Tips for Accountants – Resume, Cover Letter and Networking

by Sharon Elber


Whether you are an experienced CPA or have just graduated with an associate degree in accounting, finding your next job will require a strong resume and cover letter. In addition, making the most of professional networking can greatly increase your odds of finding the perfect job for your next career move or for building your client base for your own practice.

This guide offers helpful tips for how to make the most of your job search in accounting. We start with some general tips followed by more specific guidance to make sure your application materials get noticed. Finally, we will offer some advice on how accountants can use social networking tools to increase their visibility and grow their list of key contacts.

1) Emphasize Quantitative Data

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are the best type of data to include on your application materials because they represent the hardest proof of your past performance. For accountants, KPIs will vary depending on the type of work you have done. For example, if you worked in accounts payable then you may want to highlight your low error rate or average invoice value. On the other hand, if you worked as a freelancer for small businesses, then you can emphasize metrics that highlight your ability to identify significant tax savings or viable business deductions.

These numerical representations help the hiring manager see metrics that demonstrate that you have a history of providing valuable cost savings to your employer. It is the easiest way to help them envision you as an asset to the company. You can include KPIs in the various sections of your resume as well as your cover letter. Of course, your most impressive accomplishments should find their way to the top of your resume, such as in the summary statement.

2) Use Power Verbs and Mirror Key Terms

When describing your experiences on your resume and cover letter, it is important to pack each section with action verbs in the past tense (although your summary statement may be in present tense). For accountants, these may include verbs such as appraised, audited, budgeted, recommended, recorded, verified, prepared, complied, etc.

In addition, read the job advertisement carefully and try to mirror the language used where possible. It is often packed with the very kinds of keywords that hiring managers and applicant tracking systems are looking for among the strongest candidates. For example, be sure to include the specific accounting software you are familiar with, placing those listed in the job ad near the top of your skills list so they will get noticed.

3) Tailor Your Application Materials to Each Job

Take some time to carefully read the job description and imagine the day to day work in the position. Your resume and cover letter should ultimately convey a strong fit for the exact needs of the employer in each position you apply for. This means customizing your documents to highlight those skills, work experience, and past accomplishments that are most needed in that role.

In some cases, this may simply mean reorganizing some of the information on your resume and drafting a unique cover letter. In other cases, it may require an overhaul to represent yourself in a way that showcases your fit for the job. The more advanced the position you are applying for, the more likely it is that you will need to be selective about which skills to emphasize with top billing on your accounting resume.

Accountant Resumes

1) Resume Format for Accountants

The three most common resume formats include reverse chronological, functional, and hybrid styles. Choosing which format is right for you involves thinking through which will put your best foot forward given the job you are applying for and your most relevant qualifications.

For most experienced accountants, the choice is usually quite clear: The reverse chronological will put the emphasis on your extensive work history. On the other hand, those new to accounting or those with a significant gap in work history may want to choose a functional or hybrid format.

2) Resume Sections for Accountants

There is no single standard for accounting resumes. Choosing which sections to include will vary from person to person as well as the specific job you are applying for. However, your goal is, once again, to show the hiring manager that you are a strong fit for their needs in the position you are looking to fill. Here are the most common sections, followed by some tips for filling them out:

  • Name
  • Contact Information
  • Summary Statement
  • Skills
  • Work History
  • Education

i) Accounting Resume Summary Statement

Many professionals use a summary statement near the top of their resume to emphasize that they possess the most important qualifications and are a strong fit for the needs of the employer for the exact role they hope to fill. In a nutshell, this statement should communicate that the job you are applying for is the next logical step in your career and that you will hit the ground running in your new role.

In addition to emphasizing your key experience and skills, it is advisable to include at least one very strong accomplishment or achievement, quantified if possible, that will be a compelling argument to the hiring manager that you will be an asset to their team. For accountants, this generally means including your most impressive KPIs such as the size of the accounts you have managed, significant tax deductions you have identified, or efficiency indicators such as cutting expenses or streamlining reporting procedures.

ii) Skills

Including a skills section below your summary statement can be a way to emphasize your relevant skillset as well as making it through the first round of resume review, often performed by a computer. If you choose to include this section, consider grouping your skillset so it is easy to skim. Here is an example of what that might look like:

  • Technical Proficiencies: QuickBooks, Sage Business, Xero, Excel, Aero Workflow, MS Office Suite, Google Suite
  • Soft Skills: Time management, leadership, organization, written and verbal communication, problem solving, efficiency, detail oriented, multitasking

Make sure to mirror the language in the job ad itself when possible as these are likely to include the same terms used to program the search algorithms used to automatically scan the resume pool. Include only those skills likely to be relevant to the job you are applying for as this will contribute to the sense of “fit” that you are hoping to convey with your resume.

iii) Work History

Here is your opportunity to showcase your skills in action. While you may have held a long list of responsibilities in your previous roles, the objective of this section is to stick closely to those required and preferred qualifications to the job you are applying for. This is also an excellent opportunity to include quantifiable accomplishments to showcase your past performance.

