How to supercharge your CV

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Want to land that job interview? Make sure your CV is high-impact rather than just fine.

Recruiters and hiring managers go through hundreds of predictable CVs from candidates with similar experience and competencies, each of them claiming to be perfect for the job. Many of these CVs hit all the right points and seem ‘just fine’, yet they get no response. Why? Because ‘just fine’ is simply not enough.

Greg Thorpe, managing director of finance and accountancy recruitment agency Howett Thorpe, admits: “It’s a difficult balance for accountants to make their CVs stand out but still reflect the professional standards expected from their profession.”

Obviously, you want to stay clear of gimmicks and anything else that makes you stand out in a wacky sort of way. But even though the CV of a finance professional is supposed to be traditional in its content and format, you can still kick it up a notch or two to make it memorable and increase your chances of getting selected for an interview.

Colour me beautiful?

Creative professionals often use colour and graphics to show off their skills. But surely this is a no-no for an accountant’s CV?

Not necessarily, says Thorpe: “Headings in colour or areas of achievement highlighted in a coloured column can make key elements of the CV jump off the page and draw the recruiter’s eye to the candidate’s best-selling points. This kind of flair will certainly get your CV some air time.”

Collette Huckle, regional director at REED Accountancy, agrees the use of colour is acceptable. However, she adds: “Avoid using anything bright and bold and be mindful of how colour would appear if printed in black and white.”

Don’t be tempted to further personalise your CV with a fancy font, though.

Recruiters are said to take six seconds to decide whether or not to bin your resume, so avoid fonts that are irritating to the eye. “Use a standard font like Arial or Calibri,” says Huckle.

Substance over form

Jack Cole is director at financial recruiters Forbes Hunt. He says: “It’s hard to think differently when it comes to your CV, so try and leave your mark by presenting it in an easily readable manner. It should be easy to follow, concise and to the point, but detailed enough for the reader to get a good picture of your abilities.”

Think along the same lines as when writing a PowerPoint presentation. “Too much detail and people will stop reading. It should be an overview which can be further explored at interview, but with enough detail to entice the reader,” says Cole.

What’s most important, however, is the quality of the content.

Thorpe suggests that you kickstart your CV with a personal statement. “It should confidently tell the recruiter what you can do for them and what abilities you have to make this happen. This is also where you can make your personality shine through.”

Thereafter, you must outline the key areas for each position you have held: industry experience, tenure, level of responsibility, key achievements and systems used.

Recruiters are said to take six seconds to decide whether or not to bin your resume

Key achievements

The ‘key achievements’ sections is where you can really supercharge your CV. Cole says: “Focus on things you did that could set you apart from the next candidate: cutting costs, improving systems or processes, and anything else that added value. Employers will always go for someone who can improve their business and save them money, rather than someone who simply does their job well.”

Make sure you use plenty of verbs that describe the actions you took to add value, for example: improved, increased, reduced, developed, negotiated and resolved. “These ‘doing’ words show you are an active, determined employee – a dream for recruiters,” says Thorpe.

Technology is a hot topic for accountants, so specify your levels of proficiency when it comes to systems used. “And if you can show how you’ve enhanced systems, this will really strengthen your CV and highlight your value to potential employers,” says Huckle.

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Your soft skills are now perhaps more important than ever. Lorraine Twist, director at Michael Page, says: “Accountants are increasingly being placed in in roles where partnering with internal stakeholders is a key part of their job. So highlight your soft skills as much as you would showcase your technical abilities.”

Stand out with keywords

Employers choose candidates with analytical, commercial and communication skills, which are necessary for effective business partnering. Your relevant soft skills as well as “business partnering” are therefore among the keywords you should aim to include on your CV, says Twist.

These keywords will also ensure that your CV passes through the initial Applicant Tracking System scan, the technology that is being increasingly used by recruiters to find candidates who match their search criteria.

Huckle says: “Just make sure that the keywords you use (be it ‘payroll’, ‘credit control’ or ‘reconciliation’) are relevant to the job you are applying for and that the spelling is correct.”

Recruiters will also look for relevant keywords in terms of candidates’ qualifications and experience. Here, honesty is a must.

HireRight provide background screening checks for candidates in the financial services sector. Their EMEA managing director Steve Girdler says:

“Background screening verifies your education and professional background, and your work history. Employers want to know that you have the skills and experience that you claim you have.”

Worryingly, HireRight’s research shows that 73% of companies who use background screening find that candidates exaggerate their CVs or even misrepresent the experience and qualifications that they have.

Add a personal touch

Finally, your interests or hobbies can be just the thing to give your CV a boost, provided they are relevant in the context of the job you are applying for.

Thorpe says: “Some hobbies reflect well on you if they show you work well in a team, have leadership skills or a great eye for detail.”

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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