You’ve got the qualifications, but suddenly it seems like everyone else does too… And when you’re competing for the top accountancy and bookkeeping roles, how do you stand out?
Are you experienced?
If your CV looks a bit thin on the work experience front, then this is a great place to start.
Appeal more to potential employers by taking temporary work or fixed term contracts to get some more experience under your belt. Many job seekers are looking to find a job for life, but modern careers don’t look like this any more, so keep an open-mind when looking at vacancies.
A great way of finding out whether you like a particular industry or role is doing maternity cover. You’ll have long enough to get your feet under the table and improve your CV in the process. And if you love the role and make an impact, your employer may find a more permanent role for you.
Or you could get started in a sector you’re interested in with some unpaid volunteering work or an internship. Read more on finding your first voluntary accounting role here. Any relevant experience will boost your attractiveness to would-be employers.
Qualifications are everything
The best way to get the job you really want is to ensure you’ve got the right qualifications.
James Brent, director at Hays Accountancy and Finance advises: “An accounting qualification is a key priority, and make sure to always put the initials of the qualification after your name on your CV.”
AAT qualifications are sought after with employers looking to recruit for bookkeeping and accountancy roles. And qualifications will boost the salary you can demand too: according to the recent Accountancy Age Salary Survey 2018 those with formal accounting qualifications earned £64,220 on average compared to £45,974 for those without.
What are your selling points?
While accountancy professionals will always be in demand in the workplace (an Onrec survey from 2014 (pre-Brexit) predicted that the UK will need an extra 80,000 accountants by 2050), there’s healthy competition for the top roles.
You’ll need to stand out from the hoards of other job applicants.
“Presenting an impressive CV is central to any strong application. Having one or two unique selling points in the form of a high academic achievement or a successful project at work will make you stand out to a recruitment consultant and boost your prospects of being put forward for a role,” recommends Brent.
Digital skills are important
Having up to date computing skills will really boost your chances.
“Given the rise of digital transformation across accountancy and finance teams, outlining technical skills on your CV will boost your job prospects. Specifically, strong data and software skills, and general confidence with digital technology will position you as a strong candidate in an industry where this is a primary focus,” advises Brent.
A lot of accountancy and bookkeeping firms are still phasing in a more digitally connected way of working, so will be looking for confident computer users to help with this.
“Strong Excel skills, where at minimum you are confident with pivot tables and v-look ups, are essential,” says Brent. AAT has recently partnered with Filtered, who provide excel training for members and students. If you’re looking to improve your excel skills, from power functions to power pivots find out more here (login required). This excel training also counts towards your CPD.
One way to demonstrate and back-up your expertise is through the AAT’s Access Award in Accounting Software and Foundation Award in Accounting Software. These short qualifications take 6 weeks to complete and are the equivalent of a GCSE.
Show off your language skills
Language skills will help propel you to the top of the pile for multinational firms. This is where formal qualifications in languages will prove their worth, but even more ad-hoc skills are worth mentioning.
Perhaps you lived abroad for a few years and have conversational Spanish – this could be more experience than others on the shortlist.
Don’t forget your soft skills
It’s not only formal qualifications that employers like. Your soft skills will make you more attractive too.
Soft skills like communication, working well in a team, and good time management should be highlighted in your application letter and CV. Give strong examples of projects which reflect these skills. These may be skills you take for granted, but if you don’t highlight that you have them, the recruiters won’t know.
And consider setting aside time to do some relevant voluntary work. It should be easier to find voluntary roles that will improve your soft skills, as these are relevant in all sectors. And at the end of your stint, you’ll have more evidence to prove your ability.
Organising and getting involved in community projects is another great way to develop your teamwork and soft skills. If you play on a sports team or are involved in amateur dramatics then make sure to mention it; these show teamwork and presentation skills which employers will like.
Network within your industry
Networking is a great way to advance your career. Not only will you potentially get ahead of the crowd on vacancy news, but getting yourself known might get you headhunted.
Just make sure you impress at such events – being up to date with current accountancy issues and news is essential.
And even though you’re working to get a job here, don’t forget that networking events are, after all, social occasions. Get to know people, relax, and make others feel comfortable – be charming but not unctuous, make eye contact and don’t monopolise conversations.
Should I get an MBA?
Having the letters MBA – master of business administration – after your name is impressive.
But the cost of studying for the qualification can be huge, with fees reaching £30,000 or more (Check out the top MBA courses in the UK here).
Brent adds: “While MBAs may be costly and won’t always guarantee you a job, they will no doubt improve your business and strategic thinking long term and therefore help progress considerably in your career.”
You need to decide if the expense of getting an MBA (and the not-inconsiderable amount of work involved) will pay off with your dream-job. Are MBAs important in your sector, or the firm you’re targetting?
Having the right qualifications is the best way to boost your career. But you also need to think about what makes you stand out from others – is it your computer skills? Your proven ability to work as member of a team? Or perhaps it’s your expertise in languages. Treat yourself like a product you’re trying to sell, and focus on your unique selling points to get the job you want.
Further reading/things to take away
- Which accountancy role is right for you?
- The skills employers want – and how to get them
- Career profiles from AAT
- CV tips from AAT
- Get help with the job hunt
Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.