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If you're studying to become an accountant or you've recently graduated then you'll want to read this!

We've interviewed and put together information from some of the top recruitment agencies in Australia to find out everything you need to know to secure that dream position.

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Accountant man
According to Job Outlook the rate of unemployment for accountants compared to other professions is below average, there is an expected "strong growth" for likely future employment over the next 3 years and the level of future job openings remains "high".
Accountant man 2
Likewise, according to Robert Half the outlook for accounting grads is excellent with 86% of CFO’s and finance directors believing it’s challenging or very challenging to find the right skilled professionals in today’s hiring market.
Accountant man 3
Alternatively, a story by the Financial Review states that 25% - 40% of accounting grads from the nation’s top universities have not been able to find work in the industry within their first year of graduating.

However, this data heavily contradicts Australian Graduate Survey figures which state 80% of accounting graduates found fulltime work within just 4 months of completing their study.

Whatever the case may be, there's competition however big or small and every accounting graduate and future grad should be looking for ways to increase their chances of securing a position and this expert panel of professionals is here to help.

 

The Biggest
Resume Mistakes

Name: John Smith
Email: hotstuff@gmail.com
Contact: www.facebook.com/hotstuff

Accounting Resume Tips

Not having the basics right

"Remember that employees and recruiters are hit with a barrage of resumes, so make sure you get the basics correct. Ignore resume etiquette and you'll most likely end up in the 'no pile'. Your document should include all relevant personal information, current contact details, qualifications and work history (reverse chronological order) in a simple and readable manner." – Kevin Jarvis, Director, Robert Half.

Work history
2004-2006: Accountant clerk at Accounts for Us, Surry Hills.
2008-2013: Accounting clerk at Top Accountants in Australia.

Not Explaining Gaps

"Not closing or explaining gaps in employment on a resume" is one of the biggest resume mistakes seen over at Michael Page and according to Susan Drew, Senior Regional Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance "If you leave gaps in your resume, potential employers can suspect the worst. If you took a year out, carried out an interim assignment, or travelled for six months, say so. Stating the years, rather than the months you started or finished a role can also send off alarm bells."

Cover Letter
I am writing to express my interest about working at your firm “Local Accountants For Sydney” . I believe I am the best match for your company. I have experience and enjoy working for international clients in China.

Not Showing Company Understanding

When asked to describe some of the biggest mistakes seen, Helen Bobbitt, Campus Relations Consultant at KPMG stated “The biggest thing I see when reviewing these applications is that students often don’t show an understanding of the company they are applying for and the role. If you want to work with us, you need to show that you understand what we do – career motivation is key.”

Education
Highschool HSC, UAI 99.99, Hillside Highschool in Sydney.

Formatting

“When formatting your resume, ensure there is plenty of white space. Don’t place too much information on one page or use graphics and flowery or small fonts that are difficult to read as they distract from the content. Most companies will upload your resume into their databases so make sure it’s written in a common program.” Also “make sure the e-mail address you use appears professional, hotstuff@hotmail.com is not appropriate.” – Susan Drew, Senior Regional Director, Hays Accountancy & Finance.

My Interests
Long walks on the beach while listening to rock music. I have skills in deep throat singing and am a professional guitar player. I have played the guitar at many rock concerts including guitar rock in Spain. I also have a certificate II in Flower Arrangement and have prepared flowers for a wedding.

Resume Length

One of the most “commented on” issues was the length of the resume. Two pages are ideal as this gives the ideal amount of information to busy recruiters. Anything less is too short, and shows signs that you don’t have enough experience and skills. Anything more than two pages could be seen as excessive and a waste of time.

 

Further Assets
Accounting Grads Need

When asked what the biggest assets an accounting grad should possess (other than being a great number cruncher) a very clear pattern emerged with ALL interviewees heavily focusing on interpersonal skills.

Interpersonal Skills: the Biggest Asset an Accounting Grad Can Have

According to Kevin Jarvis, Director at Robert Half:

Diversity

"It's actually a common misconception that we want number crunchers! We want graduates that are great communicators, strong team players and innovative thinkers. We also want graduates from a variety of qualification backgrounds – not just Accounting and Commerce. It's this diversity of thought that sets KPMG apart."

Helen Bobbitt, Campus Relations Consultant, KPMG.
	
Accounting Soft Skills
 

What about Business Management Skills?

Unlike the need for interpersonal skills, when asked "Is it crucial for accounting grads to also possess business management skills in order to obtain a position?" we got a mixed result. However, business management skills are certainly needed further down the track when applying for more senior roles.

At Entry Level?

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Helen Bobbitt of KPMG

"We look for graduates who are interested in understanding how a business works along with other key capabilities required for the role."
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Geoff Balmer at Richard Lloyd

“Companies are crying out for commercially focused accounting teams, because they can value add. I don’t believe grads need business management skills at an entry level to obtain a position but they would certainly stand out from the competition. ”
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Regional Director of Michael Page in Australia

“No, business management skills aren’t essential because accounting graduates are not expected to have these skills and any business management skills they could have would be elementary."

at a Senior Level?

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Helen Bobbitt of KPMG

“We typically look for graduates with a credit average at qualification level and do not expect them to have other qualifications – we train our graduates on everything they need to know and support them through relevant professional qualifications.”
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Geoff Balmer at Richard Lloyd

“These skills do however become necessary throughout an accountant’s career. As the roles become more senior, competition becomes more intense and additional qualifications are certainly expected for the senior roles.”
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Regional Director of Michael Page in Australia

“There is a good chance of gaining employment without additional business skills but being formally qualified is essential. ”

 

What about IT Skills?

