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. So, employers will be looking for you to demonstrate your professional qualities and your technical competencies both on your CV and in person at interview to prove to them why you are the best candidate for the job.

When starting your search for a trainee accountancy role, firstly 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. 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 2017 report found that 80% of finance employers plan to hire this year, and that 60% of finance employees plan to move jobs, so here’s how you can stand out to those employers planning to expand their teams:

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, numeracy, attention to detail and communication skills, to demonstrate the key characteristics employers will be looking for. Show the areas you have excelled at in terms of study, particularly if this is directly relevant to the role 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 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, and spacing, are all important factors.

Your CV and application 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. These could include:

  • Attention to detail
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Problem solving
  • Delivering excellent service
  • Time management.

You may not need to change your CV completely each time you apply to a role, sometimes it can be as simple as re-ordering the content so that the most relevant experience and skills come higher up the list of bullet points 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 points clear. Remember that the first page of your CV has the biggest impact so the most relevant information to your job application should be here. Postal address is not usually a critical factor in terms of initial decision to see you for an interview, as it will be based on skills and competencies and how well these are displayed.

Social media

Before your interview, any social media platforms you use should be up to date, in particular your LinkedIn profile which should reflect the information you have on your CV. LinkedIn is a great tool to help with your research and glean additional information about the organisation you are applying for. It’s also a good way to connect with industry professionals and get involved with relevant industry discussions to help demonstrate your passion for the profession. Many employers use LinkedIn or other forms of social media in their vetting process so it is important that all information is correct and you are aware of what information is available about you online. If you consider social media to be there for your social life, not your career, check your privacy settings and make sure any potential employers will only see what you want them to see about you.

The interview

If you are successful in your application, you will then be invited to an interview. Creating a great first impression at interview is important. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate your attention to detail and analytical ability and of course your interest in the job and organisation.

Interview Preparation

Preparation is key to make a good first impression. Research the organisation that you are interviewing with in detail and check their website to familiarise yourself with their service offerings, structure and recent news.

Interviewers usually ask some competency-based questions and you will have 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, for example, 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 capability from 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. Try and have more than one example ready to use in case you are asked to provide a second example, which can happen.

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. If you are going to be a future leader, the earlier you start to develop these skills, the better. Other skills employers will be looking for are attention to detail, commercial awareness and ability to work in a team.

Learn to demonstrate your skills by using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method. 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 concise 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 provide evidence of your organisational skills.

On Arrival

Start off on the front foot by arriving for your interview 5-10 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.

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 in your interview will also show your potential to deal with 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 mind-set.

Ask Questions

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. 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 – ensure you leave a positive impression on your interviewer. 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!

The follow up

Following your interview, don’t forget to follow up with your recruitment consultant to update them with your feedback and also to receive any feedback your interviewer may have provided too.

I hope that you use this advice to take the next step in your finance career and I wish you the best of luck in your next job application or interview.

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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