How to land your first accounting position

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How does one stand out in a competitive job market? Finding employment after graduating can be tough because so many other graduates are also looking for work. With Workers day around the corner, here are some pointers on becoming the candidate recruiters will notice first.

Join a professional body

Belonging to a professional body shows employers you’re serious about excelling in your accounting career. So the very first thing you should do is seek out one that best matches your objectives and review your options for joining them as soon as possible. If you intend to perform all accounting duties excluding external auditing, SAIPA is the institute of choice. Although you need to complete a SAIPA learnership before becoming a full member, you can register as a Trainee member immediately. We offer great support and sound advice on the best route to follow to become a fully-fledged professional accountant.

Begin with a learnership

Although organisations desperately need accountants, they won’t entrust these positions to anyone unless they’re technically competent. You should, therefore, commit yourself to a learnership where you can gain practical experience to match your knowledge. For example, to earn SAIPA’s designation of Professional Accountant (SA), you’ll train for three years at a SAIPA approved training centre (ATC). This is a regular company with whom you must seek employment but where your execution of prescribed accounting duties is logged electronically as evidence of your growing competence. Although SAIPA doesn’t influence the recruitment process, we will post your details on our online forum, from which ATCs often source their candidates.

Build your online presence

Building a notable online presence will expose you to many potential employers. Focus on LinkedIn, the world's most popular social network for professionals, but never badger its users directly with requests for work. Rather, make it easy for them to learn about you at a glance with a comprehensive profile that lists all your relevant qualifications and achievements and includes a simple head-and-shoulders photo. Then, connect with as many financial officers, recruiters and HR managers as possible or join groups they belong to. You should frequently share useful content and comment on their posts to catch their attention but don’t spam them and never criticize their comments - you want to win them over, not prove you’re smarter. LinkedIn also has a built-in job suggestion function that exposes your profile to recruiters, so make sure the appropriate setting is activated in your profile so you are visible to them. Never use your personal social network, like Facebook, as your intimate comments and photos might not complement your professional image.

Network

Physical networking is still the best way to make contact with prospective employers. It provides you with the chance to strike up a face-to-face conversation and build rapport, familiarity and trust. SAIPA offers many networking opportunities to its members, including its Business Breakfast, annual conference, regional support events, online forums and more. These are all excellent social situations to meet accountants in private practice and in business, get career tips from them and maybe even be invited to interview with their organisation. After all, people prefer to hire qualified people they know and trust.

Develop your soft skills

Employers favour candidates with good soft skills, that is, abilities that allow them to perform efficiently and productively in cooperation with coworkers. These include respect, creativity, initiative, teamwork, critical thinking, numeracy, written and spoken communication, report writing, adaptability and others. That’s why SAIPA incorporated them deeply into Project Achiever, our programme to prepare aspiring accountants for their Professional Evaluation. Every member must pass this exam before being awarded the title of Professional Accountant (SA), and we’ve noted that Project Achiever graduates always excel because of the soft skills they’ve acquired. My colleagues at SAIPA, as well as most recruiters, would agree that the difference between a good accountant and a great one is their soft skills.

Think ahead

Finding your first position as an accountant can be difficult but the advice above will help you succeed. As you gain experience, future interviews become easier because you can demonstrate your track record. Even so, a professional designation, like SAIPA’s Professional Accountant (SA), will boost your marketability tenfold. It assures employers that you are a person of integrity, capable of meeting the high standards of excellence set by a recognised industry authority, and gives you an advantage over unregulated accountants. I invite you to find out how to qualify for this designation by visiting SAIPA’s website.

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