Unlike future-learnt business management skills it seems that IT skills are either a must or are highly sought after from all of our interviewees.

"Our business groups are actively seeking out graduates with a technology and business information systems focus. These are definitely sought after qualifications, even within our audit division."

Helen Bobbitt, Campus Relations Consultant, KPMG.

“intermediate to advanced Microsoft Excel is almost a prerequisite for hiring managers these days. The ability to embrace new systems and business intelligence software really make accountants more valuable to the business as the need for instant information becomes more important.”

Geoff Balmer, Director at Richard Lloyd.

“Yes, we are seeing increasing demand from our clients for accounting software skills. Employers are now looking for candidates who can hit the ground running when they start in a role, without having to spend time on training."

Susan Drew, Senior Regional Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance.

 

Interview advice

Job Interview Advice
  • Practice icon

    Practise

  • Research icon

    Research

Do your research

Adrian Oldham, Regional Director of Michael Page stated to "Set aside time to prepare for the interview by researching the position, company, industry and individuals you'll be meeting. You can do this online through Google, LinkedIn, company websites etc.

Ask for Details

According to Kevin Jarvis, Director of Robert Half you should "always ask for details of the interview structure, so how long it will go for, who will be interviewing you and if there will be other candidates there. Most interviews will generally go down one of the following paths [either] the interviewer describes the organisation and role, before asking you to talk about yourself [or] the interviewer asks you what attracted you to the position and why you would be a suitable candidate, putting you 'on stage' straight away."

Don't Forget the Basics

Geoff Balmer, Director at Richard Lloyd lists to “Be on time. Plan your trip the night before and avoid last minute delays. Listen to the questions being asked. It’s ok to ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you are unclear. Answer the question honestly and speak in plain English, don’t use jargon or slang. Make sure you have supporting documentation that your recruiter has outlined. This could be transcripts, certificates and other relevant qualifications.”

Follow Up

Follow up afterwards! "Always write a thank you email after an interview, and re-affirm your continued interest in the position. If you application is unsuccessful, don't be afraid to call and ask for feedback. Use this for future applications." – Kevin Jarvis, Director – New South Wales, Robert Half.

 

List of Interview Don'ts

We asked over 100 employers to list what turns them off a candidate in a job interview. The top ten turn-offs were:

Poor verbal communication skills
No.1
Not answering the question asked
No.2
Not researching the company / role before the interview
No.3
Leaving a mobile phone on
No.4
Inability to provide solid examples of previous experience
No.5
Exaggerating experience or skills
No.6
Focusing on the negative in experiences
No.7
Inability to answer technical questions
No.8
Arriving late
No.9
Not displaying interest in the role
No.10

Poor verbal communication skills, such as giving short answers, struggling to articulate answers, speaking quietly or not thinking before speaking, are all big turn-offs. Equally, not listening properly to the question asked, giving an unrelated answer or being unsure of the question and so launching into a long and unrelated answer is also a turn-off. If you can't answer a question, it's best to say so."

Susan Drew, Senior Regional Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance.
 

The Most Destabilising Questions Asked During an Interview

Behavioural Questions

"When asked what some of the potential interview questions that grads find to be the most destabilising are we found that behavioural questions topped the list. "Behavioural questions can be difficult for grads to answer as they often don't have workplace scenarios and experience to draw from." – Geoff Balmer, Richard Lloyd.
"Behavioural interview questions can cause candidates to feel uncomfortable. They are aimed at establishing various core competencies relevant to the role, such as teamwork, creativity and innovation, decision making ability, business awareness or conflict resolution. The interviewer is looking for examples of past behaviour that demonstrates these competencies." – Susan Drew, Hays Accountancy & Finance.

Confrontational Questions

"How would you deal with someone who is openly antagonistic and confrontational in the workplace? The most important consideration in a question like this is to recognise they might not automatically consider confrontation a negative, and nor should you. A good employee identifies colleagues' traits and uses them to their advantage. Turn negative questions and negative qualities into a positive, and you'll demonstrate the initiative to do this in a workplace and with clients." – Kevin Jarvis, Director – New South Wales, Robert Half.
A further sample question from Susan Drew of Hays Accountancy & Finance is "Tell us about a situation in which you encountered resistance from key people, how did you convince the person or people to do what you wanted?" With interview questions dealing with confrontation, positivity remains key. "Naturally it is better to use an anecdote with a positive outcome, but if this isn't possible explain what you learnt from the situation and how you would do it differently next time."

Interview Questions
 

Scoring Systems

We asked the interviewees if they had any kind of scoring system in place to help them find the right candidate

Susan Drew, Senior Regional Director of Hays Accountancy & Finance

“No we do not have a set scoring system. We interview each candidate and create a shortlist based on the specific needs of the employer and their vacancy. We are also passionate about connecting our candidates with the right job for them, so we attempt to build a deep understanding of their skills and personality, and take the time to give objective, straight up advice on how to achieve their career aspirations in the short, medium and long term.”

Geoff Balmer, Director at Richard Lloyd

“We have an internal ratings system – the criteria scored are: communication, presentation and stability of their work experience relevant to their job. This is a common practice throughout the industry. We believe in meeting people face to face and spend time getting to know each candidate. We can then confidently present a qualified short-list to the client, including a detailed summary presenting each candidate in the best possible light. This gives the candidates the best chance of a first interview and the clients some background before they meet them.”

Want the job? Download our Ultimate Career Toolkit

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Career Advice