Career Center

Accountants’ Résumés Are the Worst

By | February 28, 2017

My name is John, I’m a recruiter and I have a résumé problem.

I see lots of résumés from accountants. Less than a third are presentable.

When the perfect candidate has a résumé that fails, I get cranky and I call to suggest a fix. Hiring managers don’t do that.

Where to start?

Résumé experts tell us a résumé is a marketing document. They are wrong.

OK, maybe a résumé is a marketing document for marketing jobs, but not in the accounting profession. For accountants, the résumé is more like a two page audit summary: factual, brief and to the point.

Hiring managers have very specific requirements in mind. If those aren’t clearly addressed in the résumé presented, it’s “What else you got?”

So, your mission is to build a résumé that will survive the first 5-second pass. I’ll go slow and loud for the people in the back.

Résumé fundamentals

Use one font that is easy to read and scan; no borders, no graphics. Do not use a template. All that formatting ends up distorted while traveling through multiple apps. What you send is not what they get. Templates are great for nice printed and mailed résumés though. I just don’t know anyone who does that today. More likely the hiring manager will be reading your résumé on a tablet or phone.

Contact information

At the top of the first page, provide your full name and contact information. Recruiting is location driven. At least tell me your city of residence. If you are applying for an opportunity out of state, note your willingness to relocate. Do not put your name in all caps bold, please. Include a personal email address you check regularly. Cell phone number and LinkedIn profile address are helpful.

Objective or summary

A two to three sentence objective or summary sets the tone. Make sure it fits the requirements of the job you’re applying for. If it’s an Audit Manager opportunity, don’t send a résumé with a goal of Tax Manager. Approach it as a cover letter for this specific job in 50 words or less. Please don’t include a 4 column “skills matrix.”


Include degree, major, school and year graduated. Yes, I know what the books say. Include the year graduated. List certifications with year attained. Don’t list all completed courses. Keep it brief. Include GPA if it’s really great and recent.


The experience section is in reverse chronological order, current first. Include company name, dates of employment (month and year), a brief (20 words or less) description of what the company does, industry, revenue, staff size, and any other information to provide scope and context. Public accounting firms have multiple services, so note client industries, projects and practice specialties.

Provide the job title along with a brief description of work performed in outline format.

If you have multiple employers in similar roles, use care in describing work experience. Don’t cut and paste the bullets from a previous job. Instead of 6 years experience it looks like you have three years experience, twice.

Compare the word count to time on the job. Résumés often get lazy updates; earlier experiences aren’t revised, which reduces available space for more recent and relevant work experience. A non-accounting job while in college shouldn’t take half a page to describe. Keep in mind, you only get two pages. One, if five years out of school or less.

If there are eight employers in six years, list them all. The bad news is you seem to have a short attention span; the good news is people keep hiring you. So focus on the contributions that allow this mobility.

Few partners consider short tenure attractive. Firm loyalty is real. Tenacity is a character trait. It’s best to know that going in.

However, they might consider being employer number nine if the skills are there, you have a great story about solving client problems and the career goal of wanting to settle down (as you noted in the summary at the top of page one).

Technology skills

A separate section for technology skills is critical. List the applications you have a solid user or expert level skill. Microsoft Office is good, but not a differentiator. Excel is worth a mention. Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP for industry work. For the industry specific platforms, include a brief description.

List the public firm platforms: Thompson Reuters, Dynamics, ProFX, Sage, as well as QuickBooks Online, Xero, Intacct, Skype, Docs, Hangouts for those cloud accounting jobs. Did you include certifications in the education section?

Please don’t mention references. We’ll get to all that later.

Before you hit send…

Proofread your résumé. Make sure the From – To dates in the experience section flow. If they overlap, have an explanation. If there are gaps of more than a few months, have an explanation. Check everything.

You can’t believe how fast a hiring manager can find a gap in employment dates. Make very sure your résumé and the job posting details line up.

If the job posting is the question, is your résumé the answer? If not, revise your generic résumé to highlight those key skills and experiences required.

