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The Accountant’s Definitive Guide to Building a Successful Résumé

With recruiting season in full swing, it’s time to dust off your résumé and revamp it. If you are a staff member, chances are your résumé still lists you as being in college. That needs to change.

Everything you need to know to put together a successful résumé can be found here. It’s important to remember that every HR recruiter and headhunter is different, but the basics are covered here in enough detail to get you started.

The Header
Keep it straightforward and professional. Like so:
Name: Use the name that you go by at work. If your name is Jonathan Henry Lithstein III but your boss knows you as Jon Lithstein, use this. You will use your proper name on employment applications, background check forms, etc. When the HR rep calls you to set up an interview you want them using the name you’d prefer to be called around the office.
Email Address: By now you should have moved on from your [email protected] address. Your email address on your résumé should reflect the name at the top of your résumé or a variation of it (e.g. [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]). If you have a popular name chances are the obvious choices will be taken. Try putting your last name first, using a middle initial, or periods in between names.  
Also, I recommend creating an email address just for your job search. This is a great idea if you are like me and you receive 37 mailing list emails before breakfast. Setting up a new email address and adding it to your smartphone is simple; it also enables you to set up different alerts on your phone. Having a new message alert every time you receive something to your job search account will keep you on top of communication. 
Phone Number: List your cell phone. This is 2013, people. Make sure you have a professional greeting message, and for the love of God get rid of your P. Diddy ringback tone from 2007. 

Address: It is a good idea to list your mailing address if you are applying for positions local to you. If you are applying to opportunities in another city, it is best to leave your address off. I’ll explain how you address this issue in the next section. If you are concerned about privacy, leave it off altogether.

Certifications: List no more than two next to your name. You will highlight everything on your résumé, but you don’t need your certifications list to be longer than your name at the top. 

Career Objective
If there is a controversial section of a résumé, this would be it. Proponents like to say that it enables the candidate to succinctly describe what they’re looking for a new position. Isn’t this obvious by the fact that you are submitting a résumé in the first place?? 
When to state a career objective
1. You are applying to positions in another city. Quickly explaining why you are living in Chicago but applying to a position in Dallas will keep you in the running. Be specific — “actively in the process of moving to Dallas” is better than “interested in a career in Dallas.” Show the initiative that you are moving to Dallas come hell or high water and regardless of whether the company hires you or not. And if you’re not hell bent on Dallas but the job description is your dream job? Sell it anyway – the objective is to get an interview instead of some person down the block from the company. 
2. You are trying to change career paths. I am not referring to going from public accounting to accounting manager at a private company. I’m referring to the “I’m an auditor but want to be an analyst at a fund” types. In this economy, a career change is still very much a stretch. Express your interest in doing so here. You will also want to tailor your job experience details to be in line with the “stretch” opportunity as much as possible.
The Risk 
Candidates oftentimes half-ass this section. It’s not entirely their fault, you see. Be too general — “I am looking for an accounting position with a financial services firm” — and you just wasted three lines of spacing on your résumé to state the obvious, wasting the time and patience of the recruiter. Be too specific and it might turn off the hiring manager. 
If you are using a headhunter, they will most likely tell you not to use an objective. This is because they don’t have the time to tweak it every time you apply for a different position through them. If you plan to go the headhunter route, don’t waste your breath coming up with a career objective on your résumé.
The Reward
It’s minimum, really. When used correctly in a targeted fashion as I described above, it can keep your candidacy alive. However, you will never hear that someone got the job because, “Oh, they had a stellar career objective.”

Work Experience
You’re a big kid now. I don’t care what your university career services professional told you — do not list your education first. This made sense when you were still on campus, but even if you’ve been in the workforce for a year you are now a professional. List your professional work experience first.


If you have have been at your firm for a number years, it is important to make your loyalty to the firm crystal clear. Remember, oftentimes the first time your résumé is “reviewed” it is only scanned by the recruiter’s eye for a matter of seconds. Too many times I see a manager’s résumé break out every position with dates in such a way that to the quick (albeit irresponsible) reviewer it can look like they had three different jobs in seven years. 

You have two options. The popular method is to only list your current position. If you started with E&Y right after college and you are now a senior manager, it will be obvious that you grew and were promoted over the previous several years. Your bullet points will detail your most recent and relevant work experience, and they will end with more of the outdated tasks you were responsible for at one point. There is no reason to list out that you were an associate from 2002 to 2004; don’t waste your breath. 

The second option is to list out job responsibilities for each position you’ve held. I don’t recommend this style, since it is can complicate the résumé and take up necessary space. 

What if you changed practices?
Detail each on their own. If you started at KPMG in tax but moved to audit, separate the two in such a way that the change is clear, however do not list KPMG as two different employers.

