Several years ago, I landed a human resources and recruiting job at an accounting firm. I didn’t know much about the industry at the time. Okay fine, I didn’t know anything. I really liked all the people I met during the interview process and figured learning to recruit accountants wouldn’t be too hard. If I’m being honest, I thought it would actually be kind of boring.
But I was quickly proven wrong!
I was fascinated by the work my new co-workers were involved with, the candidates I had the chance to interview, and the accounting space as a whole. I became intimately familiar with the rigors of the CPA exam, the intricacies of a well-executed audit, and the intrigue of forensic accounting (I even got to work with a former FBI agent). It was one of the best, most interesting jobs I’ve ever had.
Accounting is so much more than moving numbers around a ledger. It involves analysis, critical thinking, and precision. Some accountants also need to have solid presentation or customer service skills, while others might need to be skilled researchers, investigators, or creative thinkers. As an accountant, you can specialize in a variety of skills (audit, tax, accounts receivable, business, or forensic accounting—just to name a few) and work in virtually any industry. (Show me a company that doesn’t need some form of accounting services. I’ll wait.) So there are countless directions that you can take your career. I don’t know about you, but I find that incredibly exciting!
But in such a wide-open, varied field, it’s important to know how to present yourself as the right candidate for a specific accounting position. That’s where your resume comes in.
Here’s how to write a compelling accountant resume that’ll help you get wherever you want to go next.
Feature Your Education and Certifications
The accounting world is massive, and there are certifications and licenses for virtually every specialty within the industry. The most common license is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), but in addition to CPAs, there are Chartered Financial Analysts (CFAs), Certified Internal Auditors (CIAs), Certified Management Accountants (CMAs), and many, many more!
Continuing education is highly valued within the accounting world. Accountants are expected to stay on top of trends, best practices, and laws that govern their work. In fact, most certifying organizations require licensees to take a certain number of approved continuing education courses in order to stay current. So showcasing your training, education, and certifications (even if they’re still in progress) will likely impress recruiters.
While all CPAs are accountants, not all accountants are CPAs. So if you’re just starting out in the accounting space or if you’re still in the process of studying or testing for your license, don’t worry—you can still find a great accounting position.
If you’re an entry-level job seeker or an experienced professional looking to make a career pivot, you might want to include your education at the top of your resume—before your professional experience. Here’s what it might look like:
EDUCATION & CERTIFICATIONS
Candidate | Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
- Passed FAR, AUD, & REG
- Sitting for BEC January 2020
- Completed 150 continuing education credits
Bachelor of Science in Accounting | Ohio State University | Columbus, OH | June 2019
For experienced accountants, I recommend adding your title next to your name at the top (for example, D’Vonne Hawkins, CPA, as seen in the example below) and placing your full education section at the bottom.
Add (or Subtract!) Relevant Keywords as Needed
Recruiters can receive hundreds of applications for their job postings, so they often rely on applicant tracking systems (ATS) to make the initial screening process easier. The ATS will scan your resume in search of keywords that match the corresponding job description. So if you’ve applied for a position as an auditor, the ATS will probably be looking for terms like “compliance” or “regulations” among several others. If your resume hasn’t been keyword optimized, the ATS might screen your application out before a recruiter ever lays eyes on it.
Tailoring your resume to reflect the content of each job posting you apply to will help you to avoid this fate. But here’s a shortcut: If you have experience performing a specific job duty mentioned in a job posting, then it belongs on your resume. Easy enough, right?
There is a seemingly endless array of specialties within the accounting industry, so keywords that are incredibly relevant to auditing might not be important to tax (and vice versa). But these commonly used terms should help get you started:
- Accounting Systems
- Accounts Payable
- Accounts Receivable
- Cash Flow Analysis
- Cost Accounting
- Credit/Debt Management
- Estate Planning
- Financial Accounting
- Financial Compliance
- Financial Reporting
- Income Tax Planning
- Internal Controls
- Management Accounting
- Payroll Management
- Profit and Loss
- Revenue Forecasting
- Tax Schedules
Be Specific About Your Experience (and Showcase Those Numbers!)
Because you’ll find accounting jobs across a wide variety of industries and specialties, it’s especially important for you to be specific about your work history. Recruiters are on the lookout for candidates with applicable, transferable experience—so the more details you can provide about the types of projects or initiatives you’ve worked on, the types of companies you’ve worked with, and the outcome of your work, the better!
For example, rather than blandly stating that you audited client accounts, you might say that you partnered with midsize businesses in the construction space to audit employee benefit plans, resulting in the identification of 300+ deficiencies.
Notice how the more detailed bullet point provides the reader with information about the type of client (midsize companies in the construction space), the type of audit (employee benefits), and the results of the work (identified 300+ deficiencies). That’s much more helpful and interesting to read, isn’t it? Writing noteworthy bullet points like this is easier than you might think, too. Just use this simple formula:
- Compelling verb + description of work + outcome (if applicable)
As an accountant, you know how valuable numbers, metrics, and percentages can be—especially when you’re trying to convey important information. The same will be true for numbers on your resume. They can help to paint a fuller picture of your experience and expertise. A tax accountant who’s prepared 100+ returns sounds more credible than a tax accountant who has simply prepared returns, right?
