When targetjobs.co.uk spoke recently with accounting and professional services recruiters on the topic of skills, there was unanimous agreement that this was an area in which students often undervalue themselves. In particular, recruiters have noted great anxiety among those students who have not undertaken internships that they simply will not be able to compete with the skills set of those who have. But even those who have completed formal work experience can find themselves unable to articulate clearly the skills they possess and how they have used them.
How to talk about your skills
From a recent survey of over 600 students interested in accountancy careers, targetjobs.co.uk discovered 69% will not have completed an internship by the time it comes to applying in the autumn, meaning that they will need to find examples from other sources in their lives to showcase their skills. If you’re one of them, follow our three steps to get skills savvy before you make your application:
- Identify the skills the employer you're interested in is seeking.
- Identify situations where you’ve used those skills (TIP: Never dismiss a job or activity because it had nothing specifically to do with accountancy!).
- Prepare how you’re going to talk about these skills during the application process. It’s not enough to say ‘I have numeracy skills’ – you have to describe a situation in which you used your numeracy skills, with a good outcome.
We’ve put together some examples about how to talk about your skills, using four of the top skills most finance recruiters are seeking in graduates. Remember, practise makes perfect, so prepare for an interview by talking through your own examples.
How to answer graduate interview questions about your ability to work in a team
Think about any job or experience you’ve had where you’ve been part of a group working together to achieve a particular goal. You may have been part of a sports team, club or society. You may have worked on a project with other students. Or you may have worked behind a bar or in a restaurant as part of a larger group. Bear in mind that it’s not enough just to say ‘I was part of a team’ or I am a good team player’ – you need to outline your personal contribution to any situation you describe, no matter how small. Did you have to adapt or make compromises while working with others? Motivate or support others to do better? Encourage a group atmosphere?
How to demonstrate communication ability in applications and at interview
Think about any situation where you have had to interact with other adults and how you can illustrate your skills – anything from written work, oral presentations or negotiating the use of college facilities to retail customer service or working with other adults in a voluntary setting. Have you ever had to issue written or verbal clear instructions for others to follow? Or had to use your powers of persuasion to get funding, or to persuade someone to think differently? Have you ever resolved a situation through the use of good communication skills?
Ways to showcase your innovation during the recruitment process
Think of a time when you have taken what could be considered an atypical approach to a problem; what was different about your approach and how was it successful? Have you ever come up with a new and better way of doing something? For example, if your student society was planning on promoting itself via a stall at a student fair and you suggested giving out some freebies to attract people to the stall, then went about sourcing suitable items, you would have provided a basic innovation to improve society membership and increase awareness among students. Or if you worked behind a bar and suggested a new drinks promotion or loyalty scheme, you’ve innovated.
Show you are commercially aware at interview
You can demonstrate commercial awareness at interview even through talking about a casual job. If you’ve worked stacking shelves in a supermarket, for example, be able to identify the issues facing the supermarket industry. Who owns the company? How is it structured? If you’ve worked in a pub you could be asked about the issues facing the drinks industry. Did you notice any losses during stocktaking, for example, or items consistently selling well? Give the recruiter answers that demonstrate an insider’s – not a customer’s – perspective.