DOs and DO NOTs:
  • DO use bullet points.
  • DO not use run-on sentences or paragraphs.
  • DO list your performance rankings as I talked about last week.
  • DO highlight accomplishments.
  • DO NOT use firm-specific acronyms.
  • DO NOT refer to yourself with “I” or “me.” This is your résumé.
  • DO list your clients as they are relevant to the employers you are applying to. If you are paranoid about this, use a description of your client. 
  • DO NOT be paranoid – your clients will be discussed in interviews.
  • DO keep your punctuation consistent; end every bullet point with a period or do not – just don’t mix and match.
  • DO not use present tense when describing your previous employer experience: use past tense grammar.
Education and Certifications
Group them together. Like so:

Keep it brief.

  • List your college(s) and degree(s) earned. List them with the most recent degree first.
  • List your GPA if it is 3.5 or higher and/or you earned academic honors. Also list academic honors if applicable.
  • If you graduated in the last decade, I suggest listing the month and year of graduation. 
Be specific. If you fall under the tax or audit umbrellas, chances are great that you will be asked about your CPA status. Leave no room for doubt by devoting a line or two on your résumé to it.
If you are certified:
CPA Certified, State of Illinois 
If you are working on passing the CPA:
CPA Status: successfully passed two parts; actively pursuing remaining parts.
Make it known that you are actively working on the exam. This is better than leaving doubt in the recruiter’s mind.
If you are not studying for the CPA:
What the hell are you waiting for? Get on it. I don’t want to hear the “it won’t be relevant in my next job because…” speech. I’m telling you — the job market is tight — your competition coming out of public is every peer of yours that is also looking to bail from their respective Big4 ship. If I’m an HR rep and I have 15 résumés on my desk, I can easily widdle the pile to eight if I remove the candidates that are not certified or are not working on it. 
Personal and Professional Organizations
This is a section that allows you to briefly mention organizations that you are currently or once were affiliated with. This section should be brief but personal – it allows you to highlight things close to you.


  • Use bullet points
  • List the dates of your involvement
  • List: 
  • Memberships in relevant professional organizations
  • Collegiate Greek Life involvement
  • Collegiate varsity or other professional athletic involvement
  • Community or church involvement that you are comfortable sharing
  • Volunteer work you are currently participating in (like a mentorship program)
  • Do not list: 
  • Several lines of detail for each position
  • Every club or activity you participated in during college
  • Anything related to high school
Formatting, formatting, formatting
It's more of a deal breaker than you think. Did you miss that? I can not stress this enough — FORMATTING IS VERY IMPORTANT. Everything needs to be the consistent — the size, type and formatting of your “Work Experience” label better match that of “Education and Certifications.” The best way to check formatting is to print off your résumé and a review it as a hard copy. It’s amazing what your eye will catch on paper that you glossed over on the screen. I also suggest having someone else review it. You will have looked over your résumé dozens of times by the time you have a final copy. Having a fresh pair of eyes review it for grammar, spacing, and formatting. 
Miscellaneous Items
What about listing character traits at the top?
No, unless you are desperate to fill space. If you are desperate to fill space, you’re better off adding more to your work experience section. So, still no. 
What about system knowledge?
List systems that are universal. Being a master of PwC’s T&E systems is not a relevant system. Being proficient in Excel (v-lookups, macros) could be something you want to list under your work experience. Yes, the common thing to do is list skills out separately, but as a recruiter I find it much more efficient if you list them under on your job experience. This allows me to know where you earned the experience. 
What about listing my interests?
Space provided, I always suggest listing a few things. Keep them professional, honest, and make sure they are actual interests. Don’t list skydiving as a hobby if you did it once while you were in Vegas for your buddy’s bachelor party. Do you pack your own chute and are active base jumper? Cool, list it. As with anything else on your résumé, be prepared to hold a conversation about what you list here. 
What about the line “references available upon request?”
Don’t waste the space. It’s a given that you will be able to provide references. I’ll cover references in a future post. 
Do I need to stick to one page?
You don’t need to, but oftentimes it’s possible. If you have been at one firm since graduation and you are a manager or below, I don’t see the need to for two pages. If you are looking to move to your third company, chances are you a
What about white space?
Do not be afraid of white space. Starting with 1” margins all around give you a strong foundation. If you need to adjust the bottom to .75” in order to fit onto one page, so be it. Try to avoid a résumé that has .25” spacing or less for margins – often times it will not print correctly, plus things just look too crammed at that point. 
PDF or Word?
I suggest converting your Word version into a PDF. This removes all risk in the formatting changing when the employer opens it on their end. 
How often should I update my résumé?
If you try to update your résumé every quarter but only do so every six months, you’re still ahead of the game. The more often you can, the better. 
In closing…
These are just guidelines. At the end of the day, your résumé needs to reflect you. That said, it’s just a piece of paper and its purpose is to get you an interview. Keep these guidelines in mind when creating your résumé and capturing your skillset.
What have you found to be helpful when editing your résumé? Share your thoughts below.