Recruiters of bookkeepers say that while the right qualifications are essential, relevant experience can give a candidate an extra edge over competitors when it comes to job applications.
Get the experience
This does not exclude bookkeepers who are just starting their careers. Even the newly qualified can get ahead more easily with some kind of experience under their belt, advised Claire Statham, Operations Manager at Joanne Finnerty Recruitment Ltd in Birkenhead.
It can be a simple as working for a small garage, mobile hairdressers, or anyone who has a one-man band operation and struggles to put their books together.
“What I would say with new bookkeepers is to offer your services to friends and family who have their own businesses, and get some experience that way. Then you’ve got something to put on your CV before you get a role,” said Statham.
“That tends to be what a lot of our newly qualified bookkeepers are doing now. That does get them noticed because it shows that they’re not just doing a qualification and then expecting to get into a role. They’re actually actively trying to get that experience themselves.”
The rewards are worth putting the extra effort in, argues Statham.
“There’s definitely a market. For us an experienced bookkeeper is really easy to place. It’s really hard to find an experienced bookkeeper and most companies want someone with experience.”
Target a sector
Steve Brame, business manager at Anne Jagger Recruitment suggests targeting a sector where bookkeepers are increasing in demand and trying to get relevant experience there.
Gaining skills in the start-up sector would be a wise move in the current job market, he suggested.
“The FinTech or Educational Technology area is thriving and there is a skills shortage. If you could have 3-6 months exposure at a start-up company looking at general accountancy and finance and even just the bookkeeping element it would be quite valuable,” he said.
“[Then] you can sell them [employers] more of the business knowledge, or acumen, or exposure to actually being within business, rather than just looking at the bookkeeping function.”
Brame has also found that potential employers appreciate hard graft from newly qualified bookkeepers rather than someone who immediately wants to climb up the ladder.
“It’s very nice that somebody who does bookkeeping would eventually want to be a finance director but not in the first six months of employment. They just want to see a commitment and a loyalty and a getting the job done kind of mentality,” he said.
“I find our clients are a bit more open to hearing about candidates who are just willing to work and learn the general ethos of working in an office in the first place,” Brame added.
Know your cloud
For Kirsty MacKenzie, managing director at iMultiply Resourcing in Glasgow, a good knowledge of cloud based accounting can help you stand out from the crowd.
“We recruit a lot of bookkeepers. The trend that we’re seeing is that more and more businesses are looking for bookkeepers who have cloud-based accounting experience,” she said, adding that knowledge of Xero software was very sought after.
“So basically good systems knowledge, but in particular some of these new cloud-based accounting systems, is a stand-out. As are good Excel skills. Even though there are new fancy systems, everyone still tends to ask about Excel,” MacKenzie said.
“The other standouts from a bookkeeping point of view….no matter what level we’re recruiting in bookkeeping or finance, they’re asking for individuals who are used to changing environments,” she added.
“They’re now looking for individuals who can demonstrate that they have been in that type of environment or where they’ve added value from a pro-active point of view, because I think finance can quite often be quite reactive.”
Tony Cousins, Managing Director at Farringdon James Executive Recruitment offers more general advice, and training courses, on how to shine in an interview.
“There are only really three questions ever. Number one is – can you do the job? Can you do what is on the specification? Secondly, will you be happy and motivated to work for us? Thirdly, will we able to tolerate you?” he advised.
Having your own questions prepared for the end of the interview is also critical to success, he said.
“Have some questions prepared and be clever in the questions that you ask, don’t be too personal,” he said. “I do give my delegates on my courses what I call killer questions, ones that the clients really like.”
Understanding the culture of the company you are applying for can also give you an advantage. Knowing whether they are formal or more casual, for example, and simply doing your homework and asking around about what their working environment is like.
And finally, adopting the right body language at an interview can help you to sail through.
“Learn some basics. Learn how to look like you’re interested, how to sit correctly,” he said. Simple things like eye contact can make a huge difference.
“Eye contact is essential, without looking as though you’re staring at them. My trick is to look at the bridge of their nose. It looks as though you’re looking at them and you’re understanding what they’re saying.”
Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.