Five Tips for Writing an Effective Résumé

A well-crafted résumé can tip the job-search odds in your favor.

In today’s fiercely competitive job market, it’s harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. One way CFOs can do so is to make their résumés stand out. Just as corporate data must be corralled and organized, so a finance chief’s résumé should be shaped into a single, consistent story, experts say.

In part, that’s because the hiring process involves a large dose of typecasting. “Recruiters are paid a premium to find somebody who fits into the box they’re trying to fill,” says Howard Seidel, a career and executive coach at Essex Partners, a Boston-based career-management firm. Executives who resist simplifying their experience into a single story do so at their peril, Seidel says, ending up with résumés that can look “muddled.”

To create a clear, effective résumé, experts recommend the following five tips:

1. Replace the “objective” statement with a summary of your experience.
In this market, employers want executives to show what skills they can bring to a company, not what their personal goals are, say experts. Accordingly, Seidel recommends replacing your objective statement with an executive summary of your experience. The executive summary (or expertise section) will allow you to draw attention to your career as a whole, not just to your job-search goals or your most recent position.

The summary, which should include four or five skills, often looks best as a series of statements with bullet-point examples. For instance, you may be an expert at “analyzing and integrating acquisitions” or “helping companies install systems as they grow rapidly,” says Steve Ford, managing partner at OI Partners, a Nashville, Tennessee-based career-management consultancy. Be sure that the skills are specific to your experience, adds Cindy Kraft, a CFO career strategist and owner of CFO-Coach.com. If you take them from a template, your executive summary will look like a “keyword dump,” she says.

Supporting examples are crucial additions to these skill statements. The fact that you were promoted five times in 15 years, for example, will lend credibility to your claim to being a fast-learning, fast-track executive.

2. Don’t get bogged down in numbers.
We know you love numbers, but don’t let the metrics drown out your accomplishments. CFO résumés can sometimes be dense and difficult to read, experts say, and in some cases, the figures may work against you. “You have to be wary, because whatever numbers you use may be too big or too small for the company that you’re writing to,” says Ford. “If you say [you] saved $30 million and you’re writing to a company that only does $50 million in business, they’re going to say, well, jeez, he only does big companies.” Instead, Ford suggests using percentages: say you saved 20% of a budget rather than several million dollars, for instance. Even then, use figures sparingly so they stand out.

3. Downplay finance jargon.
You may be most comfortable speaking in terms of, say, ROIC, DSO, and accounts payable, but it is important to consider your audience, Ford says. CEOs reading your résumé may understand finance jargon, but they would probably rather hear how your skills will help them do their job. For example, consider changing phrases like reduced working capital to simply,  increased cash on hand, he says. “Get to the business result — the part that affects the bottom or top line.”

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