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Interview advice for graduate accountants

Top interview and application advice to get you hired by an accountancy firm

How can you make sure your graduate accountancy job application is top notch? Read this advice from leading accountancy recruiters and representatives from professional bodies.
A good grasp of the basics will help you and impress recruiters.

Be a freethinker

  • Recruiters are on the hunt for freethinkers with fresh ideas who are going to make an impact. Bean counters need not apply.
  • Be yourself. It’s a cliché for a good reason – over-rehearsed robots don’t get the jobs (and get flustered by unexpected interview questions).

Keep your focus

  • Candidates with focus impress. A good academic record is only a starting point – it’s also important to show you have a convincing motivation to join the accountancy sector. A lot of time, money and effort will be invested in your training, so recruiters want to feel you’ll stick at it.

Show some initiative

  • Recruiters are impressed by candidates who take the initiative and are enthusiastic and interested.
  • Candidates who get in touch with recruiters and make themselves known are more likely to stand out. It’s a good idea to attend events and fairs and meet people from the firm you’re interested in. Take down their contact details. Follow up your meeting with a polite email.

Work your work experience

  • Make a connection between the skills you’ve gained from your work experience and the job of being an accountant. Don’t dismiss a job because it had nothing specifically to do with accountancy. Instead, pull out the skills you gained from it. Working behind a bar, for example, can develop your communication and numeracy skills, and experience of team work...
  • Recruiters like it when a candidate uses a breadth of examples, rather than just repeating one example. Try to expand on a different example during your interview than one you may have expanded upon in your application form. 

Demonstrate understanding

  • Show you really know what accountancy is. Recruiters don’t expect in-depth knowledge, but a good grasp of the basics will help you and impress them. Also show you've done your research on the employer.
  • Employers want to get something from you that they don’t already know – quoting a website back to them won’t differentiate you. Check out the 'news' section of an employer's website and be ready to comment upon a recent event.
  • Try to connect your skills and experiences to what you understand about the area you want to enter. For example, it’s great if a would-be auditor can show they understand that they’ll be working with different businesses and that communication skills will be essential.
  • Show you have researched the professional qualifications on offer, that you are aware, for example, that a management accounting qualification is particularly suited to those wishing to enter industry.

Pay attention to detail

  • Check your spelling, and the name of both the company and the person to whom you should address correspondence.
  • In many accounting roles you have to dress formally on a daily basis: it pays to show recruiters at your interview or at an assessment centre that you’re comfortable with that.

Never be tempted to be unethical

  • Make sure you complete any online assessment test by yourself – you may be asked to repeat them at a later date.
  • Only mention extenuating circumstances if they have truly affected your performance.

Manage your expectations

  • Students with higher degrees are welcomed into accountancy. Their progress may well be accelerated following their initial three years but they will need to qualify first.
  • Be prepared to prioritise work over your social life for the first few months. Studying for your qualification while you work will be tough – but worth it!
  • If you’ve stated on your application that you’re keen for an international career, be prepared to embrace secondments if you’re offered them.

Keep ahead of deadlines

  • Apply when the applications open – not just before they close. Accountancy firms tend not to have concrete deadline dates but instead keep recruiting until their places are filled. The earlier you apply the more roles there will be available, Overall it’s about giving yourself the best chance via canny application timing, showing career focus and differentiating yourself.

If you don’t succeed...

  • Some firms allow re-application after six months (for others, it may be a year). If you are rejected, use the intervening time to get some work experience and build up your skills set.