How to stand out in the accounting job market

Young professional presenting to coworkers in an office

Accountants are highly sought after in the current job market, irrespective of one’s experience. If you’re in search of a new opportunity, recent statistics from Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate the unemployment rate is low in the field.

Competition for the best accounting positions can be vigorous, though. Many employers are highly selective when hiring new team members. Also, you may be going up against candidates who work outside of your local area. Now that remote and hybrid work are the norm, companies are casting a wider net in their search for potential hires, often looking to other geographic regions for in-demand talent.

How can you stand apart from other candidates in the accounting job market and increase your chances of getting hired for the position you’re targeting? These tactics can help:

Maximize the real estate in your accounting resume

First impressions are everything, especially when you’re competing for a hot accounting job. To catch a busy hiring manager’s eye, include the following in your accounting resume:

Professional summary

The top of your resume should feature a professional summary that gives hiring managers, at a glance, a sense of who you are and what you can bring to the table. The summary should be one short paragraph that encapsulates your skills, background and key attributes. (You can find many examples online of effective approaches to the professional summary.) If you’re applying for an entry-level role, this summary would likely focus more on your education and any relevant work experience to date.

Not sure which direction to take in your accounting career? Check out this post on entry-level accounting jobs for an overview of various paths to consider.

An explanation of value delivered

Here’s another tip: In every area where you outline your experience, underscore what you accomplished and the value you delivered — examples might be modernizing an inefficient process, finding an opportunity to reduce costs, mastering data analytics and reporting tools, or learning and then teaching others to use new accounting software. (Relevant technology skills are great to highlight anyway because many employers want and need digitally savvy accounting and finance professionals.)

Keywords and phrases

Also, don’t forget about keywords and phrases that can help your accounting resume glide through automated screening tools. Include specific terms outlined in the job description — but only if you have the skills and experience, of course. Examples might include “skilled at working with ERP systems” or “experience with data processing applications” or “demonstrated ability to work as a team player.”

Prepare to answer a broad range of questions

You’ll likely face several technical questions during your accounting interview because hiring managers want to confirm that you have the skills and knowledge required to perform the job well. But many employers are also looking for high-potential candidates they can “train up” and position for leadership opportunities. So be ready to highlight all the foundational skills you have to succeed today and that you can build on for the future.

Most employers will also pursue a line of questioning in interviews that can help them gauge the strength of a candidate’s soft skills — like communication, critical thinking and problem solving. The hiring manager might ask you to detail professional experiences in which you had to put soft skills to use. “Describe a time when you made an accounting error and how you handled it” and “Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma at work, and how did you handle it?” are examples of these questions.

Soft skills are more important than ever in today’s remote and hybrid work environments, where adaptability and a willingness to embrace new challenges are critical to success. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you’re asked questions such as, “What are the three attributes that make you an effective remote worker?” and “What do you find to be the greatest challenges of working off-site?”

Note: You’ll likely need to do video interviews during your job search, especially if you’re applying for remote jobs. See this post for eight video interview tips that can help you shine.

Know what your skills and experience are worth

You probably know people at your firm or in your professional network who have asked for more compensation — and gotten it — in this candidate-driven accounting job market. More than likely, these individuals succeeded at negotiating a higher salary not just because they’re in-demand professionals, but also because they did their homework and knew the value of their skills and experience. Do this prep work before your interview, and you’ll have a good answer ready when a hiring manager asks, “So what type of salary do you expect?”

What happens if you receive multiple job offers?

Receiving multiple job offers can make you feel like a star. It’s also a clear sign that you did exactly what was needed to stand out in the accounting job market. But how do you choose between two compelling opportunities? Answering this question can help: What do I really want?

It’s easy to lose sight of your core objective when you’re under pressure to select an offer. Try writing it down. For instance, “I want to be a staff accountant earning X salary at a growing firm that has a vibrant company culture, wants to invest in my professional development, and will allow me to work remotely a few days per week.” Then, determine which offer comes closest to that overall vision.

Next, evaluate the salary, benefits and perks outlined in each offer. Compensation isn’t everything, of course, but you’ll want to compare what’s in each package. You might find on closer inspection, for example, that the employer you categorized as “ideal” based on your vision doesn’t offer health coverage, which is the benefit you want most. And while the other company is offering a lower salary, it also provides medical, dental and vision benefits.

Also, try to take a long-term view when deciding between offers. You know what you want right now, but which job do you think will most benefit your career in the long run? Continuing with the scenario above, you might compare the professional development options that are available. Maybe the firm that is your top choice has a more diverse range of offerings than the other employer. But perhaps the runner-up is a smaller firm, where you’d be able to get in-depth and hands-on training sooner?

There’s a lot to consider when weighing multiple job offers and keeping your primary objectives in focus will help. That said, be careful not to limit your choices. There are many paths you can take in today’s accounting job market — and being open to exploring them can lead to unexpected opportunities.

Steve Saah is the executive director of the finance and accounting permanent placement practice with Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm that connects opportunities at great companies with highly skilled job seekers. The company has more than 300 locations worldwide. Connect with Steve on LinkedIn.

Register for the April 27 webinar from Becker and Robert Half to learn more about 2022 Hiring and Career Trends for Accounting Professionals.

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