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The most successful accountants will possess the ability to communicate with peers, customers, external business partners and investors alike, coupled with an acute eye for detail and key technical accounting knowledge. Employers will be looking for you to demonstrate your professional qualities in your technical competencies both on your CV and in person. Karen Young from Hays gives her application and interview tips.

As pressure on organisations to recruit the best accountancy and finance talent continues to intensify, employers are looking for the right professional qualities, technical skills and competencies in candidates now more than ever. If you’re starting out in the industry, you can use your personal branding and interview opportunities to secure a job, and go on to use the first few weeks to get off to the right start.

When starting your search for a trainee accountancy role, firstly it is important to identify your key skills and research the organisations and jobs that you are best suited to. Decide if you are looking to gain broad practice experience or specialise in a specific area, to know where to start your search. You should also be aware of the factors which are most important to you, for example, location, salary and benefits, and workplace culture including flexible working or working hours. It’s recommended to possess an idea of your career aims and objectives for your first role in the sector. However, most important is the desire and enthusiasm to work in the accounting and finance field, as showing passion for your choice of work will make a huge difference in an interview.

The Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2019 guide found that 68% of finance employers plan to hire this year, and 52% of finance employees plan to move jobs. Whether you are just starting out in the industry, returning after a break or looking to move up the ranks into a more senior role, here’s how you can stand out to those employers planning to expand their workforce.

Personal branding

Smart jobseekers understand the value of building up their brand and raising their profile. Your personal brand should reflect your values, skills and experience across a number of mediums and if done effectively, is what sets you apart from other professionals. Your CV and online identity are two integral elements of your brand which form the basis of how recruiters and employers perceive you.

CV preparation

Before embarking on your job search, ensure that your CV is up to date with your experience, key achievements and training and any professional qualifications that you already hold or are working towards. If you do not have prior accountancy experience, highlight areas of your previous employment or studies that show your analytical ability, numeracy, attention to detail and communication skills to demonstrate the key characteristics accountancy employers are looking for. Make sure you also update any voluntary or extra-curricular activities too, as these will most likely bear relevance to a graduate or trainee job in finance.

Remember that your CV is your first sales pitch to a potential employer so ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors and it is professionally presented. Choosing a clear, simple font size and type will help with this. Your CV and application also need to be specifically tailored to each individual role. This means ensuring that you demonstrate all the required competencies as outlined in the job and person descriptions. You may not need to change your CV completely each time you apply to a job, but consider re-ordering the content so that the most relevant experience and skills are higher on the page and therefore read first.

Online identity

Along with your CV, how you represent yourself online is an integral element of your personal brand and has a huge bearing on your job prospects. Any social media platforms you use in a professional capacity should be up to date. Focus on your LinkedIn profile which should align with the information you have on your CV. Make sure that both match up in terms of employment dates and experience. Failure to do this might indicate poor attention to detail or an unfaithful representation of you as a candidate.

LinkedIn is a great way to showcase passion for your industry by joining relevant groups, posting frequently and updating your profile with professional achievements. You can also use platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to keep up with any prospective employers and gain insight into their culture. Social media is now an integral part of job searching and if used correctly, should be seen as a positive asset for job seekers.

The interview

If you are successful in your application, you will then be invited to an interview. Interviews can often feel stressful and it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed or nervous, particularly if it is an interview for a job you are very passionate about. However, an interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your skills, personality and of course your interest in the job and organisation, and creating a great first impression will go a long way.

Preparation

Preparation is key to making a good first impression. You can prepare by researching the organisation that you are interviewing with in detail and check their website to learn about their service offerings, structure and recent news. Familiarise yourself with the requirements of the role so you are able to confidently demonstrate your suitability.
Strong preparation like this will show your commitment to the job and provide evidence of your organisational skills.

Interviewers usually ask at least some competency-based questions which target a specific key skill or capability from the job specification. These questions give you the opportunity to discuss examples of where you have shown qualities outlined in the job description. You should have a number of relevant examples prepared in advance either from your studies or previous part time employment. To be an accountant, you have to be exceptionally organised and able to work to strict deadlines whilst having technical numeracy skills and developing communication and people skills, so perhaps tailor your examples around these requirements.

A particularly useful tool to demonstrate your skills is the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) acronym. Even if a company follows a different interview format, knowing how to structure your responses in a way that really sells your experience is the key to success. With practice and preparation, the ability to structure your answers correctly will become second nature, allowing you to concentrate on letting your personality and enthusiasm shine at interview.

Arrive for your interview promptly and 5 to 10 minutes ahead of schedule, plan ahead if you haven’t been to the location before and even do a trial run if necessary. Dress appropriately and remain polite and courteous to anyone you meet and greet your interviewer with a professional handshake and friendly smile. If you are unsure of the dress code, call ahead to confirm this, but smart business attire is always the best bet.

During the interview

Remaining calm and professional in your interview will give your interviewer an insight into how you would deal with pressure, and show your potential to deal with clients and colleagues. Conducting your interview in an engaging way will demonstrate the personal characteristics and “can do” attitude that are essential for the very best accountants.
Be mindful of your body language; your posture, eye contact and gestures can show a lot about your confidence and mind-set.

One of the biggest slip-ups you can make is to not have any questions ready for the end of the interview. Prepare questions to ask at the end of your interview that demonstrate you have done your research and are genuinely interested in the job and organisation, as this will create a positive impression of curiosity. If the interview has followed a strict format, asking questions is a way to get across experience that you may otherwise not be asked about.

Follow-up

Remember that your interview doesn’t end until you are out of the door and that the last 30 seconds of an interview are just as important as the first. Leave with a professional handshake, make eye contact and thank your interviewer for their time.

Starting your new role

Congratulations, you’ve secured the job! Starting a new job can be one of the most exciting, but also potentially one of the most stressful experiences in our professional lives. You will work hard to prove your value and will be keen to make an impact from the get-go. By keeping the following in mind you can make sure your new role gets off to the best start possible.

Your first day

When you arrive on your first day, it’s important to remember to be confident. Despite not knowing anyone walking into a new organisation and starting out fresh, it’s important to be yourself from day one.
Make a great impression when meeting your new colleagues by introducing yourself, maintaining eye contact and smiling. Remembering people’s names will also go a long way in those first few days and weeks at work. It is also absolutely critical not to be late on your first day.

Be open-minded

Forget about your experiences at your previous employers, good or bad, and get rid of any preconceived notions which stem from them. No two jobs will be the same, so approach your new role as a fresh start, and embrace the unknown.

Build a network of support

Following on from the initial introductions, it is important that you make an effort to really get to know your colleagues in the upcoming days. Take the time to meet each colleague individually, starting with those closest to where you are working. Take advantages of opportunities to socialise, whether it’s at work social events, or just being in the kitchen at the same time making lunch. Getting to know your colleagues will help you, as these are the people who can offer you guidance, answer your questions and help you to feel settled in your new environment.

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