, Xero, Bill.com, Gusto, etc.) and the remote working and project tools you use (e.g., Slack, HubSpot, Wrike, Zoom, and other workflow software).
Mistake #7: Your Resume Is Not ATS Friendly
More employers and recruiters are using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to help them review and manage resumes in the hiring process. Such systems rely on keywords. Not including your keywords in your resume will cost you in the initial review (increasingly carried out automatically) and could cost you in future resume searches that an employer makes.
Solution: Consider all your skills and attributes, and make sure you include them in your resume. We recently had a client request an accountant with fluent German language skills. We entered German as the keyword, together with a few other skills requirements noted by the client, and we found the perfect candidate within moments. If that candidate had not included German as a skill on their resume, the ATS filter would never have picked up the resume – and they would never have received the job offer just a few days later.
Mistake #8: You Just Wrote War and Peace
You’ve certainly had a long and rewarding career. Yet, it all needs to be in your resume, doesn’t it? So that the recruiting manager can see the real and complete you. The problem is that when you do this, you risk your resume becoming more like a manuscript of the next epic historical novel. Remember, it needs to sell and sell quickly.
Solution: Ideally, a resume should be a single page. If you are more experienced and have a longer career, you may need to stretch to two pages.
How do you keep your resume short?
- Channel it toward your most recent experience, writing in reverse chronological order. Employers are most concerned with what you have done in the last few years.
- Remember to highlight the most relevant skills and demote (eliminate) those that are not requested or assumed by later experience and knowledge.
- Keep the job, duty, and responsibility descriptions shorter the further back they are.
Mistake #9: You Think a Fancy Format Makes a Recruiter’s Eyes Pop – You’re Right!
Here is something that we see far too often. Fancy formatting. Bold, brash colors. Diagrams and charts highlight how the candidates manage their time outside of work—strengths, and weaknesses displayed on an Excel spreadsheet.
This type of formatting certainly makes a recruiter’s eyes pop, but not for any good reason. We must admit that the most outrageous examples may get shown around the office, ensuring that the day starts with a smile – and a laugh or two.
Solution: Stick to standard formatting. If you need to revert to fancy fonts and ill-judged illustrations, then you will detract from what should be the real strength of your resume: you. Your skills, experience, and knowledge are what will sell you, not a demonstration of your ability to get creative on the page.
Remember, too, that if you don’t compose your resume in a compatible format with ATS, you’ll be lost in the hiring process anyway. So all that time you took to make your resume look pretty will be pretty much wasted.
Mistake #10: You Don’t Proofread Your Resume
You’ve corrected all the above nine mistakes. Then you rush to send your resume. The recruiting manager takes a brief look. There are three spelling mistakes in the first two sentences. If you can’t get this little detail right, how can you be expected to be the detail-oriented accountant the employer needs?
Solution: Proof your resume!
Make Your Accounting Job Resume Concise and Precise
To sum up how to compose a stellar resume, keep it concise and precise. Make every word count in your story. Keep your resume clean and lean. Do this, and the essential facts will pop off the page, wake the reviewer up from their slumber, and earn you the call to interview where you can show what you’re all about.