AICPA Job Board

Job Seeker Strategies 

Brought to you by Robert Half 

Creating Winning Cover Letters

If you want to make a strong impression with a prospective employer, start with the cover letter. While it often seems like an afterthought, you should spend as much time perfecting your cover letter as your resume. Why? This introductory note is typically the first thing hiring managers see, and it is the primary enticement for them to read your resume.

Following are tips that can help you convey the best message:

  • While you’ve likely heard this before, don’t forget to tailor your cover letter to the specific job opening and company. Research the firm by reading industry publications and speaking with members of your professional network. Then, demonstrate your knowledge of the business and interest in helping it succeed by incorporating this information into your cover letter.
  • If the job advertisement called for an individual with “enthusiasm” who possesses “at least five years of public accounting experience” and “has worked with international clients,” use some of the same language in your cover letter. Just be sure the details you include are accurate.
  • Don’t use your cover letter as a venue for rehashing your resume. Instead, focus on key aspects of your employment background that relate directly to the job opportunity and expand upon them. If you’re applying for a position requiring public speaking, for instance, mention in your cover letter that you recently spoke on a panel at a national accounting conference.
  • Address your cover letter to the person who is hiring for the position. Writing “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam” will not set you apart from the crowd. By making a quick phone call to the company, you should be able to get the hiring manager’s name and title. And, of course, once you have this information, make sure you spell both correctly.
  • Have a trusted friend carefully proofread your cover letter before sending it. Just one typo could cause your application to end up in the “no” pile.


Creating a Stellar Resume

A good resume can be hard to find – just ask any hiring manager thumbing through stacks of them. To stand apart from the crowd, accountants must submit a document that makes an immediate impression. A well-crafted resume is your most effective tool for landing an interview and, ultimately, a new job.

Following are key “do’s” and “don’ts” of resume writing.


  • Do use action verbs as much as possible. For instance, instead of writing a passive sentence such as, “My company has provided me with five years of experience,” write using an active voice: “Possess five years’ experience as a cost accountant with a large manufacturing firm.” Also avoid vague terms such as “familiar with” or “experience with” – these phrases set off alarm bells for hiring managers and don’t’ show your actual depth of knowledge.
  • Do use bulleted sentences that are short and to the point. Avoid lofty and redundant language. The goal is to communicate your abilities clearly and concisely and make your resume easy to read.
  • Do format your resume chronologically. Executives frequently prefer work histories listed in reverse chronological order rather than grouped by skills or job function. There are times when it’s necessary to arrange your resume by skills or job function – both are good options for those who have large gaps in their work history or are trying to break into a new career area – but in general it’s best to use the traditional approach.
  • Do tailor your resume for each opportunity. Highlight key achievements, attributes and credentials that relate specifically to the position. Often this may be as simple as reordering bullet points to emphasize certain skills and expertise.
  • Do include terms from the job description in your resume. If you’re applying for a position where the advertisement for the job asks for candidates with “compliance expertise” and “experience working with small businesses,” integrate those phrases into your resume (as long as they’re true, of course!). Many companies electronically screen resumes for keywords, and you can boost your chances of landing an interview by adopting applicable phrases.


  • Don’t include a long, unrelated laundry list of job duties. Only note the skills relevant to the opening.
  • Don’t include irrelevant facts about your personal life. The fact that you enjoy cycling on the weekends isn’t relevant unless you’re applying to a bicycle manufacturing company. Only pertinent information – such as membership in a professional association – should be listed.
  • Don’t include an unprofessional email address. Set up a new email box, if necessary, that uses your name in the address. Along the same lines, only include a link to your personal website if it contains a record of your professional achievements, resume and other career-related information.
  • Don’t overlook the little things. Typos, misspellings and grammatical mistakes send the message to potential employers that you lack attention to detail. Run a spell-check, of course, but also ask a confidant to review your resume to ensure it is accurate and error-free.
  • Don’t list references or write “references available on request.” Hiring managers assume you will provide this information when asked. However, do give each of your references a copy of your resume so they can more adeptly highlight your achievements when contacted.


Acing the Interview

A Robert Half survey of CFOs found that job seekers make more mistakes during the interview than in any other phase of the job-search process. This news may make you even more apprehensive over the prospect of meeting with a potential employer, but it doesn’t have to. In fact, by preparing thoroughly for the discussion and understanding common pitfalls to avoid, professionals can turn this challenging situation into an opportunity.

