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Crafting a Résumé That Gets Results

Finding a job typically begins with one key document: your résumé. Learn how to create a standout résumé.

October 22, 2009
from Accountemps

Finding a job typically begins with one key document: your résumé. While some accounting professionals secure employment interviews with relative ease, others muddle through what can be long searches, attracting little interest from employers. In many cases, the difference has less to do with experience level, skills or credentials than it does with how that information is packaged and presented in the résumé.

To help candidates in a highly competitive employment market, Robert Half International has conducted several recent surveys that shed light on what hiring managers look for when considering applicants. Based on our research, here are tips for crafting a standout résumé:

Proofread With Precision

The importance of carefully writing — and then diligently editing and proofing — your résumé can’t be overstated. Submitting a résumé with spelling or grammatical errors is a guaranteed way to make an unfavorable impression. In fact, surveys by our company consistently show that typos are a perennial pet peeve of prospective employers. In our latest survey on the subject, 76 percent of executives said just one or two typos in a résumé will remove an applicant from consideration and 40 percent said that even a single slip-up is enough to rule someone out.

Regardless of how impressive your accounting expertise and qualifications, you can easily damage your prospects if you display poor attention to detail. A hiring manager can only assume that if you are sloppy when writing your résumé that you’d be just as careless on the job. Investing extra time and energy to ensure you’ve crafted a flawless document is well worth the effort. (See the sidebar “Proven Proofreading Techniques” for specific ideas on catching mistakes.)

Focus on Clarity

When dealing with time-strapped hiring managers, strive to be clear and concise. With piles of applications to review, employers appreciate candidates who offer a well-organized and succinct snapshot of who they are and what they bring to the table.

In terms of length, keep it short and sweet. While two-page résumés are generally acceptable, it’s best to limit your résumé to one highly focused page — particularly if you are a recent graduate or have minimal professional experience.

Résumé format is also an important consideration. According to an Accountemps survey, 75 percent of executives said they prefer the chronological résumé, which is organized by dates of employment, over a functional résumé that emphasizes skills and abilities rather than previously held positions. Some hiring managers are wary of functional résumés because they can be difficult to decipher and are sometimes used to obscure extended job gaps or lack of experience. The more straightforward chronological format gives hiring managers an easy-to-follow overview of your professional background, internship experience and educational achievements.

Cut the Clutter

Many people make the mistake of providing unnecessary biographical information in their résumés. An employer does not need to know (in fact, cannot consider) your age, race, religion, height, weight or marital status. Moreover, your love of tennis or online gaming will not help you land a job. Only include information about your personal pursuits if they relate to your career. In addition, use plain, clearly stated language instead of résumé-speak or trendy business lingo. In another Robert Half survey, we asked executives to name today’s most annoying and overused business buzzwords. The list included “leverage,” “value-add,” “interface” and “synergy” among others. When tempted to write “utilize” in lieu of “use,” remember this piece of advice from author E.B. White: “Use the smallest word that does the job.”

Finally, be careful with gimmicks. In the face of stiff competition, candidates are resorting to all sorts of job-hunting antics to gain notice from would-be employers. We asked executives to recount the most unusual things job seekers have tried. Here are some of the amusing responses:

  • “Someone sent us a baby shoe with a résumé wrapped around it. He said he wanted to ‘get his foot in the door.’”
  • “I received a résumé rolled up inside a toy semi-truck.”
  • “A person who was job hunting advertised his skills on a sandwich board.”
  • “We received a résumé made into a paper airplane.

The problem with nontraditional tactics such as these is that they are hit and miss, often coming across as corny and contrived. Even if you succeed in garnering attention it could be for all the wrong reasons. Rather than relying on wacky (and risky) delivery methods, it’s wiser to focus on producing a clear, well-organized and error-free résumé.

Proven Proofreading Techniques

Even if writing isn’t your forte, you can still craft a flawless résumé or cover letter. Guard against mistakes large and small by trying these proofreading strategies:

  • Always use spell-check — as a starting point. Spell-check is a helpful tool, but it should be just one part of your proofreading process. Unfortunately, it won’t flag every type of error, such as words that are spelled correctly but misused or misplaced. (For example, one job hunter ironically boasted recently that he had a “keen eye for derail.”)
  • Look twice. Proofread your résumé both on screen and on paper. It’s often easier to catch typos on a printed page than a monitor. Also, read aloud.
  • Go line by line. Some conscientious candidates proofread with a ruler in hand to focus on each sentence or bullet point. Others read their document backwards to force them to zero in on each word.
  • Solicit feedback. As an extra safeguard, request editing assistance from a detail-oriented friend, relative or member of your professional network. They may find typos or inconsistencies you overlooked.
  • Take a timeout. There’s an old writers’ saying that “Time is the best editor.” Before sending your résumé, step away from it so that you can come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes for one final read.

Accountemps is one of the world’s first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 360 offices worldwide and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.