The surprisingly obvious mistakes that finance professionals make on their CVs

Rob Jones, FMAAT, has many roles, including Interim CFO for several start-ups.

He also runs his own recruitment agency, RJF Recruitment, which specialises in placing people in accountancy and finance roles – from junior level all the way to Finance Director and CFO.

Rob has seen all sorts of CVs from accountants and finance professionals since he started the company. He took us through the common mistakes he sees on CVs, and offers advice on how to make your CV rise to the top of the stack.

Surviving the HR ’30-second scan’

For candidates, the biggest barrier to that brilliant job is the HR team: “They are all about putting a tick in the box, and if the CV doesn’t fit, they won’t meet the candidates.”

Jones is happy to point out why the HR department is such a challenge: “To be frank, most people’s CVs are awful. Even some of the big CFOs have terrible CVs. The HR department at the average company will give a CV a 30-second scan, and if it doesn’t have the phrases they are looking for, they put it in the ‘no’ pile.”

You cannot really blame candidates for not having it right, however: “Nobody teaches you how to write a brilliant CV. You don’t leave school knowing what a good CV looks like.”

Adapt your CVs to the specific job

One of the biggest mistakes accounting and finance candidates make is to send a generic CV out to the roles they apply for. A generic CV will get lost in the pile, Jones explains.

“I had a CV come in for a guy going for a CFO role in a fashion business. I knew his background, so I brought him in, but normally, if I had just looked at his CV, I would have thought he wasn’t suitable. I got talking to him, and he was telling me all these things that he’d done which were spot on for this job, and none of them were on his CV.

“People think they’ve got a CV and once it’s done, they just send it to every job they’re interested in. But you have to tailor every CV to the job description of the role you’re interested in. It’s a bit more effort on your part, but it will make your stand out. When you see a job advert, read the description and relevant experience carefully, then adapt your CV to demonstrate how your skills and experience match that job description.”

Include a summary

The second biggest mistake that people make on their CV is to launch straight into their work experience. This is not a very compelling way to start a CV and it makes it harder to find the relevant skills and achievements.

“The CVs that really stand out have a summary at the beginning that explains what the candidate can do and what they’ve achieved. It’s about demonstrating how your experience is relevant to the job, which comes back to the point about tailoring a CV to a specific job. Those first few lines of the CV are really key, and having a couple of paragraphs that highlights the experience that is relevant for the job, will make a huge difference.”

Use bullet points

A good CV needs to make the relevant key skills and experience as clear as possible, so that they can be picked out at a glance. So many CVs fail this test, says Jones. The layout of the CV is crucial for this – using bullet points to pull out key skills and achievements at the top of the CV (just after your summary) will make it easier to spot in a quick scan of the page.

Think about transferable skills

An HR department won’t be able to identify which skills on your CV are transferable to the role they are offering. More often than not, they will look for people with sector specific experience, rather than look at what skills and experience might work within the role.

“I often speak to the HR department about transferable skills. I usually have to explain to them why certain skills or experience can work for the role. For example, I recently worked with an engineering company who was fixed on having an engineering background. The person who ultimately got the job actually had a background in financial services, because he was able to demonstrate how his experience could work for the role.”

This is something to think about when approaching your summary, cover letter and key skills. Make explicit connections between your experience and achievements and the key skills outlined in the job description. You can do this easily by using phrases from the job description within your skills list and summary.

The work is out there

“There are a lot of jobs and not a lot of candidates, so there is a challenge in trying to fill the jobs at the moment,” says Jones. “The view from a lot of companies is that there isn’t the talent out there to fill, which isn’t true. It’s just not being communicated well enough, but I spend a lot of time speaking to candidates and recruiters to help match the right people to the jobs.”

Rob Jones is profiled in the November/December issue of Accounting Technician. Download the app now, free to all members. 

Mark Rowland is the Editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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