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Job Search Tips to Stand Out from Other Accounting and Finance Candidates

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Now is a good time to stretch out your hand for that brass ring. On 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.”

Social Media

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 ( for accountants in academia
  • American Institute of CPAs (
  • The Professional Accounting Society of America ( for entry-level and mid-level professionals working at U.S. public accounting firms
  • The Association for Financial Professionals (
  • Society of Financial Service Professionals (
  • Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (
  • National Association of Black Accountants (
  • ALPFA, Inc., the successor to the American Association of Hispanic Certified Public Accountants (

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.

Click To Tweet Tweet This: Do you stand out from other #accounting & #finance #candidates? Read @acctprincipals tips to land your dream job:

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 for which you’re applying. We recommend:

  • Focusing on skills that apply to your industry.
  • 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.

Follow up

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.

Ready to put this advice to good use and take your next career step?


Best Hiring Practices for Accounting and Finance in 2015

Effective hiring strategies for accounting and finance professionals.


Another New Year means more evolution for the accounting and finance world, and how your company recruits top accounting and finance talent has changed. Our new survey, “The True Cost of Working,” sheds light on some of the changes and how you can adapt to them.

How is the accounting and finance world evolving?

While the overall U.S. unemployment rate currently sits at 5.6%, the U.S. unemployment rate for accounting and finance professionals has trended about 1.5% lower. This is largely due to the “unprecedented demand for accounting grads” that we’re currently witnessing. Furthermore, from 2012-2022, the job growth rate for accounting is projected to be 13%—on par with the overall job growth rate. In addition to these stats, job – seekers—especially relatively younger candidates (the Millennial generation)—are now looking beyond salaries to other job benefits, which we’ll explore below. All of these factors create a candidate-driven market, where job seekers are more selective and employers must implement thoughtful hiring strategies.


What—other than salary—is most important to accounting and finance candidates?

There’s at least one obvious answer here. A candidate needs a job that matches their skills, and to a lesser extent, their education. But we must look beyond salaries and skills. This is where our survey, “The True Cost of Working,” helps us go more in depth. The survey was conducted in November 2014 and is based on the responses of nearly 500 working professionals. Let’s see what they had to say and what we can determine from their responses.


Work-Life Balance

You’ve likely heard it before, and now you’re hearing it again—from the most recent group of professionals surveyed. Work-life balance is still gold to top accounting and finance candidates, and it will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future. Here are some survey stats that paint the picture:

  • 25% of respondents hope to get a new job in 2015 due to a lack of work-life balance.
  • 63% of respondents missed what they consider a special personal moment due to work.
  • 85% of respondents indicate they spend money in order to de-stress from too much work.

So while this isn’t breaking news, it does further emphasize what companies should focus on, beyond salaries. And while a lack of work-life balance might not prevent top talent from accepting your offer, it will also not prevent them from leaving your company sooner, rather than later—costing you time, money and productivity.


Click To Tweet Tweet This: 85% of professionals say they spend money to de-stress from too much work! Read more on the @acctprincipals blog:


What can you do to promote work-life balance?

Basically, your company can’t just talk the talk; you must walk the walk and make work-life balance a part of your culture. You cannot simply discuss the concept in meetings, increase vacation days and encourage a flexible work schedule—you must follow through with it. Survey employees, ask them if they’re striking the right balance and encourage them to take all of their vacation days. Observe their performance and stress levels to ensure they’re getting plenty of opportunities to turn their work off and their free time on.


Work-Related Expenses

Candidates and employees aren’t just worried about their company’s expenses; they’re also worried about their personal work-related expenses. Let’s also kick this section off with key survey data:

  • 30% of respondents have a New Year’s resolution to reduce work-related expenses.
  • Average weekly spend on work-related expenses: gas/transportation ($66.60), lunch ($29.00), coffee ($10.40).

What can you do to reduce work-related expenses?

