Five Tips for Writing an Effective Résumé

A well-crafted résumé can tip the job-search odds in your favor.
Marielle SegarraJune 14, 2011

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:

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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 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.”

4. Hedge against age discrimination.
It’s a sad but true fact of the hiring process: your age can work against you. Legally, employers cannot ask you how old you are, but they can glean the information from your résumé. That’s why some coaches say that if you are worried about age discrimination, you should be careful about what dates you include.

Some executives exclude the year they graduated; others avoid broadcasting their 25 years of experience. But leaving out early positions entirely can be a little tricky, particularly if they relate to the job at hand. If you have a CPA, for instance, the person reading your résumé will want to know that you worked at a public accounting firm early on and will expect to see that (and may still be able to infer your vintage by the name of the firm, considering the consolidation to the Big Four in the past decade).

One solution: list early positions under a category called “Prior Positions Held” and leave out detailed descriptions and dates. The format will make the transition more natural. Then your résumé can “get you in the door” so “you might have a chance to sell yourself beyond that,” says Ford.

5. Stay true to your brand.
Everything on your résumé should fit with your personal brand, which you also communicate through your online profiles, verbal interactions, cover letter, and interviews, Kraft says. One of her clients is “very much the quiet, confident type of leader,” she says, and she advised him that trying to be vocal and self-promotional would be damaging to his brand. He chose to stick with his style.

To stay consistent, look for jobs that fit your qualifications, instead of fudging your skills to fit a position. “When many people write résumés, they make modifications and changes and try to be all things to all people. That is a very flawed strategy,” says Kraft. “It is really much smarter and more effective to figure out who needs what you have, and play in that space.”