Career development:
Enhancing your employability

What do employers look for?
There are a number of major traits employers look for when hiring trainees. We take a look at a number of the most common

Impressing a current or future employer is as much about having the right attitude as the right qualifications, technical skills and experience. There is a raft of traits that employers always look for, while other qualities tend to be more trend-based or as a result of supply and demand.

The good news is that many of the most important traits are also some of the easiest (and least costly) to attain, simply by picking up and demonstrating good habits – and chief among the characteristics employers like is a sense of initiative.

While asking questions is one of the best ways to learn, rather than automatically turning to others for help all the time, consider looking to find answers for yourself. An internet search or company documents may well provide the answers you are looking for.

Trying to work things out for yourself will demonstrate initiative and people will be more inclined to provide assistance when you really need it if you don’t bombard them with numerous requests.

Exceed expectations

An ability to exceed expectations is always a positive attribute and it is always better to surprise your manager or clients by delivering something earlier than expected than to make a promise you cannot keep. Try to negotiate realistic deadlines and then do your best to complete the task in the shortest possible time.

Ellis King, Manager, Accountancy and Finance Contract at Morgan McKinley says: ‘The accountancy profession is developing quickly so candidates must show that they are adaptable to the rapid change in the sector and must be open and flexible.

‘Another increasing trend is the importance of attitude within accountancy, and this doesn’t simply mean coming in early and leaving late every day – it is about having pride in the work you are doing and showing that you enjoy it. More than ever before, personality is important, and even at the interview stage companies are testing not just your technical skills, but your attitude.’

If you gain a reputation for handing things in early then people will trust you and be more understanding should you ever need more time due to circumstances beyond your control. Similarly, if you spot an opportunity to add value to a project then you should try to grasp it with both hands.

Job description

It is worth remembering that a job description should be seen as a list of minimum requirements rather than the final word on your daily activities. There may be times when trainees are asked to do something not directly related to their role.

It is advisable to try to view these requests as opportunities to stretch yourself and demonstrate your abilities rather than moaning that it’s not your responsibility.

Nicholas Kirk, regional managing director at Page Personnel Finance says: ‘A perfect trainee will show that they are dependable, bright and hard working. Always try to show initiative and understand the company’s objectives and aim to deliver a little bit extra on top of what you have been asked for every time.

‘In the current climate, companies are focused on reducing costs and winning new business to increase profit margins. Therefore, trainees who also understand how to relate back to the bottom line and provide return on investment are very attractive.’

Positive attitude

Most people show their best behaviour when they start a new job, but the longer they remain with a company the easier it seems to become to develop bad habits. This might mean regularly arriving a few minutes late, or making less effort with your appearance, which can be a source of extreme annoyance to colleagues and line managers.

Sloppy time keeping or scruffiness can be taken as sure signs that you are not committed and may raise questions about your general levels of performance. Show that you take your job seriously by being conscientious and exuding an aura of professionalism at all times – after all, you are paid to behave in a certain way.

‘Attitude is everything and it is essential to keep a positive, motivated outlook. A trainee’s personality and attitude will be just as much under scrutiny as their skills and it will always help to smile and exude positive, upbeat vibes, both in interview and once in a role’, adds Kirk.

The way trainees present skills and experiences to a potential employer is also vital. For many trainees, finding a way to stand out from the crowd will be the key.

Robert Half managing director Phil Sheridan adds: ‘While employers will want to see that you have invested in your accountancy studies, some of the softer skills like communication, interpersonal and presentation skills will be distinguishing factors in trainee accountants, as is motivation and a willingness to learn.

‘Accountants of all career levels should have a fair understanding about how their role fits into the larger business. Displaying a sense of commerciality, by understanding the key business drivers, including revenue and growth targets, will help new trainees understand the business and therefore more actively contribute to its success.’

Interest in employer

Commercial awareness is another of the most important attributes for a Finance Director to have, so it figures that trainees should show interest in an organisation’s operational activities as early as possible, while at the same time retaining a focus on the numbers.

Make sure that you are able to use real life examples that showcase your competencies and skills – and work on your ability to tell a story incorporating tangible benefits that your work delivered.

Karen Young, director at Hays Senior Finance, says: ‘Employers are also looking for trainee accountants who are hardworking and proactive. Finance Directors rate these two personal qualities as the most important in helping them succeed in their own careers so far, so show a potential employee that you are enthusiastic, prepared to work hard and ambitious for success.

‘Trainees need to demonstrate that they have the ability to liaise with stakeholders across a business by adapting their communication styles to suit different audiences. For example, avoid using technical jargon or internal acronyms when answering questions posed in the interview and ensure that you use real life examples to illustrate your points.’

This article originally appeared in Student Accountant magazine. Read the original article