When you are enrolled in an accounting program, you should be searching for a job during the last year of your program. Some accounting firms may recruit applicants directly through accounting programs. If possible, attend as many recruitment events as possible. Even if you are not able to find a job through the recruitment process, recruitment will give you practice interacting professionally with potential employers and help you develop a sense of how to have a productive conversation during an interview or while applying for a job.
Your accounting program may also have job listings for new graduates for companies that are not participating in recruitment.
This can be a quick way to find jobs. Besides going through your accounting program’s career-services office, look up accounting firms in areas where you wish to work. These firms will list job openings on their websites. If you find a firm you like that doesn’t list any entry-level job openings, you can write a letter to the firm inquiring about any potential jobs. A job inquiry letter is similar to a cover letter, and you can find examples on what to say and how to format your letter through your accounting program’s career-services office or online.
Networking is another good way to search for an accounting job. Contact any accountants you know and ask if they can recommend any job openings. They may suggest employers you have not yet heard of or may know someone who is looking to hire. Even if you cannot find a job right away through networking, it is never a bad idea to cultivate your network. You never know if down the road in your career a colleague will have advice on how to help you advance your career.
The first step in the job application process is to send a resume and cover letter. Your resume should highlight all of the work experience you have thus far and list all of your job-related skills. Even if you have little to no experience working in the accounting world, include any part-time student employment you have had and any extracurricular activities in which you have been involved. You may wish to have a career counselor at your accounting program’s career-services office look over your resume and provide advice on how to best present yourself to potential employers.
Your cover letter should introduce you and express your interest in the job for which you are applying. Use your cover letter to show your knowledge about the company and to show how your skills directly relate to the job for which you are applying. Rather than repeating information listed in your resume, your cover letter should expand on one or two particular aspects of your background that are the most important to the position you seek.
If your resume and cover letter are well-received, you may be offered an interview. During an interview, you may need to behave more formally than you otherwise would while working at an accounting job. Some employers are more formal than others, and it is always better to air on the side of caution, overdress, and be overly but not disingenuously courteous during your interview. Research your potential employer before the interview so that you can discuss your skills in a way that relates them to the job you seek and your potential employer’s individual needs. Prepare several relevant questions to ask about the job. Elaborate on the things listed in your resume and quantify what you have contributed to the organizations you have worked for previously.
Accounting Programs and Internships
While you are enrolled in an accounting program, consider finding an internship, working for an accounting firm or in a similar capacity for another organization before you have finished your degree. Some internships are part-time, and others are full-time. Part-time internships can be designed around your class schedule. Many full-time internships take place during the summer when most students are not taking classes. Some accounting programs give you college credit for the time spent at your internship. Other accounting programs may require you to participate in an internship to graduate.
Internships are a great way to gain real-world experience in the accounting field. You will be able to further your understanding of how your course work will influence your future career. You will use the math and statistics courses you take to analyze financial documents and help you gain an appreciation for the skills you learned. Your business, economics, and finance courses will also help you define your soft skills as you use what you learned to make informed decisions about how to prepare financial documents and create a reasonable budget for your employer. Working will help you gain time-management experience, as you may have to meet deadlines. Learning how you can be the most productive during an internship will help you manage your work day once you have a full-time accounting job after graduation.
During your internship, you will also get a feel for the lifestyle in the accounting field. Many accountants work in an environment with a corporate culture, although the particular culture may vary from place to place. You can develop a sense of what kind of workplace best suits your personality and use your experience as you apply for accounting jobs after graduation. Gaining experience interacting professionally with colleagues and supervisors through an internship will also prepare you to handle these relationships gracefully once you are working.
Check with your college or university’s career-services office to find help in securing an internship. Some employers may recruit interns directly through your school. The career-services office can provide resources to help you search for other internships. It can also help you craft a good resume and cover letter. Most career-services offices have sample resumes and cover letters for you to examine. You may also be able to meet with a career counselor who can help you develop your written communication and prepare for an interview.
You can also search for an internship on your own. Look up accounting firms in the area where you wish to work. These firms may have internship opportunities posted on their websites. If you do not see any internship postings, you can email potential employers to inquire about an internship. Sometimes listings are not posted yet. In other cases, some firms may not have planned to hire interns initially but could change their minds based on your communication. Some students find internships simply by creating their own. They contact potential employers with an offer to serve as an intern, and sometimes these employers accept. In this type of situation, you could also have the opportunity to ask your employer for tasks that will give you the specific experience you seek.
Some internships are paid, and others are unpaid. If you have an unpaid internship, check with your university to see if it will grant you college credit. If not, you can still gain valuable work experience.
