Although finance professionals are in demand, competition for job vacancies and graduate schemes remains fierce. In turn, this has contributed to a rise in employer expectations.
‘While having a professional qualification that encompasses exams, ethics and experience is highly valued by employers, they are looking for candidates who really stand out,’ explains Ros Leah, ACCA head of professional development. ‘Employers know that the ACCA exam element of the ACCA Qualification rigorously tests technical knowledge but, in interviews, it’s important to demonstrate how you can apply knowledge practically, as well as show evidence of other key employability skills such as communication.’
‘Demonstrating self-reliance in building a broader skills base is the number one quality for increasing employability,’ adds Paul Blackmore, head of student employability and academic success at the University of Exeter. ‘Candidates will benefit greatly in the eyes of employers if they can prove they have taken proactive steps to understand what it takes to succeed in the workplace, and have sought opportunities to gain relevant experience.’
So what are employers looking for? Here are eight skills that improve employability, together with tips on how to demonstrate them.
Managers will expect you to work largely unsupervised on a day-to-day basis, so they need to know you can make responsible decisions on your own that result in a positive outcome. As a student, one of the best demonstrations of ‘taking the initiative’ is relevant training and work experience. Undertaking roles or placements, and courses in both core technical subjects and some of the broader skills listed below, provides evidence of your ability to define the requirements of tasks and implement them successfully.
2. Commercial acumen
Responsible decision-making demands strong commercial acumen, which describes your ability to understand business situations and apply your expertise accordingly. Alongside the technical know-how gained through your core qualifications, you will need to gather a much broader range of relevant knowledge. Your ability to do this can be demonstrated in interviews by researching the wider industry that your potential employer is in, how current affairs affect it, and any other relevant influences and facts.
Employers want evidence that you can deliver projects and tasks reliably, ethically and in a way that adds value to their organisation. The other skills in this article all contribute to professionalism, as do personal standards such as time-keeping, appearance and your ability to treat colleagues with respect. ACCA students and affiliates need to complete the Professional Ethics module, which you can talk about in your interview. You can also read our short article about the qualities expected of finance professionals.
Adding value to an organisation tends to come through seeing new ways to undertake tasks or solve problems. Therefore, look for ways to demonstrate your ability to bring something new to the employer without undermining the fundamental requirements of the profession. Rather than arriving at an interview with speculative ideas that might be off the mark, demonstrate how you were able to add value to something you undertook in the past, particularly in a work role or placement.
5. Project management
Every task you undertake will have some form of deadline. This might be preparing a document for a weekly meeting, delivering a project to a specific timeframe, or achieving a major initiative in key milestones. Employers will value your ability to plan workloads to meet timescales, and respond to challenging deadlines when the need arises – even if it sometimes means working outside regularly scheduled business hours. ACCA students naturally gain experience in project management through learning how to schedule their studying and exams around other commitments. You may also be able to use examples from work roles or placements.
6. Communication and presentation
Written and oral communication skills are as fundamental to employability as technical qualifications. Naturally, this means paying close attention to the wording of your CV, covering letter and any mock assignments you are asked to prepare. Interviews give employers the chance to assess your presentation skills, so prepare well and rehearse as much as possible. For example, undertake research about common interview questions, and craft answers that demonstrate a range of employability skills without sounding forced. It’s a good idea to find a relevant mentor to help, even if it’s just to provide feedback on what you have prepared.
The ability to work well with colleagues is paramount, and being able to reference team-working examples from work roles or placements will help to demonstrate this. Other activities can also contribute, such as participation in team sports. Acting as a team captain can be particularly appealing to employers as it demonstrates leadership potential for a later point in your career. Employers willing to invest in career development will be looking for candidates that can grow with their organisation.
Throughout your career, the majority of opportunities will come through relationships with others, making the ability to network an important skill to have. Employment fairs, business events and interviews are all opportunities to expand your network of contacts, and there are many advice websites on how to network effectively. Most important is to remember who you meet. A good tip is to write down a memorable fact about the person on the back of their business card or in a notebook.
ACCA offers a range of resources to help you enhance your employability:
- The ACCA Competency Framework will help you to demonstrate suitability for specific jobs. Use it to find out how the skills gained through exams and practical experience correlate to various finance roles.
- ACCA’s Student Accountant offers many articles on how to build skills, and you can also find valuable career advice on our Jobs Board.
- When recruiting for senior finance positions, many employers look for both an academic and professional qualification. If you don’t have an academic qualification, ACCA can help you obtain a BSc (Hons) in Applied Accounting with Oxford Brookes University, or a Masters in Professional Accountancy.
- You can also attend events hosted by your local ACCA office, which will help you to develop networking skills.