Graduates: here’s what to expect in your finance and accounting job search

By Robert Half 17th July 2018

Trying to score a graduate job can feel intimidating at the best of times—you have a lack of industry experience and aren’t quite sure what to expect from your first real role. Luckily, a handful of key finance and accounting recruitment consultants from Robert Half are on hand to help.

Sharif Omar, Associate Director supporting businesses hiring finance and accounting graduates in London West.

Seema Chand, Divisional Manager supporting businesses hiring finance and accounting professionals in Birmingham.

Henry Morse, Associate Director specialising in finance and accounting recruitment within financial services firms in London.

Our recruitment consultants share all their tips on what to expect from the hiring market, how to write an impressive CV and which skills are the most in-demand.

Most in-demand roles for 2018 graduates

Sharif says: A lot of roles we’re getting for graduates now are quite varied. There are a lot of SME businesses looking for graduates nowadays, and generally these employers are looking for accounts assistants; ledger and sales ledger clerks and pre-qualified accountants—quite broad transactional roles with study support. 

We’ve noticed that a lot of graduates are looking for broader roles too, which is really good. Historically, Big Four and large firms were more appealing option, but now we are seeing graduates looking to work for smaller businesses like startups and SMEs in which the remits are quite agile and there is great learning potential. 

Seema says: My team works regularly with a logistics company—we recruit for their graduate programmes about 4 – 5 times a year. Overall, recruitment for SME-businesses is quite high at the moment across the Midlands. In terms of graduate preference, we tend to see graduates looking more at larger companies because they offer attractive graduate packages. But there are strong opportunities among some of the growing SMEs within Birmingham.

Henry says: There’s still a very high intake year-on-year for graduates across the board within financial services. Graduates are being hired at a range of different levels. Potential candidates know how competitive the hiring market is within firms, with private equity being more appealing that brokers.

The three experts all agree: graduates are in high demand in 2018 as firms look to grow their look to fill their ranks with fresh talent and high potential in for future business success. Highlighting your willingness to learn and ability to work in a fast-paced company can help to make sure you stand out.

Which hard and soft skills are employers looking for?

Sharif says: Communication skills and the ability to build relationships and collaborate is a big thing businesses are looking for. They want someone who can analyse and interpret information. From a technical perspective, Excel skills are very important for graduates, too.

Seema says: If you’re joining a large business, they usually want a 2:1 Degree and above. Some clients look for maths A-Levels, too.

In terms of soft skills, a willingness to learn is very attractive, as is being proactive, thinking outside the box and coming up with new ideas. Clients aren’t hiring people just to come in and do a job, they want someone who can add value, so they want to see that you can communicate and think for yourself.

Don’t forget that the way you present yourself is also an important factor. Sometimes you might not have the grades, but with exceptional soft skills you’re okay—cultural fit is more important than qualifications at the moment. 

Henry says: The key skill which is in demand time and time again is strong Excel skills. More specifically, knowing your way round PivotTables and the VLOOKUP function. Those are the two things every client wants. If you’ve never done it, research it. When you’re looking at large data sets those two things will speed up your work greatly.

DID YOU KNOW? Here at Robert half we offer all our candidates free access to an e-Learning potential so they can take advantage of over 8,000 free online learning courses so they can stay competitive in today’s career environment. 

Potential employers usually prefer maths or economic degrees. Experience is also very important—we’re finding four-year degree candidates with a sandwich year are in hot demand. 

You should also try to appear professional but outgoing. Employers love graduates who show the ability to socialise with the wider company out of hours. It demonstrates the ability to build and maintain relationships with others and is all about being credible and people having the confidence to give you work in the relevant department. 

TIP: Although basic technical skills are desirable, the experts point out that soft skills are very important to potential employers. As newcomers into the workplace, they want graduates to be willing to learn, grow and build lasting relationships with others in the company. 

How to make your graduate CV stand out

Sharif says: What really stands out is if someone has had a sandwich year, a year’s experience, any kind of paid internships or voluntary experience. Sometimes extra-curricular things can also help, like the Duke of Edinburgh award, or voluntary work which shows communication skills. 

This especially stands out for roles in an SME environment—that you can show empathy for what it’s like to be in a workplace and can hit the ground running.

Seema says: Academics are one of the main things employers look at but it really helps to include a profile about yourself and what you’re looking for in a job. Turn it into a bit of a story so that it becomes more than just a CV—it’s an insight into you as a person. 

You could include achievements, such as voluntary work and part-time work or project involvement. Voluntary work is really attractive because there are a lot of graduates out there, so something which makes you stand out is good.

Henry says: In my experience, there are three killer difference that will set your CV apart: Excel experience, personality and work experience. If you don’t have any experience, go out and volunteer for free, even if it’s just for a few weeks. Any kind of work that shows you have the ability to work in an office is good and will definitely make you more employable.

Interview tips for graduates

Sharif says: Research the business and the person you’re meeting with. Speak with your recruitment consultant to get an understanding of what the key competencies are from the hiring manager’s perspective. In terms of competencies, it also helps to think of really good examples based on experience that demonstrates your ability.

For example, a competency could be resilience or collaboration. You may not have experience in a work environment, but could have an example taken from during your studies where you worked as part of a group and demonstrated those key traits. 

It’s also good to for a graduate to be able to explain why a certain role appeals to them and to be able to articulate their career goals, as well. It’s okay to come across as ambitious, but it’s also important to come across as someone interested in working in the role in its current format and working up through the company.

Seema says: Firstly, I’d recommend researching the company really well—what they do, their competition and their numbers. Are they growing? Have they just acquired anything new? You can also check out LinkedIn to research the person interviewing you, so you know who you’re talking to. Don’t leave it until the night before!

If you haven’t had a chance to show your research during the interview, you can wait until they ask whether you have any questions and integrate your research into well-phrased questions that demonstrate your knowledge. 

TIP: research is key if you want to impress a potential employer in a job interview. Take the time to look at the company, the interviewer and any new business news which you can incorporate into intelligent questions. 

Don’t forget to always be well-presented, to give plenty of eye contact and a good handshake. Come across as yourself and if they like you, you should be fine! 

It’s a hard market out there, so think about extra things that you can do to stand out, like taking a short A5 printed handout with you. It could be something small that they can focus on, so you can grab a breather between questions!

Henry says: It’s always a good idea to look up the interviewer on LinkedIn, so you know their background. You should also dissect the job description line by line, so you have a real awareness of the role and can have a proper conversation about it.

Potential employers are looking for someone they can hold a conversation with. Don’t overload yourself with research, which could potentially make you sound robotic during an interview, but you should have enough knowledge to show that you have done some research into the companies competitive position. Whenever we speak to hiring managers, they usually ask us to try and find someone who will fit the company culture, so take the softer side of hiring into consideration when you step into that interview room. 

TIP: Study the job description thoroughly and apply each competency to your own experience or skill set to show that you know your stuff, even if you haven’t had a chance to use it in a job-scenario yet. 

Would you like help finding your first graduate job opportunity? Get in touch with the experts at Robert Half today and together we can start the first steps towards your dream career.

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