Conventional wisdom says that if you don’t have the specific skills, don’t apply for that job just to be rejected. These days, however, lots of experts suggest applying if the circumstances are right. While many hiring managers don’t look at a résumé and ask themselves, “How can we use this person?” it’s not unrealistic to think that they could. Especially in a job-seekers market.

Responding to a job posting is different than networking for future opportunities.

And lastly, only send your résumé to good places that will treat it confidentially, follow your direction on privacy and treat you professionally.

The accounting talent market is accelerating and there are great firms and employers that get it.

I hope to see your new résumé soon.

John P. is a confessed borderline curmudgeon. His excuse is 40 years advising individuals on career moves and firms on talent acquisition, performance and growth. A Talent Advocate for Accountingfly, John is helping both make great choices. He can be contacted, with fair warning, at [email protected].

  • KM

    An “Objective or summary”? Really? We’re still doing those? I’m pretty sure every other resume article I’ve seen in the last ten years says to avoid those.

    • dumpus

      Objective: Get a job.
      Summary: See next two pages titled “Resume.”

    • Skitch

      Yeah…any advice to give an objective or summary sounds like it was written by the old spinster in the college career center, who probably hasn’t had to apply for a job in 20 years. You know the one…she has a perm, shoulder pads, glasses on a chain, is overly perfumed, and is named John Prumatico.

      All joking aside, the rest is reasonably solid, although well-trodden ground.

  • cpanum31

    It is all BS.
    The only purpose of the resume is so the girl at the front desk can trash all the ones that don’t have B4 experience on them. Further, any firm that can’t do its own hiring is sunk and probably will eventually fail for lack of management.

    Instead of wasting time on resumes the time would be better spent cultivating friendly relationships with senior managers of the firm you want to work at.

    YMMV, but it isn’t my problem…

  • Big4Veteran

    The most spectacular accounting scandal since Enron is unfolding right now before our very eyes, and we’re talking about resumes on Going Concern? Resumes??

    • N.E.R.D.

      In the current era of social media news cycles, everything is spectacular thereby making nothing spectacular.

      The Oscars gaffe will be forgotten by Friday.

      • Big4Veteran

        The Oscars gaffe will only be forgotten if people want to forget it.

      • cpanum31

        Thanks to “Social Media” everyone gets their five minutes of fame.
        But all Social Media is a cold medium and it almost always leaves no lasting impression above today’s noise level.

        BTW, how many have PwC on the top of their “Death Pool” list now?

  • LeftShark Consultant

    Unless, you have little work experience and are just out of college-Do not waste space on your resume with an “objective”. Those reading your resume know your objective is to be hired.

    Also, if you have experience do not waste space with a “skills” section. Work that information your discussion of prior work experience. Show them how you used Excel and SAP. Don’t just put a section the bottom that lists a bunch of systems that you have “experience” in. If you truly have experience in it- you are underselling yourself. If you looked at NetSuite once in AIS, it makes you look even worse.

    If you want to discuss your objective and tell the hiring managers information about you that doesn’t fit the “Experience” & “Education” resume formula- put it in a cover letter.

  • Basis Adjustment

    The objective for a given résumé is obvious and does not need to be stated explicitly. The objective of the “objective statement” is to crowd the document with irrelevant information to distract the reader from the suspect bullet points which follow the “objective statement”.

  • Smack That

    I have only ever sent cover letters when the listing explicitly stated that one was required. Objective statements have been dead since the 90’s, I thought.

    • Tax Nerd

      I’ve written* a short paragraph or two in the body of the email to which I attached my resume, and considered that a substitute for a formal cover letter. For accountants, i think a cover letter is just to see if you can write a few paragraphs without making the person in HR that is screening resumes hate you.

      *Copied/pasted and made minor modifications to something I used years ago

  • The Horniest Partner

    I don’t think I even had a resume for my last two jobs. Just got connected, set up time to talk and went from there.