If you’re an accountant or finance professional looking for a job, you may wonder if there’s anything you can do to stand out from other job seekers. The quickest way to do this is by creating an excellent cover letter and resume tailored to what accounting and finance companies love to see. Before we jump into some industry-specific tips, here is a brief introductory overview of cover letters:
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document often sent with a job application. It provides information about your skills that apply to the position you are applying for, your qualifications, and why you hope to work for the company. A well-written cover letter can help set you apart from other applicants in competitive industries such as finance and accounting.
Why is providing a cover letter necessary?
Including a cover letter with your application will vary from company to company; however, it is an important aspect that helps distinguish you from other candidates. 83% of recruiters agree that a well-written cover letter allows employers to understand the benefits you will add to the company. Here are a few reasons why a cover letter is encouraged:
- It describes who you are. It also provides insight into why you are seeking a new position, your reason for leaving a prior role, and the type of experience you hope to obtain. Cover letters allow you to share your story before an initial interview.
- It builds an initial relationship with the employer. Building relationships is integral in securing a position that aligns with your professional goals. Using a cover letter to express your personality and qualifications may help build rapport with a future employer and display how you may be a good fit for the company’s culture. For this reason, your cover letter should include professional and personal accomplishments.
- It can describe a referral. Networking is essential, especially in the business world. You may find yourself in a position where you have leveraged your network and are now presented with a job opportunity. A cover letter can explain how you were referred to the position and build credibility with prospective employers.
- It explains your motivation for joining the company. According to HR pros, 63% of respondents shared that a cover letter helps explain their motivation for joining the company. Use this opportunity to describe why you desire to join the company and how you align with the organization's values, mission, and culture.
- It describes employment gaps. According to HR pros, 49% of respondents shared that a cover letter is an ideal platform to express employment gaps instead of simply placing dates on a resume. This area should be described in two lines or less and simply state the reason for the gap.
Cover letter tips to consider
- Thoroughly review the job description. It lists qualifications that the employer desires. Analyzing this information can help you decide if the position meets your aspirations. Job descriptions may also contain application instructions, including attachments.
- Customization. Writing an individual letter for each position you apply for is integral, as a generic letter will likely be discarded. Customizing a cover letter will highlight your research on the company, and personalized touches, such as addressing the letter to the company’s hiring manager, are simple ways to help you stand out from other applicants.
- Keywords. Analyzing the company’s website will likely notice themes in the language used. Implementing this writing style into your cover letter through keywords can display the research you have done. Some keywords for the accounting and finance industry may include financial analyst, CPA, tax, audit, forecasting, finance, and more. Keywords may also appear in the job listing.
- Create a portfolio. Including information on your cover letter that links to your portfolio simplify the employer’s job of identifying your skills to best evaluate your qualifications for the position. A portfolio may include demonstrations of financial statements, variance reports, or forms of economic analysis in the accounting and finance world. In most cases, these examples will stem from previous work assignments. If so, it is essential to change the numbers used.
Are cover letters optional?
If you have begun the application process for a new position, you have likely been asked to provide a resume and have been given the option to submit a cover letter. Even if a cover letter is optional, it can drastically increase your chances of getting an interview and landing the job. 77% of recruiters prefer candidates who provide a cover letter, and 72% expect one despite the application stating them as optional. On the other hand, some positions require a cover letter, and if applicants fail to provide one, only 13% of decision-makers said they would still process the application.
Historically, a cover letter was an actual paper cover page that preceded the resume to provide a formal introduction to a company’s hiring manager. This process changed due to the onset of digital applications, where today, 36% of hiring decision-makers read cover letters before reviewing the resume.
How should you send in a cover letter?
Applications today are sent in via different avenues, creating a dilemma if you apply through an automated system or email. Generally, computerized systems will have instructions on where to attach a cover letter; however, the distinction becomes fuzzy when applying through email.
- 49% of recruiters prefer cover letters to be written in the email body.
- 42% of recruiters prefer cover letters to be attached as separate documents.
The safest bet is to read through the job advertisement, as the employer may specify preferences there; however, the importance of having a cover letter outweighs how it is delivered.
How to write a cover letter for finance and accounting professionals
Accounting and finance are serious departments; therefore, keeping a cover letter concise and direct is important. Your cover letter should include:
- Header: The header should have a bold, simple font and include your name, email, phone number, other contact information, and LinkedIn profile. This section is integral as it ensures recruiters can contact you to schedule an interview.