So do your best to assign a value to as many job duties and achievements on your resume as possible. This could be the number of clients you’ve worked with, the size of a budget, or cost savings, just to name a few. You’ll find a fantastic guide for quantifying your experience here.
I’d also encourage you to ask yourself probing questions about your experience as you’re drafting your resume with queries like: What types of accounts did I work on? How much money did I save the client? What was the purpose of this work? How many errors did I discover? How much money was I able to recover? This will make it so much easier to quantify your past job duties.
Sum It All Up With a Summary
If you’re well established in the accounting field of your choice and aren’t making any major career shifts, you can probably skip the summary. But if you’re new to the accounting world or trying to break into a new specialty, a well-written summary can help to bridge the gap between your past experience and what you’re hoping to do in the future.
Here’s what it might look like:
Detailed, analytical, and deadline-oriented accounting professional with three years of experience in accounts receivable, bookkeeping, and compliance. A CPA candidate, eager to blend hands-on experience with continuing education studies in an entry-level auditor role.
Notice how the summary plays up the candidate’s desirable traits and transferable experience, addresses steps they’ve taken toward their next career move, and explicitly states their goal. The more you can spell these things out for a recruiter (and make their jobs easier) the better!
Comply With Generally Accepted Resume Writing Principles
Just as you follow the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) at work, you should follow these Generally Accepted Resume Writing Principles when looking for work. (I know, GARWP isn’t quite as catchy as GAAP, but you get the idea.) Here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind as you write:
Choose the correct resume layout (and keep it concise). Tailoring your resume (and only featuring your most relevant experience) should help you to keep your resume to a single, easy-to-read page, while the right resume format will showcase your accomplishments in the best way possible. Generally, the recruiter-preferred chronological layout is best for detailing your relevant work history. But if you’re making a massive career change, you might want to check out some alternative options that allow you to feature your transferable experience more prominently.
Don’t get too fancy. It can be tempting to use a resume template with all the bells and whistles like fun fonts, punchy colors, or cool graphics—understandably, they’re so pretty! But while these creative elements certainly make a resume stand out, they’re probably not the best fit for an accounting job search. For starters, applicant tracking systems tend to have a harder time spotting keywords when you use a complicated layout, so sticking with a more straightforward design is almost always the way to go. Additionally, your design aesthetic probably won’t be very relevant to the types of roles you’re interested in. Recruiters in the accounting space will be way more interested in the content of your resume than the design.
But do make each section stand out. Recruiters spend huge swaths of time looking at a lot of different resumes, so the easier yours is to read, the more likely they are to move it to the next step. Why? Because if they can use your section headers to quickly zero in on your relevant education, technical skills, and work history, they’ll be able to more efficiently determine whether or not your experience is a match for their current opening. Check out the below example to see this in action!
Highlight your technical skills. Most accounting professionals will need to have a high level of proficiency, training, or even a certification in Microsoft Excel (think VLOOKUP, pivot tables, and formulas). Depending on your specialty, you may also need experience with additional accounting software like NetSuite, QuickBooks, or Workday (just to name a few). So be sure to take a look at the skills requirements of every job you apply for—and remember, if you have experience with a technology that’s listed, it belongs on your resume.
Proofread! Accountants are known for being precise, detail-oriented, and meticulous, so it would be extra embarrassing to submit a resume that wasn’t totally error free. So perform a self-audit or ask someone you trust to give your resume a final look before you submit a new application.
An Example That Really Adds Up
While the specific job duties included in the below resume might not apply to the type of accounting you specialize in, the formatting, layout, and language should still serve as a helpful model of what a standout accountant’s resume should include. As you read through the below example, pay close attention to the construction of the bullet points, easy-to-spot education and certifications, scannable sections, and quantified achievements.
You’ll also notice that this candidate has condensed their audit experience into a smaller section because while it’s still somewhat recent (within the last ten years), it’s not entirely relevant to what they want to do next. This is a great way to free up a little extra space and keep your resume to a single page.
Accounting is an exciting, diverse industry bursting with variety and opportunity. Think of your resume as a tool to help you access those opportunities and ultimately achieve your career goals. Featuring your most relevant experience using compelling, specific bullet points, highlighting your education, and tailoring your resume to reflect the job for which you’re applying will help you to create an accounting resume that’s even greater than the sum of its parts.
Photo of person sitting at table with laptop and notebook viewed from above courtesy of Carina König / EyeEm / Getty Images.
Jaclyn Westlake worked as an agency recruiter and an HR manager in the startup, tech, and finance space for nearly 10 years before branching out into resume writing, freelance recruiting, and career advising. These days, you can find her sharing job search insights on The Muse and blogging about boat life on The Wife Aquatic. She's also an avid paddleboarder, proud plant-based eater, and doting dog mom to a 10-year old dachshund mix named Indiana Jones.More from this Author