Now is a good time to stretch out your hand for that brass ring. On ERE.net Dr. John Sullivan, a well-known professor of management at San Francisco State University, recently wrote that “83 percent of recruiters report that the power has shifted away from where it has been for years, the employer, and toward the candidate.” Now, according to Sullivan, companies must respond to a situation where “top candidates are in the driver’s seat” and “the best have multiple options.”
To take full advantage of this situation, start by sprucing up your social media presence. Experts continue to debate whether employers should be checking out prospective job candidates on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. But assume that at least some are checking out those sites and edit your photos and comments accordingly.
Companies in hiring mode definitely are checking out LinkedIn, so having a professional, up-to-date LinkedIn profile is crucial. “It has become the go-to site for recruiters and might likely remain so in the foreseeable future,” says Aliah D. Wright, author of the book A Necessary Evil: Managing Employee Activity on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…and the Hundreds of Other Social Media Sites.
The thought of networking tends to make even the most confident job candidate nervous. Don’t think of networking as pushing yourself forward and pleading for a job. Instead, look at networking as an opportunity to learn more about your field and to meet some of its influential leaders.
One of the best ways to network is to join, and become active in, a professional association. It’s a good way to raise your profile and have a presence where recruiters scout for talent.
Consider these professional associations:
- The American Accounting Association (http://aaahq.org/) for accountants in academia
- American Institute of CPAs (aicpa.org)
- The Professional Accounting Society of America (thepasa.org) for entry-level and mid-level professionals working at U.S. public accounting firms
- The Association for Financial Professionals (http://www.afponline.org/)
- Society of Financial Service Professionals (financialpro.org)
- Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (http://afwa.org/)
- National Association of Black Accountants (nabainc.org/)
- ALPFA, Inc., the successor to the American Association of Hispanic Certified Public Accountants (http://www.alpfa.org/)
In the course of your networking, you may find that you want to set up an informational meeting with a leader or recruiter to learn more about a particular career path or company. Go prepared with questions, behave in a professional manner, keep the meeting short and follow up with a thank you note. And no bait and switch—don’t try to turn an informational interview into a job interview.
Resume & Cover Letter
When opportunity knocks, be ready with an updated resume that highlights your ability to think analytically and solve problems in a structured, methodical way. Emphasize your ability to communicate with clients, managers and colleagues.
Always tailor your resume to the specific position you’re applying for. We recommend:
- Focusing on skills that apply to your industry, and more importantly, to the position for which you’re applying.
- Mentioning any programs, software or tools that are prevalent in your industry, to show that you keep up with the latest technology.
- Using data and stats to show the effectiveness of your work at your current and previous jobs.
To get past the robot parsing your resume, make sure the resume contains some of the key words that are outlined in the job description. And don’t just use the key words, but also terms that relate closely to those words. For example, don’t just use the term CPA, but also accounting, audits, financial statements, etc.
Your cover letter should be short (less than a page) and forceful. Start with a statement that makes it immediately clear why you want this job and why you’re the right person for it.
The Interview Process
Prepare for the job interview by thoroughly researching the company. Be ready for a preliminary telephone screening, with a standard list of questions, which is often used to weed out candidates.
Be on time. Dress appropriately. These are obvious tips, but you’d be surprised by how many candidates show up and become memorable in the wrong way—for being late or for wearing inappropriate attire.
Job seekers in some industries can get away with business casual, but in accounting and finance, good judgment means conservative attire. Men should wear a dark suit, dress shirt, tie, coordinating socks and dress shoes. Women should wear a simple suit with a skirt or pants, a conservative blouse with the suit, and understated make-up, accessories and nail polish.
Prepare thoroughly for interview questions. Role-play so that you’re ready with well-thought-out answers about your education, work experience and other qualifications.
Three popular techniques today are structured or patterning interviewing, behavioral interviewing and situational interviewing.
With structured or patterning interviewing, you will be asked a standard list of questions that are asked of all applicants. The goal is to produce uniformity of data from one interview to the next and to make sure that no key questions are forgotten. Don’t be trapped by the format. Whatever the standard questions, diplomatically use them to work in the points you want to make about your qualifications.
Behavioral interviewing calls on you to back up your words with examples. With this type of interviewing “a person is asked to accurately describe real situations they have encountered and what they did to resolve the issue or problem,” says Lester Rosen, author of The Safe Hiring Manual. This method is based on the idea that “the most accurate predictor of how a candidate will perform on the future is how he or she performed in the past in a similar situation.”
Behavioral interview questions often start with:
- Describe a situation…
- Give me an example…
- Tell me about a time…
To prepare for this type of questioning, use what’s known as the “STAR” method. That’s a structured response to a question in which you discuss a specific Situation, Task or Action, and the Result that you produced. Use this method to tell stories that illustrate your major achievements and ways that you have excelled. You don’t have to limit yourself to workplace stories.
In situational interviewing, you are asked to imagine a set of circumstances and explain how you would respond to that situation. In this case, the questions are future oriented, not past oriented. One reason interviewers like this approach is that it requires all interviewees to respond to the same hypothetical situation rather than describe their various past experiences.
Some companies prefer the panel interview approach, with representatives from various areas of the business. If you find yourself facing down a panel try to relax and interact with each member.
During your interview, make sure you ask questions, as well as answer them. Asking well-researched questions demonstrates your interest in the company and position. Plus, you want to find out if this is a place where you really fit the culture and want to work.
After the interview, be sure to send a thank you email or letter. It’s not only the polite thing to do, but it gives you the opportunity to restate why you would be a good fit for the organization. Close your message by stating that you look forward to the next step. If you took the proper steps along the way, chances are strong that you stood out from the crowd and will take another step forward.