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5 key things CPAs should do when updating their CV

AI and machine learning have changed the job application process, but traditional resume methods are still important

Women meeting in business office Be wary of resume templates that may be filled with code that can confuse AI (Getty Images/MoMo Productions)

Online job applications have changed not only the way CPAs apply for a role, but also how their resume is reviewed. According to a LinkedIn survey, 67 per cent of hiring managers cited the use of artificial intelligence (AI) as part of their initial screening process to quickly sift through a large pool of applicants.

Want to ensure your resume sails past the AI filters and lands you an interview? Heed these tips from the experts.

MAKE IT LOOK GOOD

“In this [online] world, your resume still needs to be visually appealing,” says Michael French, regional vice-president at Robert Half Canada, but keep in mind that overly creative layouts and fonts can sometimes confuse AI. 

French suggests setting up your information in clean columns with wide margins, since white space can help both computer systems and human eyes easily review the information. And, while a computer program will often perform the initial resume intake, a person will eventually be involved in the process, so design a document that will appeal to both.   

He recommends creating a traditional Microsoft Word document—as opposed to a PDF or other alternative—since people can easily resize and print it, which will also work for both types of readers.

Pre-programmed resume templates should also be avoided, French says, since they are loaded with coding. While the templated designs may be visually pleasing, he says a person could decipher the information, while a computer program may struggle.

“My fear is the AI might get confused and kick it out,” says French. This is due to how the technology is programmed—whether it’s to review the information in reverse chronological order or to highlight information differently.

BE SPECIFIC

Understanding the job you’re applying for has always been important but, according to CPA Angela Tao, senior manager of candidate experience at KPMG, this is especially true now that technology plays a large role in applicant reviews.

“Make sure you are communicating your fit to the role and emphasizing those key traits,” she says. “Accomplishments are the wow factor about the candidate. That’s what is going to make you stand out.”

Tao also recommends the should-be common practice of researching both the organization and specific job to better understand the needs and goals of what you are applying to, but also going one step further:

“I always encourage our candidates to go [to] networking events and talk to recruiters,” she says. “This way, you can learn more about the job. And that will really aid you to ensure that your application will be hitting the mark.”

PAY ATTENTION TO THE CONTENT

Including proper keywords—such as phrases that are specific to the job role, skills, competencies, etc.—from the job description isn’t enough, French says. Focusing on how they are included will set yourself apart from the applicant pool. 

“Focus on achievements and accomplishments from your previous roles,” he says. “Weaving in many of the key words from the job posting or relevant terms in that type of job.” The more specific you can be, the more opportunity there is to highlight your experience against other candidates, he says.

For accountants especially, French says, focusing on responsibilities and soft skills is important and should be supported by real-life examples. “Sometimes people from HR don’t look at the black and white. They look at the full-colour spectrum, like [if] the person's got a great personality, great leadership skills,” he says. French recommends CPAs achieve these criteria by showcasing experiences, such as a manager program that a candidate started, an important leadership role or mentor relationship.

Tao agrees, adding that key words are more powerful when paired with experience. “As much as you want those key words, ensure that you are sharing the context behind them.”

KEEP IT CONCISE

Keep your resume brief—no more than two to three pages—to the point and use proper terms, French says. For example, “Revenue Canada should be the CRA,” he says. “Make sure you’re using the right current common terms.”

Another important tip is to keep the language simple. “You don’t want to use rare or obtuse words,” says French. “Use common professional language.” This is especially true when submitting work to AI programs, which usually scan resumes to compile a summary paragraph for hiring managers to review, he says. If the language cannot be understood by the program, no matter how strong of a candidate you are, your resume will be omitted.

It seems obvious, but you should also double check that your email address, LinkedIn hyperlink and contact details are correct.   

FOCUS ON QUALITY

The use of technology in the vetting process has altered the job application process, but the big picture hasn’t changed.

“At the end of the day, there is still a human that’s reading your application before you get to the next stage,” says Tao. And this person, she says, still wants to understand the traditional priorities, such as ensuring the candidate’s skillset and experience are a good match.   

“If you’re producing a high-quality resume, using the standard practices [from] the last 20, 30 years, the AI should not have a problem,” says French. 

DISCOVER NEW SKILLS FOR CPAs 

Upgrade your career with these resources, keep up with the profession with Foresight: The CPA Podcast and invest in these soft skills to get ahead. Learn the right questions to ask when hiring virtually and onboarding a new team member virtually. And, if you’re new to Canada, use these job application tips to get ahead of the competition.

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