So you want to defeat the rabid hordes of competitive accounting professionals and land your dream job. How do you go about it?
Perhaps more than in any other industry, having professional accreditation is essential. AAT courses allow you to perform accounting, tax and financial advisory services, and provide the foundation for becoming a Chartered Accountant.
However, the basic CIMA, ACCA or AAT qualifications won’t get you very far without the right soft skills. When it comes to landing the best jobs and promotions, personal traits are what make you stand out from the horde.
So what do you need to do?
1. Ask the Right Questions
Many people are scared to ask questions out of fear of seeming incompetent, but it actually makes you appear confident and engaged. If you won’t take it from us, take it from Socrates: ‘the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing, Jon Snow.’
Justify asking questions when you need to by not asking them when you don’t. Google your question or have a look in the company handbook; even if you come up with nothing, you might glean a little knowledge that will help you phrase your question confidently.
Be specific: ‘I know a little about CaseWare, but could you run me through exactly how your company uses it?’ will elicit a much more positive response than wailing ‘what the hell is CaseWare?’ at the first whiff of trouble.
2. Maintain a Positive Attitude
When you first start a job, you’re on your best behaviour: you’re 15 minutes early every day, immaculately dressed and a joy to be around. The longer you remain, however, the easier it is to fall into bad habits.
Take your role as seriously after a year as you did on your first day. Scruffiness and lateness won’t go unnoticed by your employer no matter how lengthy your tenure.
3. Communicate Concisely and Effectively
Karen Young, director at Hays Senior Finance, stresses the importance of communication skills at interviews. ‘Trainees need to demonstrate that they have the ability to liaise with stakeholders across a business by adapting their communication styles to suit different audiences. For example, avoid using technical jargon or internal acronyms when answering questions posed in the interview and ensure that you use real life examples to illustrate your points.’
Once you’ve got the job, communication is as important as ever. The finance department doesn’t exist in a vacuum: you need to be able to communicate the story the numbers are telling you in layman’s terms, and what use is that business acumen you acquired if you can’t share your knowledge? Get a little help from communication coach Karen Friedman or The School of Life and stop waffling.
4. Get a Grip on the Business World
As finance teams move to the centre of businesses, employees with commercial insight who can help develop strategy are becoming increasingly valuable. Learn how the markets operate and where risks and opportunities lie, with a focus on how finance and accounting can affect a business. Take a big picture view and you never know – you could be managing the company one day.
5. Be Prepared for Leadership
Remember two seconds ago when we said you could be running the company one day? We meant it – and employers do too. Many top CEOs started out working in finance, and employers pay close attention to leadership qualities when hiring to find individuals with the ability to progress to more senior roles.
6. Brush Up on Your Computing Skills
We know, we know, we said these were soft skills and computing can be pretty damn hard. However, computer skills are super-important for almost every job these days, and accounting is no exception. According to Robert Half Accounting and Finance, the most in-demand technical skills are:
- Advanced Excel skills
- ERP experience, such as SAP or Oracle
- Data analytics and advanced modelling techniques
- Hyperion (for analytical and financial reporting roles)
- Cloud-based software experience
- QuickBooks (for small to mid-size firms)
The more experience you have with any of these, the better.
So you’re following our advice: you’re asking the right questions, staying positive, developing your business acumen, communicating effectively, preparing for leadership, and are a regular Steve Jobs on the computer. What if they still don’t hire you?
Well... there’s no accounting for taste.