Accountancy job application advice for students, by graduates

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:37

We asked graduates working at BDO, Dixon Wilson, Grant Thornton, KPMG, Mazars, PwC, Smith & Williamson and UHY Hacker Young four key questions about the application process. This is their advice for graduates applying for accountancy and financial management jobs.

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Get involved in societies while you’re at university – you need to find something that differentiates you from the other hundreds of applicants.

1. What was the toughest part of the application process?

  • Getting my character across . Due to the nature of the questions you have to answer, I found this difficult. At the same time, I was very aware of who I was up against and conscious that I needed to make an impression.
  • The online tests . These can differ significantly from one company to another and require a lot of practice, perseverance and tenacity. Practising as much as possible really paid off for me.
  • The assessment centre . The tasks are quite time pressured and each requires a different skill set to complete it. But it was helpful as it was an accurate reflection of what a day working in my role at the firm would be like.
  • The pace of the assessment day . Unlike other graduate jobs, where you might get days or weeks to prepare, here your tests, first interview and graduate talk happen in just a few hours. The key is focusing and moving onto the next stage without getting hung up on the previous part.

2. What do you think made your application stand out?

  • My ‘other’ aspects . Most people who apply are very similar academically, so I think these helped me stand out. I took part in a lot of extracurricular activities – both at school and at university. I also volunteered for a summer doing scientific research in Indonesia, which gave me talking points on my CV that were a bit different.
  • My work experience . Throughout university I worked as a team leader in corporate hospitality at a cricket ground, which helped me acquire and develop essential business skills, including leading and working in a team, customer service and having a professional approach.
  • Being proactive . I was very proactive at university – I joined societies, attended company and employability events and took part in volunteering opportunities such as the student ambassador and course representative schemes.
  • My entrepreneurial nature . I have run several businesses from a young age, and this was predominantly the topic of discussion during my interviews.

3. What tips would you give to students who want graduate jobs in accounting?

  • Get tough . As you get further along in the application process, you become more attached to whichever firm you’ve applied to, but it’s important not to let rejection hurt too much.
  • Be involved . Make sure you get involved in societies while you’re at university – you need to find something that differentiates you from the other hundreds of applicants. The client-facing aspect of the role is really important, and having talking points, or maybe even shared experience, with the clients will make you more relatable and will give you a better working relationship.
  • Do an internship . Apply for summer internships while still at university – it’s a good way of getting a feel for the business. In terms of skills, you have to be focused, determined and diligent when carrying out the day-to-day work. You’ll also need to keep on top of the ACA exams and revision. Start studying early in the year – there’s a lot to learn in a very short space of time.
  • Keep up your maths skills . Work through some maths textbooks. Most job applications involve a maths test, and accountancy naturally hires mathematically-minded people, so it is essential to show you have reasonable numerical skills. When preparing for interviews, make sure you have a rough understanding of different functions within accountancy so you can answer questions about the role an accountant might have in the professional world.
  • Keep up your writing skills . Writing – reports, emails, internal and external communications – plays a large role in accountancy careers. If your actual degree work doesn’t require you to do a lot of writing, find some extra-curricular activities that do, to get some practise.
  • Take on positions of responsibility . Although I was part of my university's Entrepreneurs Society, it would have been a great experience to have taken on a leadership position, either as president or as a general committee member.
  • Do your research . Make sure you know what you will be doing in the job you want, so that you can make sure it is the job you want. Reading our employer hubs should help. Also, think carefully about which service line would suit you. Talk to current staff in professional services firms, go to careers fairs and apply for internships to deepen your knowledge.
  • Apply early . Don’t procrastinate when it comes to applying. Even when firms don’t have closing dates, once they’re full, they’re full. Also remember that it is usually easier to get into graduate programmes via internships.

4. What skills and competencies should aspiring accountants demonstrate?

  • People skills . You have to be able to meet people, quickly build a rapport and get the information you need.
  • Resilience and adaptability . You will be faced with numerous challenges, both client-related or to do with balancing revision and your day job.
  • Ability to have fun . There are some great opportunities to take advantage of outside of the working day, including sports teams, charitable work and work socials.
  • Teamworking skills . Develop these through group projects and working in a team. It can be challenging when everyone has different ideas, different ways of presenting them and different styles of studying, but you can develop essential business skills such as negotiation and analytical skills.
  • Being Excel savvy . If you haven’t got a good understanding of Excel before you start, you’ll definitely have it very soon!
  • An enquiring mind . You should always try to support information and never take it at face value.
  • Being analytical . Surprisingly for accountancy I don’t think you need to be an expert with numbers, and in fact loads of graduates at my firm have not done a maths-based degree. It is much more important to be able to analyse information you are given to a high standard.
  • Being honest . Don’t tell people you’ve done more work than you have. It will only get you into a fix later down the line!

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