- Greeting: The greeting portion should include the name of the hiring manager or your prospective boss. This information is not always known; however, if you know the recipient’s name, it adds personalization and familiarity. Beginning this section with “Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. Surname” is appropriate, but if you are unaware of the recipient’s name, opening with “To whom it may concern” is still professional.
- Introduction: The introduction is where writing about your qualifications and the reasons you are an ideal candidate appear. Beginning with a one-sentence summary of who you are and further establishing your credibility by describing your strengths later in the paragraph is crucial. Include aspects such as the accounting and finance software you are familiar with and ways you already perform the job they need to fill.
- Body: The body paragraphs should be centered around your achievements. Be sure to write concisely and compellingly to craft a written illustration of who you are. Accounting and finance personnel are well versed in making financial decisions and avoiding errors. Describe some of your wins in these areas and the problem-solving skills used to navigate them. The purpose of this section is to expand on the information you provided in the introduction and to represent yourself professionally.
- Conclusion: Concluding your cover letter should include a brief restatement of why you are the ideal candidate for the position and how a hiring decision in your favor would be mutually beneficial. Ending with a statement such as, “Please contact me at your convenience to discuss further how I can contribute to and support the success of __company__” or “I look forward to hearing from you soon” is a sure way to conclude your letter.
- Sign-off: The sign-off should be short, “Sincerely, __your name__” is concise and professional.
Resume tips to consider
Hiring managers and employers often have an influx of resumes for any given position, meaning they do not analyze resumes in-depth initially. Similar to the cover letter, resumes for accounting and finance positions should be concise and clear, highlighting pertinent information relevant to the job description. Resumes must successfully convey your skills, areas of expertise, certifications, and accomplishments to an employer. A powerful resume for accounting and finance positions should include:
- A summary of your qualifications. To begin constructing your resume, summarize your qualifications at the top of the first page. This should be written in prose, as opposed to bullet points. This paragraph will give an employer the information needed to grasp your experience.
- A description of your accomplishments. List previous employers, each with a description of job responsibilities, achievements at each position, and measurable results of what you produced. The remainder of the resume explains your professional accounting or finance background.
- Keywords to insert: financial planning, profit and loss management, auditing, budget development, mergers and acquisitions experience, payroll manager, CPA, AP/AR, spreadsheets, controller, bookkeeper cash-flow management, and alike words.
What do employers look for in a resume?
When establishing a resume, it is helpful to understand what a prospective employer is searching for. Effective resumes for any industry lead with pertinent information that highlights skills and experience. The following describes what an employer may look for on a resume for an accounting or finance position.
Accounting is demanding; it is crucial to highlight work ethic and effort on an accounting resume. Your personality should not be a focal point, as much of who you are will be stated in your cover letter, but connecting the two documents in this way is valuable. However, you should include hints about your personality to help identify your fit into the company culture.
Accounting professionals often hold various certifications. Emphasizing these certifications and their application in previous positions is crucial. If you are pursuing certifications, such as becoming a CPA, noting this in-progress achievement shows an understanding of the demands concerning the industry.
Understanding software skills are a given for accounting professionals. Discovering which software programs a company uses beforehand and explaining your knowledge of the program can set you apart from other candidates. If the program is not one you are familiar with, allowing yourself time to research it before the interviewing process likely proves beneficial. Typical programs include Quickbooks, Turbo Tax, and Xero.
Similar recommendations apply to finance resumes and accounting resumes; however, there are some key points to emphasize for the finance industry.
Metrics are essential to include when applying for a finance position. This could appear as quantifying your achievements, such as “Reduced the closing process by seven days,” “Reduced overhead costs by 15%”, or any other quantifiable achievement. The finance industry speaks in numbers, so playing to your strengths in this area is crucial. Not all achievements are quantifiable; it is also beneficial to concisely describe non-quantifiable accomplishments under each prior employment opportunity.
Reading through the steps above will clarify common questions, such as how to write an accounting cover letter or a finance resume. Both documents should successfully show who you are on paper, and by aiming to be industry-specific in your efforts, you can accurately describe your qualifications for the desired position.
Written by Lauren Kemp
Lauren Kemp, Communications and Marketing Specialist at J2T, earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management with a minor in Latin American studies and a Master of Science in Innovation and Management from Montana State University. Lauren hails from Montana and enjoys reading about the history of her home state. Her bucket-list items include touring the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, and taking an immersion trip to Chile to experience Latin American culture first-hand.