There’s a talent crunch that’s currently casting a shadow over the future of the accounting industry. Many accounting professionals are retiring, being terminated, or resigning. One reason is that the accounting industry is very demanding, and, given the massive workloads and tight deadlines employees face, some professionals can’t settle in and find the right role for their skills. As a result, they don’t stick with it as their career choice.

So, how can you identify the right role and stand out enough to land the position? The following are strategies to answer those questions.

Applying for the Right Position

With the present demand for qualified professionals, you may find that there are ample positions in the marketplace. But how can you determine what is the right fit for you?

Obviously, the Big 4 accounting firms, and really any firm of reputation, won’t hire just anybody. No matter if you’re hoping to work in auditing, industry, or public accounting, you’re signing up for long hours and highly technical work. Don’t let that prospect intimidate you—just be conscious going in of the potential trade-offs that different positions will incur.

The best way to ensure that you’re applying for the right position is to begin with the end in mind. Essentially, you need to take time to consider your skills, determine your career goals, and define the steps you’d take along the way to reach those goals. So, ask yourself: Is this job in line with my goals?

In that process, you should also identify resources that you’ll use to become a more attractive candidate to recruiters, including your network of professionals who can support you, a polished cover letter, and a stand-out résumé. Online resources, such as the Job Placement Assistance Program, are available to help you prepare for every phase of the application process.

Prepping for the Interview

Whether this is your first job interview or your 30th, we’ve all heard the most basic advice about successful job interviews: arriving early, personal grooming, dressing appropriately, and having your employment information on hand to reference during the interview. But, let’s be honest, everyone else who is interviewing for the position is also going to follow those tips. How can you truly stand out from the competition?

It all starts with real preparation. It’s important to look at the company’s website and social media pages to prepare relevant questions about the role for which you’re interviewing. Another strategy that will give you confidence ahead of time is listing out what I like to call “power statements” on a separate sheet of paper. These statements are highlights of your past accomplishments, and they should be specific. For example, instead of listing the types of jobs you’ve done, zero in on an aspect of your performance that will benefit the company with which you’re interviewing. For example, “I was able to decrease the time in accounts receivable so that we were closing accounts in 90 days, rather than 90-plus days.” List your accomplishments and prepare statements that show quantifiable evidence of your abilities.

Other tips? Control what you can control. Consider calling the company ahead of time to ask about their dress code. Avoid potential frustration by driving to where the interview will take place the day before, just in case the GPS directions aren’t right, to ensure you'll be early.

Standing Out During the Interview

Once you’ve arrived for the interview, go on the offensive. You need to speak with respect and follow the interviewer’s lead, but you also need to present your best self, including a smile and an extended hand, from the moment you enter the building.

The interviewer is going to ask you open-ended questions because they want to hear you speak and learn about your experiences. But you only have so much time in front of this person, so avoid going on tangents or repeating yourself. In other words, know when to stop talking. This is where your prep work will shine. It’s also a good idea to bring a portfolio to show examples of your previous work.

When the opportunity arises for you to ask questions, try to ask specific questions about the company and the role itself. Act as if you’re already working in the position. What do you want to know about the day-to-day tasks you’d be completing if you were hired?

At the end of the interview, it’s very likely that the interviewer will open the conversation up with a question such as, “Is there anything more that you would like to ask?” This question is a gold mine, yet so many of us just punt the opportunity and say, “Not really.” I highly recommend asking, “Can you show me where in the office I would be working if I was selected for the position?”

This gives you a great opportunity to make eye contact and shake hands with the other employees at the company. It’s the best way to get your name circulating in the hallways. If you take a tour of the office, your interviewer can draw on the impression that you made on the other employees to make their decision on who to hire.

If the workstation you’d be assigned is vacant, sit in the chair and say, “I can see myself working here and being happy.” You’ll likely be the only candidate who has put those words in the interviewer’s mind. Now, they’ll be measuring all of the other candidates against you because of the visualization they’ve had of you meeting the other employees and sitting at the workstation.

Before you leave, try to establish an expectation regarding timelines. Ask about next steps in the interview process. This will give you peace of mind for the timeline they mention. Toward the end of that window, send a thank-you card or email expressing gratitude for their time and consideration. This could be just the little nudge needed to make you the preferred candidate.

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

These tips will help you rise above the crowd and get you into a position that you enjoy and in which you see a bright future. No longer are you leaving this process to chance—you’re proactively doing more than most to get the position you want.

Remember: Landing the right position starts well before you arrive for the interview. Do the necessary legwork now so that you’re not left on the outside looking in, or worse, stuck in a dead-end position that you can’t stand.

If you’re struggling to find the right position, don’t get discouraged. With the right preparation and resources, you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be. You got this!

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