Okay, convince someone you’re a valuable person to have on their team. In 20 seconds or less. And you can’t talk, or gesture, or even smile. It’s just you on a page, tucked into a stack of very similar pages. Go.
Your resume has a big job to do. He’s kind of like your skinny rectangular representative, sent to proclaim your greatness to all potential employers – ideally, in such a way that they’ll let you in the door to make the case yourself. Take some tips from industry experts on how to give the little guy a fighting chance.
Yes, print your resume on good paper. It’s not the most important thing, and even the fanciest card stock isn’t going to land you that CFO position right out of school, but it’s a good place to start. It has to look substantial when you hand it over the desk at an interview or during a career fair. Go with white, off-white, pale gray, something like that (fluorescent yellow will indeed make you stand out, but only as a dork) and use a simple font that is at least 10-pt in size – they squint, you lose. (Also, your resume may end up being scanned electronically for the company’s records, and you want to make sure their computer can read it. That means bold is okay, but no italics or underlining.)
Tell a story
Anyone can list off a bunch of bullet points about previous experience. Take a moment, right at the top, to tell this employer in a single paragraph why you’re different. Even if you’re just starting out in your career (in the accounting field people tend to start from similar places), you probably have some specific strengths that come from your personality and interests. Are you great at saving lost causes? Working under pressure? Do you never overlook a detail? Does everyone rally around you, no matter what? If so, say so, and reinforce that theme as you progress into describing your past successes.
Don’t leave anything out
You’ve got to have your name and contact information (including email) in there. Of course. (Don’t forget your LinkedIn URL if you have one.) You also want that story mentioned above – you can label it “Objective” – along with your education (you’re in great shape if that includes a Master’s degree with a bachelor’s in accounting or finances, says Nina Guthrie, director of recruiting at Grant Thornton), plus your honors, skills, experience and academic research. Write in strong, descriptive, action-oriented phrases like “supervised,” “coordinated” and “launched.” It’s up to you whether to include stuff like volunteering and travel, but if it fits into the big picture story from above, go for it.
Leave something out
That’s right. Don’t omit something huge or crucial, but it’s a little-known fact that interviewers like to ask you to talk about something that wasn’t on your resume; after all, there had to be some reason to bring you into the office, right? National recruiter Scott McQuillan confirms it. “I have gotten some really very interesting answers about extracurricular activities,” he says. If someone has, say, run a marathon, or did a fundraiser for the race, “It shows their persistence, their level of creativity.” Plus it reveals how well you think on your feet.
Borrow some eyes
The first person to decide if your resume is a good one or not shouldn’t be your potential employer. Make an appointment to run it by someone from your school’s career services department for an expert critique. If you disagree with their advice, ask another expert opinion before you decide to go all renegade with this. After all, it’s good to march to your own drummer, but not if you’re just banging on a trashcan lid.
Don’t get ahead of yourself
Remember that this thing isn’t going to get you the job. It’s just to get them to call you for an interview – your real time to shine. Stay focused on that and don’t try to get into elaborate descriptions that would be better discussed in person. You may also want to mention that next goal – the interview – in your cover letter (see sidebar).
Now that you know the dos and don’ts of resume writing, check out some real-life examples.