The top 5 ways to improve your résumé

A recruiter weighs in on how to make your résumé stand out.
By Courtney Vien

Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, is a Maryland-based recruiter who started her business in 2005 specializing in matching CPAs with the right employers. The JofA asked her how CPAs can write better résumés and what pitfalls they should avoid.

JofA: What's something all CPAs should know about résumés?

Berk: Keep an updated résumé on file. At least once a year or so, take a look at it to make sure it reflects any new promotions, accomplishments, or projects you've been engaged in, or additional skills you've acquired. If your company merged or was acquired, you should update your résumé to reflect its new name as well as reference the previous name.

Disclose accurate job titles held. Many times I see a résumé where somebody will just mention one higher-level title when they've been with a company for 10 or 15 years. It's a little misleading if they put the one title down for the whole time that they've been there. Either note each title you held and the respective dates and duties, or state something along the lines of "promoted during tenure" after your current title.

Account for your time. Another thing that I personally think is misleading is to not account for all your time on the résumé, including gaps, sabbaticals, and relocations, as well as jobs held in general. There are ways to summarize your prior experience, such as picking a point in time ("2005 and prior") and then summarizing what you did, e.g., "I worked for CPA firms in the metro D.C. area preparing a variety of tax returns."

JofA: What are the top five things that can be improved on most résumés?

Berk: Number one is formatting. Most résumés do not tend to be consistent in terms of the font sizes or the bullets lining up. Or the font size or style is hard to read. Remember that, basically, if you're sending a résumé in, this is the first impression you're giving of yourself. If your résumé looks a little sloppy, and you're being hired for a job that requires communication skills, what would employers think your work product and correspondence to clients would look like?

Number two is information about employers. Many times, company names do not clearly indicate what a company does, so someone may not be able to tell whether it's an accounting firm or an engineering firm or a law firm. I would suggest including one line or two to indicate what type of entity the employer is (e.g., for profit, nonprofit, publicly traded), who they sell to (e.g., commercial clients and/or government agencies), the industry if it's not obvious (e.g., public accounting, hospitality, or real estate), as well as the number of locations in the United States or globally and number of employees. And if you're able to do so, disclose either the revenue or the budget size as well. This line could appear either in between where you list the company name and location and your titles and dates, or after your titles and dates.

Number three is accomplishments. CPAs tend to be very humble and very factual and detail-oriented. They don't necessarily toot their own horn about their accomplishments or include metrics. So it's very hard to tell what somebody accomplished in a job. It is OK to indicate in each job description on your résumé a separate subtitle saying, "Accomplishments include:" and list a few that you've achieved.

If you feel like you've achieved quite a bit and you really want to showcase your accomplishments, it's OK to create and attach a separate addendum. However, use the same format as your résumé.

Number four: Credentials, including education, licenses, certifications, memberships, and volunteering. It's OK to break those out separately.

Anything that might come out in a background check that doesn't match your résumé could potentially work against you. So I'm a firm believer in indicating those schools that you attended, the type of degree and the major, and the city and state or country they were in. And if you only attended some courses at a specific school, state that as well.

Also, only include memberships that are current, or indicate the years that you were a member of a professional organization. If any of your certifications or licenses are no longer active, it's OK to indicate that they were awarded and when. However, indicate whether they're active or not.

Any volunteer activities in lieu of working are OK to list between the different jobs that you worked. However, make sure the fact these activities were not paid is clearly stated. But if the activities didn't involve the skill sets that you're trying to display, or are not relevant to the role you are seeking, put them either in their own section or in the "Other" section.

Number five is software applications and technology skills. If you do have a separate section for these, don't put any software skills or other technology-related skills down unless you can hit the ground running with them if you're hired for them. Only list those skills that you've used in the past three to five years, and include the versions of software you know as well. However, if you simply want to show that you have used a variety of applications, name them when you describe your respective jobs.

Courtney Vien ( is a JofA senior editor.

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