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Five essential steps before you apply for an accountancy job

Emmanuel Payne

Preparation will make all the difference once you get to the starting line for your accounting graduate job search

Before you put finger to keyboard to fill in a job application for a grad position at an accountancy firm, it’s an excellent idea to go through the following five steps.

Step one: Figure out what type of firm you want to work for

Beggars can’t be choosers and as a new grad you’re probably not going to be overly rigid about considering offers from a variety of firms. Nonetheless, any potential employer is going to want to see some evidence you’ve got an idea of what their corporate culture is like and can explain why you would adapt well to it. In fact, every firm you apply to will ask you to specify in one form or another why you want to work there.

To understand a firm’s culture you need a broader understanding of it as a whole: how large it is, what markets it is involved in, what fields it specialises in, its clientele and the significant events in its corporate history. All or most of this information should be available online and it if you can speak to a current or former employee of the firm all the better.  

Step two: Decide what you want to specialise in

Once you’ve worked out what firm you want to work for, you need a clear idea of what exactly you want to do for it. Once again, you’ll be asked early in the application process what accountancy specialisation(s) you’re interested in pursuing and why.  

Hopefully, you’ll already have some idea of where your interests lie. Helpfully, many accountancy firms, especially the larger ones, will have self-selection tests on their websites designed to help new grads determine which areas of the business they are best suited to (these tests can be undertaken separate from a formal application).

Your choice of degree subjects and the grades you achieved in them may affect your options. For example, if you want to join an actuarial scheme in the consulting division a big firm, you’ll probably need a degree with a solid grounding in mathematics and to have achieved impressive grades. Alternatively, to work in a forensic services department you may need specific IT skills. But choosing your specialisation frequently comes down to making an educated guess about what type of work you’ll find most enjoyable.  

Step three: Read the checklists

OK, you’ve worked out what you want to do and what kind of firms you want to do it for. Now it’s time to start identifying potential targets.
The good news is that there are likely to be a plethora of what on first glance, appear to be promising prospects. The not so good news is that you won’t meet the essential criteria for many of these positions and you’ll be wasting precious time and energy applying for them. If the application form makes it clear you need a degree in maths, statistics or aeronautics to work the analytic and forensic technology department of a particular firm, then you can assume that’s a non-negotiable dealbreaker, no matter how otherwise desirable a candidate you may be.

There may be a little more leeway with other requirements. KPMG Australia, for example, looks for the following seven ‘Global Behavioural Capabilities’ in potential employees:

  • Delivers quality
  • Drives collaboration and inclusion
  • Strives for continual improvement
  • Exercises professional judgement
  • Makes an impact
  • Seizes business opportunities
  • Demonstrates innovation and curiosity

While you can’t fudge having an aeronautics degree, you can probably come up with an argument that you’re the type of person who has an impact and exercises good judgement.

Step four: Make sure you’re applying to the right program

While it’s unlikely to be much of a problem with smaller employers, the large professional services firms can have a bewildering number of schemes open to graduates. Make sure you’re applying for the one(s) you want to be considered for.  

Step five: Check the deadline

It’s a rare employer who’s going to consider an applicant who can’t even apply on time. Best practice is to allow at allow at least one week to complete an application and to leave the finished application overnight before undertaking a final proof read and submitting.

Things will flow more smoothly if you print out the application form in its entirety and read it before you start entering any information. (You may also need to create a profile with an ID and password. Make sure you record these for latter reference or you may find yourself unable to track the progress of your application.)
Be aware that some firms do not have a concrete deadline but instead recruit until their places are filled. Some big firms will have filled all their graduate roles early in the year, long before their competitors have even started interviewing. The earlier you start your job search, the more jobs will be floating around.