Simply put, the interview is your time to shine. Receiving an invitation to personally discuss a job opportunity means the organization was impressed by your resume and intrigued enough to bring you in for further insight into your abilities and experience. Clearly expressing your thoughts and showcasing your talents during the meeting with a hiring manager demonstrates, among other attributes, your strong communication skills.

The following advice can help you make a positive impression:

  • Research the employer. One of the biggest mistakes job applicants make is not knowing enough about the organization. Even before you submit your resume, review articles in trade publications, business journals and local newspapers to learn as much as you can about the firm. Also speak with contacts in your professional network, who can share their insights and experiences.
  • Understand the value you bring. Fundamentally, a hiring manager wants to know why you’re the right person for the opportunity. Develop a plan before the interview that will help you answer this question and distinguish yourself as a top candidate. Study the job description again and determine how your unique skill set will enable you to succeed in the role.
  • Prepare for common questions. While you never know exactly what you will be asked during an interview, chances are you will be presented with a few common questions, such as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “What are your most significant accomplishments in previous positions?” As much as possible, provide specific examples of how you helped former employers and tie your responses to the needs of the opening. For example, in response to the first question, you might say, “I’m a strong communicator, but I would like to improve my public speaking skills. I’ve taken classes in this area and recently delivered my first presentation.”
  • Demonstrate your confidence. Sometimes, how you say something leaves a bigger impression than what you say. That’s why it’s imperative to demonstrate confidence through your body language. Greet the hiring manager with a strong handshake, and maintain eye contact throughout the discussion. Avoid gestures that make you appear nervous, such as excessive hand motions or constantly tapping your fingers or feet.
  • Take your turn to ask questions. The interview is also your chance to determine if the opportunity is right for you. Decide in advance the aspects of the role and the business about which you’d like to learn more so you can ask the hiring manager related questions. Examples may include: “What are the organization’s long-term growth objectives?” “How does this position fit into the firm’s overall strategy?” “What constitutes superior performance?” “What will be expected of me in the first few months?”


Common Interview Pitfalls

To make a positive impression during an employment interview, you must do a number of things: dress professionally and arrive on time, for example. But demonstrating to the hiring manager your ability to perform well in the role also requires you to avoid certain actions, including:

  • Not knowing enough about the company or position – Failing to conduct thorough research about the opening suggests to the employer you aren’t serious about the opportunity.
  • Displaying a bad attitude – A know-it-all mindset, disrespect toward the interviewer and inattentiveness during the meeting are just a few ways to remove yourself from contention.
  • Bad-mouthing your previous manager – Even if you worked for the world’s worst supervisor, an interview is not the time to list his or her problems. The interviewer may suspect you are the problem. Instead, take the high road: If you are asked about your working relationship with a previous boss, you might mention how the two of you had different work styles but still managed to upgrade the company’s ERP system ahead of schedule.
  • Failing to send a thank-you note – Always send a thank-you note promptly to each person who met with you. This simple courtesy can go a long way: A majority of executives in a Robert Half survey said they consider a post-interview thank-you helpful when evaluating prospective employees. Briefly restate the skills, expertise and enthusiasm you bring to the position, and address any areas of the discussion in which you feel you could have expressed yourself better. Whether in writing or via email, this gesture will ensure the effort you took to distinguish yourself during the interview will make a lasting impression.


Industry Resources

The 2017 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance
The 2017 Salary Guide provides average starting salary data for more than 400 accounting, finance and financial services positions, as well as an overview of hiring and management trends.
Special Report: The Demand for Skilled Talent
The Demand for Skilled Talent gathers a variety of research to explain current hiring trends.
2016 Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function
2016 Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function
Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function, created in collaboration with Financial Executives Research Foundation (FERF), examines the results of an annual survey of organizations’ staffing, compliance, internal controls and other finance-function practices. The report allows organizations to see how their staffing levels and finance processes compare with peer companies and includes responses from senior financial executives in the United States and Canada.
Get Ready for Generation Z
Conducted by Robert Half in collaboration with Enactus, a nonprofit organization of college students, academia and business leaders focused on entrepreneurialism, Get Ready for Generation Z features research and advice to help organizations attract and retain this new generation of employees.
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