3) Resume Design for Accountants

Overall, the design of your resume should communicate that you are professional, organized, and qualified. Design elements should be kept to those that add to the readability of your document, rather than adding unnecessary visual complexity. Keep colors to a maximum of two and make sure the overall layout emphasizes your most important qualifications.

The use of well designed infographics can benefit accountant resumes, particularly if you have a great deal of experience and are applying for an advanced position. However, key to making them work is to be sure they communicate data that the prospective employer is likely to value in a visually compelling way.

In addition, note that data included in graphics probably won’t be scanned by automated applicant tracking systems. So, if you use important vocabulary that demonstrates your skills in an infographic, you may want to be sure it also appears in the text of your resume as well so it gets picked up by the algorithms.

See accounting resume samples.

Accountant Cover Letters

1) Research the Company

Before you write your cover letter, take time to develop a sense for the company, business, nonprofit, or firm that you are applying to. Look over their website, read press releases, and search for news about them. Then, use what you have learned to open your cover letter in a way that demonstrates that you are particularly interested in working for the company, why that is, and how this makes you a strong fit for their needs.

For example, you may have worked in a similar sector, share a passion for the work they are doing and hope to contribute to their mission, or appreciate their dedication to supporting clients reaching for their financial dreams. The point is to show that you have a sense for the company you are applying for and to try to establish a connection with your cover letter.

2) Include Key Accomplishments

While you may cover the details of your skills, education, and work experience in your resume, the cover letter is your place to emphasize what will make you a top performer in your new role. One of the best ways to do this is to cover some accomplishments that show you have exceeded expectations in the past. Use these accomplishments to punctuate your overall narrative which should offer a compelling argument for why you are the strongest candidate for the job.

3) Leadership and Working with a Team

In addition to looking for candidates that have the right technical skills, employers value accountants that can work well in teams. Depending on the position level you are applying for, the cover letter is a place to emphasize that you have what it takes to excel as a leader or as an entry level team member.

This usually means emphasizing transferable skills such as the ability to work in diverse teams, attention to detail and accuracy, or experience leading other teams to achieve high levels of accuracy, efficiency, and compliance with state and federal tax laws.

4) Tell Your Career Story

While the resume is the place you will detail your relevant skills, the cover letter is your place to tell your career story. It is where you will “connect the dots” to help the hiring manager visualize you in the job. This is your opportunity to position the role you are applying for as the perfect fit for where you are ready to go next in your chosen vocation.

See accounting cover letter samples.

Networking Tips for Accountants

Whether you are a bookkeeper for a small company or a CPA looking to work at a Fortune 500 company, networking is a powerful tool. In addition to learning about current positions that will allow you to expand your job search, networking helps you to develop a collection of contacts that may one day be able to provide you with a valuable recommendation, referral, or even career mentorship.

1) LinkedIn for Accountants

There are many different social media platforms that can help you develop your professional network. However, because it is designed specifically for professionals, LinkedIn is the place to start if you are new to online professional network building. Here are a few tips to make the most of it:

2) Join Groups

One of the fastest ways to start connecting with people is to join relevant groups on LinkedIn. Deciding which groups will be most helpful requires thinking about your short and long term goals. For example, if you want to build your list of local clients to run your own accounting business, consider joining groups that link professionals in your area such as lawyers, financial advisors, real estate agents, and brokers. These other professionals are also in the business of generating quality leads and offer opportunities to build your local presence in the communities you serve.

Professional organizations in the accounting field are another great option to look into. These groups can help you build relationships with others in your field, offering you the chance to have your thumb on the pulse of trends in your industry as well as emerging job opportunities.

3) Engage

There are many ways to start building your network on LinkedIn, but the most important is to start simply engaging more through your feed, groups, and communication with other individuals on the site. Comment thoughtfully on other posts, share engaging articles, and follow up with people who message you on the site.

4) Stay Current

Be sure to continually update your profile with your most up to date information, as well as engaging regularly. Consider setting aside some time each week to pop on the site and polish your profile and/or participating in conversations in your groups, etc. It takes time to build an organic network of professional contacts, and the best way to do it is simply to get on the site and engage genuinely and regularly.

5) In-Person Networking Opportunities for Accountants

Although it isn’t a substitute for online networking these days, in-person networking can make critical contributions to your career and job search as an accountant. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce website to learn more about opportunities to meet with business leaders in your area at social and educational events. Consider joining social clubs, attending community events, or volunteering with a large nonprofit. All of these types of in-person events give you an opportunity to get to know people face to face, create a memorable first impression, and hand out your business card.

Of course, you will make the most of these one-on-one interactions if you follow up on your social media accounts to assure that you can refresh the connection simply by staying active on your social media and networking accounts.

6) Set Goals

If you are an accountant, then building your professional network is a must whether you are trying to build your own client base or if you plan to work in top-paying and highly competitive accounting jobs. Set aside time each week to work on building your network so that over time it will work for you and give you a competitive edge.

Even if you land that next dream job, don’t stop building your network. After all, it will come in handy when you are ready for your next career move, but only if you have stayed active at maintaining your online presence.

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