Dear Sam: I am a 26-year-old recent graduate who is in dire need of job search help. I received my bachelor’s degree in accounting and have been searching for a new job since last May! Every position seems to require two-plus years of experience in the field. My experience is quite limited. I have worked for a grocery chain for 10 years, mainly as an assistant to the manager of front-end operations. I worked as the payroll administrator for two years, but had to give up the position due to my school schedule. Outside of that, I don’t feel I have much to differentiate myself from other candidates. My GPA isn’t great and I was not able to engage in an internship, mainly due to the fact that I have been on my own for some time now and have needed the steady income of my current job to pay bills.
On the two interviews I have been on since graduation, the interviewers told me I should focus on getting my foot in the door by accepting a bookkeeping position, one of the most basic positions in the accounting field. As I continue my search, I can’t find a position I am qualified for. Please give me any advice that you think would help my situation. – Andrew
Dear Andrew: I am so sorry to hear of your struggles as a new graduate, and I am so glad you sent me your resume so I can provide you with some valuable feedback.
First, I want to tell you that you DO have great experience and certainly enough to get your foot in the door for something more than a pure entry-level role. With two years of payroll administration experience, eight years of team leadership exposure, and a four-year degree in the field, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be edging out your more junior competitors. Let’s take a look at what you can do differently to make your resume more effective.
Nix the objective statement — You must “sell” your candidacy up front, utilizing the most important real estate on your resume to tell the reader why you are qualified for the job. Do not try to sell yourself solely on soft skills—analytical nature, detail orientation, and organizational abilities—as these are characteristics claimed by 99%+ of your competitors. I would even go so far as to say these are expected attributes for someone applying for an accounting role. Instead, open your resume with a qualifications summary which promotes your two years of payroll administration experience, including your analysis and reporting highlights. Pull out key transferable skills from your time as a front-end coordinator such as your budgeting skills, leadership of 25 team members, and daily reporting activities. When highlighted up front, these experiences will give you an edge over your competition.
Add value to your experience section — You are not presenting enough content in your professional experience section. Provide the reader with a summary of your jobs in a brief paragraph format followed by key highlights presented in bullet points. When presenting 10 years of professional experience, I would expect “full” sections that convey, just by appearance, some value. Reformat what you have, expound on the challenges and actions you faced, and showcase the results of your efforts.
Format to engage — Take some time to revitalize your dated resume format. Take a look at websites like mine to glean ideas on up-to-date formatting techniques that compel readership and help overcome the appearance of limited experience and other potential disqualifiers. With a combination of keyword relevance and a strong aesthetic, you can appeal to both human and the applicant tracking system (ATS) screeners.
Andrew, I am certain when you revamp your resume into a tool more reflective of a modern resume, you will be taken seriously as an accounting candidate and will get your foot in the door for opportunities of choice.