John Richardson, the head of Alexander Lloyd's Accountancy & Finance division considers what makes an effective CV in the Accountancy market.
A CV is a document that has one purpose and one purpose only – to sell you, the job seeker. This is your sales tool designed to demonstrate to potential employers that you are the ideal Accountant for the job; it is your professional accountancy identity on paper. Considering how important it is to get it right, the wide and not always wonderful selection of CV’s that reach the desks of Alexander Lloyd's specialist Accountancy division on a daily basis, is astonishing.
A CV should have a simple layout that incorporates small variations. The core, is a clear and concise structure that includes personal details, personal profile, qualifications, professional experience and achievements, and general skills.
Keep this simple. All you require is your name, address and contact details. Ensure that these details are up to date and checked regularly. If you have a LinkedIn profile, add your profile address to this section. It is not advisable to include any equal opportunities information such as your date of birth, marital status or nationality.
This is your first chance to make a good impression on a potential employer, to make yourself stand out from the competitive accountancy crowd and really grab their attention. Include succinct details about your key accounting skills, experience, achievements and strengths. For example:
“A highly skilled ACA qualified Finance Business Partner with five years experience in a blue chip engineering company. Well developed inter-personal and project management skills have contributed to success acting as both data analysis and financial modelling expert to several project teams, whilst maintaining responsibility of day to day financial management for an £85m programme.”
As a highly qualified professional, employers will want to see evidence of your Accounting qualification so list your qualification/s and date/s. If you are qualified with first time passes, employers will want to know.
Employers will also want to know whether you are degree educated and if so, the degree title, class and which you university you attended, along with the dates of your attendance.
A-level qualifications are required only if you are early on in your career, however GCSE’s or equivalent secondary qualifications are not necessary. What are essential however, are relevant postgraduate accounting or professional qualifications such as Six Sigma, Prince2 or Chartered Tax, as these additional skills will add weight to your application.
Professional Accountancy Experience & Achievements
Working backwards, from your most recent job, use a bullet point format to lay out your experience. Each job role must be listed as: job title, company name and the dates (including month and year) between which you worked for the company. It' s also a good idea to add in a synopsis of the company particularly if it is an SME, including turnover details. If you worked for a large blue chip or household, then highlight their successes.
If you have worked for one company for a number of years and progressed in a number of roles during this time, then it is essential that you detail the company and your entire length of service at the outset. Then, list each separate role and it’s responsibilities, including the duration of time spent in each role in brackets next to the job title. Do not include the company name each time, as at first glance this may appear that you have moved jobs too frequently when what you have actually done is demonstrated good progression.
For each. job keep the format simple. I would recommend listing your responsibilities under one heading and achievements under another. When summarising your responsibilities, do not use first person narrative:
- “I produced the consolidated the management accounts each month.”
- “I provided commentary and key variance analysis of the management accounts.”
This can lead to the description becoming rather verbose and it could ends up as a list of “I did this, I did that”. Instead, use the third person narrative as below :
- “Production of the consolidated management accounts, with commentary and key variance analysis on a monthly basis.”
It may be beneficial to look at your role from the perspective of a job specification and approach the description in this manner, not scrimping on the use of accounting terminology and “buzz words”.
The further you progress in your accounting career and the more senior the job roles you occupy, the more important achievements become. Employers want to see where you have made an impact in a business, cut costs, implemented or improved processes and generally exceeded expectations. However, a word of caution when considering your achievements; ensure they are relevant to the role that you are applying for and can be substantiated.
These are important for a prospective employer; they will want to know what relevant accounting packages you are familiar with and your level of competency. If you are a super user of any of the packages, then make sure you detail this on your CV.
Of the Window’s packages, Excel is without doubt the most important so if you are competent in macros or pivot tables for example, list these skills. If you have Access, Visual Basic or SQL skills, then make sure you add these in too.
Hobbies & General Skills
The inclusion of a hobbies and interests section can be a rather contentious topic. Many recruitment consultancies will recommend that they be excluded, along with equal opportunities information. Including them can risk alienating a potential employer and may cast a bad light on your application. Areas deemed as low risk, are activities that are team orientated or altruistic; such as charity work (as long as the information is accurate), but if in doubt either speak with your recruitment consultant or leave them out.
Inclusion of general skills, in particular fluent language skills is highly recommended, as this is another very powerful string to your bow especially in the Accountancy market.
How Long Is Too Long?
Many people will argue that a CV shouldn’t be more than two pages long but for those with many years' experience, how do you fit it all in? Firstly, don’t be overly concerned with extending the length to three or even four pages if necessary. I strongly advise against falling into the trap of putting detail against your most recent role and simply listing dates and job titles for the rest. As a minimum, ensure you have detailed information against your previous three to five roles, dependant on your circumstances.
To avoid repetition, if you have had a number of jobs with similar responsibilities I recommend you list fewer but different areas of responsibility for each job role but don’t forget; employers are not interested in your weekend job for Marks and Spencer when you were in your teens, only Accountancy based job roles that demonstrate up to fifteen years of experience.
In the Accountancy job market, a one-size fits all approach is not appropriate, especially for more senior jobs. This doesn’t however, mean that you have to rewrite your CV for every new application nor does it mean that the information provided is less accurate. Rather, it necessitates that your CV is designed to focus on specific accounting skill sets that are relevant to the job role for which you are applying.
Have two or three CV’s that are tailored specifically for the areas that you wish to pursue, highlighting the relevant skills. A good consultant will keep these on file and use the appropriate one for the job role that they are submitting you for.
The key things to keep in mind are firstly relevance; place yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager – what would you want to see from an applicant? Secondly, if you feel that additional help is required, a good recruitment consultant will give you an opinion and tips for improvement.
Lastly, proof, proof, proof! Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors can have a hugely negative impact, so ask someone to cast a fresh pair of eyes over the finished product to see if they can pick out any errors. This is your professional accounting identity and it should sell your skills and experience to the fullest.