Preparing Your Resume
Many accounting programs have career-services offices to help you find a job after you graduate. The first step in applying for an accounting job is to send your resume and cover letter. Your accounting program’s career-services office should be able to provide sample resumes. You may not have much work experience if you are still a student, but these sample resumes can help you determine which of your experiences to showcase and which skills to highlight.
Your resume should be one page long and have several sections.
The first section of your resume is the header, which includes your contact information. The header should show your full name, your address, your phone number, and your email address. The format of your header may vary slightly depending on the length of the other sections on your resume. If you are just finishing school, your resume should only be one page long. Once you are in the middle of your career, your resume can be closer to two pages, but a two-page resume from someone applying to entry-level jobs can look superfluous to potential employers.
The second section of your resume is an objective, which simply states what you hope to gain from the position for which you are applying. The third section, which will be the largest section of your resume, is your experience. You should list all work experience that you have in chronological order, starting with the most recent. You may wish to break the experience section of your resume into two subsections–one for accounting experience and one for other experience. A good way to gain accounting experience before graduating from an accounting program is to participate in an accounting internship. If you have not participated in an accounting internship, you can focus on any other work experience you have, such as an on-campus job or extracurricular activities in which you have been involved.
Under each entry of work experience that you list, create a bulleted list of your job duties. Begin each bullet with an action verb, such as “organized” or “created.” The bullet entries should not be complete sentences. You should not repeat action verbs for more than one bullet. Your career-services office may have a list of possible action verbs to use if you are having trouble coming up with what to say. Be direct in your descriptions for each bullet. If you can include quantitative information, such as creating a budget that saved a certain amount of money, include the amount or a percentage. It is always better to be as precise as possible when creating your resume.
The next section of your resume is your education, where you will list the degrees you have earned and the year you earned them. Start with the most recent. If you earned any honors along with your degree, list those beneath each degree. If you are still a student, you can say “expected June 2012,” for your degree’s date.
The last section of your resume is the skills section. You should list computer skills, such as programs like word processors, spreadsheets, databases, or other software you have used. Include other skills as well, such as foreign languages. Be direct in your skills just as you were in the work- experience section. Do not list vague skills such as “works well with other people.” Instead, only list skills that tell potential employers something exact that you can bring to the workplace, such as “proficient in French.
Preparing for Accounting Interviews
Toward the end of your accounting program, you will begin the job-search process. Employers who are impressed with your resume may contact you for an interview. Many accounting programs’ career-services offices will have resources available to help you complete your interview successfully. Some career- services offices will even have career counselors available to complete a practice interview with you. The first section of your practice interview will be the career counselor playing the role of the interviewer and you playing yourself. After this segment of the interview, the career counselor will give you advice on how to improve your interview skills based on how you answered his or her questions. The career counselor will also advise you on how your mannerisms and dress can affect your success in an interview.
First impressions are important in interviews, and how you are dressed matters. Men should wear a suit and tie. Women should wear a suit with a button-down shirt underneath. Only wear minimal jewelry such as small stud earrings or a discrete necklace that has no more than one strand. If you are unsure of your jewelry’s appropriateness, forego jewelry all together for an interview. Wear understated makeup and be sure your hair is neat. Although some potential employers are less formal than others, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed for an interview. You may never need to dress up to the same extent once you are offered the job, but it is best not to take any chances when it comes to appropriate dress for an interview.
Bring several hard copies of your resume with you. Your interviewer may already have a copy, but it is best to be prepared. If you are entering a room with a closed door, always knock first. Then, shake hands with everyone in the room. These common courtesies show that you are aware of professional etiquette and help form a great first impression.
Think ahead about what you will discuss during your interview. Although you will not know the exact questions that your interviewer will ask, you can prepare answers for common interview questions and tailor them to the questions asked. For example, if you are asked to walk your interviewer through your resume or describe previous job experience, do not merely repeat the information listed in your resume. Instead, elaborate on the details. Explain a problem you had to solve, the steps you went through to solve the problem, and the outcome. Include quantitative information if possible.
The interviewer may ask you to describe your strengths and weaknesses. If so, describe your weaknesses in a way that shows how you work to overcome problems. Talk about what you have done to overcome your weaknesses, and describe the improved outcome. This will show that you are aware of yourself and proactive about doing as well as you are able.
Learn as much as you can about your potential employer before the interview. That way, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions, you can ask thoughtful questions that show your knowledge of the company. Prepare a few thought-out questions to ask before your interview.
Within twenty-four hours of your interview, send an individual thank-you note to everyone who interviewed you. You can do this via email. This is an opportunity to show courtesy, reiterate the highlights of your conversation, and ask any additional, well-informed questions. A thank-you note can make the difference between getting hired or not if several candidates are close contenders.