It’s the little things that often matter most, and that applies here. Offer employees the opportunity to work from home 1-2 days per week to save on transportation. Surprise them with a free lunch every now and then. Provide free coffee and refreshments in your break rooms. All of these things help employees reduce work-related expenses, but more importantly, they show your company cares about employees, which in turn, creates a more positive company culture.

There’s no question that today’s workforce is not only concerned with salaries, but also with the overall quality of their careers—and work-life balance and work-related expenses are two key components of that. Your company must take the needs and wants of top candidates and incorporate them in your recruiting and interview processes and in your company culture. That’s the best way to attract and retain the talent you need in a competitive, candidate-driven market.


Go Beyond The Salary with the 2015 Accounting Principals Salary Guide

Get the most accurate salary information, and learn more about what attracts and retains top accounting and finance talent. Request your free copy of the 2015 Salary Guide here!



Regardless of a company’s size, industry or stage in the business life cycle, leaders must assess their workforce, identify leadership candidates and form a detailed succession plan. This means hiring the right employees and managing them in a way that promotes advancement and growth. Let’s discuss succession planning a bit more, how to conduce employee growth and explore two case studies. Read the rest of this entry »

Accounting and Finance Jobs Report: December 2014

Total number of U.S. jobs grew by 321,000 in November, and unemployment rate is unchanged at 5.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In November, the unemployment rate held at 5.8 percent, and the number of unemployed persons was little changed at 9.1 million. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 1.2 percentage points and 1.7 million, respectively. The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed at 2.8 million in November. These individuals accounted for 30.7 percent of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed declined by 1.2 million.


Read the rest of this entry »

Finance and Accounting Jobs Report: November 2014

Total number of U.S. jobs grew by 214,000 in October, while the unemployment decreased to 5.8 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Both the unemployment rate (5.8 percent) and the number of unemployed (9.0 million) decreased in October 2014. Since the beginning of the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons have declined by 0.8 percentage point and 1.2 million, respectively.

In October, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) remained flat, around 2.9 million individuals. These individuals accounted for 32.0 percent of the unemployed population. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed has declined by 1.1 million, which is great employment progress.


The civilian labor force participation rate remained flat, overall, at 62.8 percent in October. This number has remained consistently stable for the entire year. The employment-population ratio increased to 59.2 percent in October.


Employment in professional and business services continued to increase this month, with 37,000 jobs added.


Over the prior 12 months, job gains averaged 56,000 per month. In October, employment continued to trend up in temporary help services, with 15,000 jobs added to this sector. Throughout 2014, employment in professional and business services has grown by an average of 55,000 per month – both solid growth for employment figures.

Employment in other major industries, including mining and logging, wholesale trade, information, financial activities, and government, showed little change over the month, but still remain strong employment sectors.

In October, the average workweek for all employees increased by 0.1 hour to total 34.6 hours. The average workweek for production and nonsupervisory employees on private non-farm payrolls edged up by 0.1 hour to a total of 33.8 hours.

Average hourly earnings for all employees increased by 3 cents to $24.57 in October 2104. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have risen by 2.0 percent. In October, average hourly earnings of private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees increased by 4 cents to $20.70. For more insight on the salary predictions for 2015, request your free copy of the 2015 Accounting Principals Salary Guide. 

Accounting Principals keeps employers up-to-date on monthly employment and hiring trends, specific to the accounting and finance industry. To learn more about today’s changing economic landscape, and to discuss your holiday season hiring strategy, contact an Accounting Principals representative today. 


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Be active in Chicago area networking events to match your business needs with top candidates’ career needs.

A savvy Chicago recruiter knows never to let a good candidate slip through the cracks. Even if a finance or accounting professional didn’t submit their resume, it’s up to you to use your professional networking skills to find them before your competitor does.


When it comes to assessing a candidate’s personality and professionalism, let’s face it: there is really no substitute for face-to-face interaction. That’s why we developed a list of networking associations in the Chicago area that would be ideal for meeting with potential candidates, and tips for how to get the most out of your networking opportunities.

Read the rest of this entry »


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