Date posted: 31/01/2019

Top skills finance and accounting graduates need for success

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Showing off your hard and soft skills in an interview is easier than you think.

"Be yourself, be engaging, try and build that rapport with whoever it is you're meeting," says James Pang*, former Specialist Finance & Actuarial Recruitment Consultant at TOM Executive.

That rapport could be based on your skillset, which is why presenting your soft and technical skills to the recruiter is paramount in an interview. Here are some of the best ways to show that you have the skills required to nail the role and the fortitude to progress through the ranks.

Getting back to basics

Having a good industry knowledge and doing some research on the company is an excellent place to start. Showing the recruiter your technical skillset by providing past examples can help them understand what you can already do and what foundation you have to build on.

Before you present yourself for an interview, it's important to have read the details of the job description so that you know what skills the employer is looking for. That way, when you are discussing the role with your interviewer, you will know which of your skills to highlight. If you don't have much work experience to speak to, emphasise the relevant skills you learnt at university.

"If there are project-related pieces of coursework or certain engagements they've been involved in with at university - where you can demonstrate use of certain accounting software packages or certain financial modelling tools - you can show the practical applications in a work sense as well," James said.

Invest in your own professional development

Your university coursework will only get you so far. Updating your technical skills through professional development and ongoing learning will ensure that you are equipped with the skills to roll with the punches and improve yourself a little each day.

"We're seeing a real trend throughout accounting and finance where there is a demand for finance professionals that have a very strong ability to interact with data, and do not necessarily need to go through a technology team to get various bits of data and manipulate it," James said.

"If someone is able to show a strong interest in technology, and apply it to finance problems, that's very effective."

James suggests researching the kinds of short courses your university or other local educational institution offers. He acknowledges the value and importance of analytical thinking, which is a crucial skill that is also taught as part of the CA Program.

"If you can harness that, not just the presentation of 'here are the numbers', but the next step that goes beyond that, that is "here are the numbers, this is what it means, and this is why it matters," James says. "I think that Chartered Accountants are very good at being able to do that, and it certainly differentiates them from people that don't have that training and background."

Don't sell your soft skills short

Your technical skills aren't the only ones that need extra attention in an interview, James says, because soft skills are "growing and growing" in importance.

"Finance and accounting is becoming more and more business-facing and customer-facing, so things like being confident with presenting to senior people, being confident in talking about what numbers mean and how they're appropriate for a particular business are very important," James says.

Simple things like assuming a confident demeanor, taking pride in your personal presentation and speaking clearly is an easy way to portray some of these important soft skills.

"One of the big things that can be overlooked at times is showing the ability and willingness to learn. Just demonstrating an eagerness to take on new challenges can make a real difference," James says.

The evidence is everywhere

Although technical skills come from what you've learnt at school or university, soft skills can be learnt and updated in your personal life as well. Thinking outside the box and drawing on experiences that don't seem that relevant could be just the thing to help you get over the line.

"If you had a part-time job in which you showed initiative and took charge of a situation, it's an experience which may help to demonstrate to a recruiter that you work well in a team," James said.

Even if you don't get the job, asking for feedback is a great way to ensure you are getting the most out of each interview.

"Applying for jobs can be a long process, so if you don't get the first one, but you get some very good feedback, absolutely take it on board and really remember it and use it for the next time round."

TOM Executive works closely with both large and small companies in the banking and insurance spaces, including some of the Big Four. James Pang works with accounting candidates who are recent or soon-to-be university graduates.
*This interview was conducted in 2019. James Pang has since moved on from TOM Executive.