I've been in public accounting for long enough to have done dozens of resume workshops, interview workshops, and general on-campus speaking and networking events. I started in public accounting thinking there was such a thing as the perfect resume and the perfect answers to the standard interview questions. Boy, was I wrong.
Just recently, I was doing a one-on-one resume workshops on campus with students helping with their resumes. It was 30 minutes per student for 4 hours (8 students per professional) and some resumes were good, some were great, and a couple were damn awful. To put it frankly, the students who had not-so-great resumes weren't going to get positions with the firms they were going after – their resumes weren't bad because they didn't know what a resume should look like – they were bad because they had absolutely nothing to put on them. I'd start by saying "this looks a little bare, can we add volunteer experience or prior work experience?" to which those individuals would say "I don't really have any" and I'd try to work with them "What skills do you have? are you a fast typer? good with 10-key? speak a dialect of a language that no one cares about? anything?"… So while I hate to admit it, to a few, I wasn't much help – and for that, I apologize. But like I mentioned, these students weren't going to get positions regardless.
Now moving on to the students who had good resumes. Honestly, out of the 7 I saw (one student flaked), 3 were good and 2 were great (as in other than nitpicky BS, I had nothing for them – I apologize for this as well). This greatly surprised me as when we post positions on the school's website for interns or full-time, I'd say 50% of the resumes we receive, we wonder if the system mixed up our postings with the opening for a new janitor. And then I put 2 and 2 together (and got 5) and realized that the 5 students with solid resumes, this wasn't their first workshop – this was their second or third. The students not coming to these workshops are the ones who need them the most! So either they don't realize it, or just don't care. Either of which results in me not wanting them as our new staff – oblivious and/or non-driven.
But back to where I started, not all advice regarding resumes and interviews is good advice. One of the girls I was working on her resume with had a pretty good resume, but her only experience was being an accounting intern for the last 3 months at some construction company – I didn't think much of it as many students don't have much experience. But then we got into her school experience and I realized she was in her late 20s – not your typical student. So I asked "What did you do before deciding to go to school for accounting?" and she tells me she spent the last 5 years working in a restaurant and worked her way up to assistant GM in that time from starting as a host. I was in shock and inquired "why isn't that on your resume!?" and her response shocked me even more – "It was… but I went to a workshop last semester with another firm and they told me to get rid of it because it's not accounting related." Reasons I disagree with this: 1) it shows commitment, you stayed there for 5 years; 2) it shows drive and progression, you didn't stay a host for 5 years; and 3) it shows that you didn't just spend a long time getting through school for no reason and did nothing for X years.
After speaking with her and recommending she add it back, I went back to the office and discussed it with some colleagues who are just as involved in all these oh so fun recruiting events and found that there was huge variation, not just on this specific item, but on other resume and interviewing criteria and preferences. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise, but even within our own firm, different partners and managers prefer different criteria and care about different things.
So in short, take lots of advice from lots of professionals and professors and use your best judgment what to ignore and what to implement and when. Best example of knowing your audience and catering to it: I was interviewing a student a year or two ago and asked him "tell me a difficult situation you've come across recently and how you handled it". The student went on to tell me how he's commissioner of his fantasy football league and how two players got into a heated debate over something, etc. (the answer was actually pretty solid and seemed well rehearsed) and I could totally relate to him – but what if the interviewer was a 50-something year old female partner who didn't give 2 sh*ts about football – would he have answered the same way?
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