The most successful accountants 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 want you to demonstrate your professional qualities and your technical competencies on your CV and in the interview to prove why you are the best candidate for the job.

When starting your search for a graduate accountancy role, it is important to identify the skills and competencies that you have 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 particular area to know where to start your search. Most important is the desire and enthusiasm to work in the accounting and finance field, as showing passion for your choice of work can make a huge difference in an interview.

The Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2016 report found that 57% of finance employers plan to hire in 2016, and that 54% of finance employees plan to move jobs, so here’s how you can stand out to those employers planning to hire.

CV preparation
Before starting your search, ensure that your CV is up to date with your experience 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, attention to detail and communication skills to demonstrate the characteristics employers will be looking for. Show the areas you have excelled at in terms of study, particularly if this is directly relevant to what you are applying for.

Make sure you also update any voluntary or extra-curricular activities too – being the treasurer of a committee at university is relevant when interviewing for a graduate job in finance. Remember that your CV is your sales pitch to a potential employer so ensure there are no spelling or grammar errors and that it is professionally presented.
Your CV and application need to be tailored to each individual role. This means ensuring that you demonstrate all the required competencies as outlined in the job and person descriptions. These could include:

  • Attention to detail
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Overcoming objections
  • Delivering excellent service
  • Time management.

You may not need to completely change your CV each time you apply, sometimes it can be as simple as re-ordering the content so that the most relevant experience and skills come higher up the list for one job application than they do for another – human nature is to read the top part of any content and speed read or scan the remainder. Make your point count.

Interview preparation
Preparation is key to make a positive first impression at an interview. Research the organisation that you are interviewing with in detail and check their website to familiarise yourself with things such as their service offerings, structure and recent news. Interviewers usually ask some competency-based questions giving 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 from your studies or previous part time employment demonstrating when you met a deadline, communicated well and overcame an obstacle.

Competency-based interviews are structured so that each question targets a specific key skill or competency that will be outlined on the job specification. You will be asked questions relating to your behaviour in specific circumstances, which you will need to back up with practical examples.

Learn to demonstrate your skills by using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). This means setting the scene, explaining how you handled the situation by placing the emphasis on your personal role and skills, and detailing the outcome or result. Even if a company follows a different interview format, knowing how to answer questions 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. Good preparation will also show your commitment to the job and prove evidence of your organisational skills.

If you are successful in your application, you will then be in invited to an interview. Creating a great first impression at interview is important to leave a positive lasting impression with your interviewer.

On arrival
Start by arriving for your interview promptly, plan ahead if you haven’t been to the location before and even do a trial run if necessary. Dress appropriately, 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.

Remain calm and professional
Staying calm in your interview will give your interviewer an insight into how you would deal with pressure, and show how you would deal with deadlines in the financial calendar. Your communication skills demonstrated in your interview will also show how you would have the potential to deal with the clients and colleagues alike. 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 mindset.

Ask questions
Prepare questions to ask at the end of your interview that demonstrate that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in the job and organisation. 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. If it feels appropriate, ask if they have any reservations about your application – this may seem daunting, but could give you the opportunity to overcome these concerns.

Consider your exit
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 to leave a lasting impression with your interviewer. Ensure you leave with a professional handshake, make eye contact and thank your interviewer for their time. And finally, remember to be polite and courteous to all employees you encounter even if they have not been involved in your interview process!

After your interview, don’t forget to follow up with your recruitment consultant, if you’ve used one, to update them with your feedback and also to receive any feedback your interviewer may have provided too.

About the Author

  • About Karen Young: Karen Young is a Director for Hays Accountancy & Finance in the UK. She has 18 years of recruitment experience and leads a team of over 400 accountancy and finance recruitment professionals.

Karen Young

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