- Take ownership of your career path and prepare early to get ahead of the competition.
- Think about the role you would like and the companies that align with your core values well before graduation.
- Authenticity and honesty are characteristics employers are looking for.
In years past, few people nailed their first job. One survey, outlined in a Harvard Business Review story, found just 3% of successful women landed the right job and right industry first up.
A job at a prestigious Big Four firm, or an innovative smaller firm, provides an unrivalled chance to learn – through both structured learning and osmosis from senior colleagues – and build career capital that can set you up for life.
Take ownership of your own career path and work out what you really want to do and focus on that.
Your first big job is vital, says Allan Mortel CA, a partner at Pitcher Partner’s Tax Consulting Group in Sydney. Mortel’s first big job was a cadetship at a small accounting firm, which exposed him to different types of clients, industries, services and partners. He then moved to Deloitte, before settling at Pitcher Partners.
Mortel says landing your first big job is, “about taking ownership of your own career path and working out what you really want to do and focusing on that”.
Eight steps to your dream job
So, how do you land your first big job? There are eight key steps you can follow to understand the hiring process, get noticed and gain a competitive advantage.
1. Prepare early
Think about careers well before graduation. Most firms offer internships – a short cut to your first big job – to students in their penultimate year as an undergraduate.
“It’s important to be thinking about where you want to be, and what type of role you want, much earlier than final year or just before graduating,” says Phil Rutherford, head of talent acquisition at KPMG.
2. Study hard
The first years of university can be distracting, particularly the newfound liberation, and it’s tempting to throttle back your study. But if you don’t have a strong academic record you’ll be screened out early in the candidate selection process.
“We’re looking for strong academic performance both at school and the first year,” Rutherford says. Pitcher’s Mortel agrees that results are “absolutely” important.
3. Balance your skills through the right work experience
Employers are also looking for balance.
“Accounting is a people business, ultimately,” Mortel says.
“We want candidates who can interpret and understand technical knowledge, but [also] be able to communicate that, and be able to work with clients and others in the firm.”
Employers highly value soft skills such presentation, communication, problem solving and strategic thinking.
“A lot of those skills are not taught at uni,” Rutherford says. “They come from work experience.”
Rutherford suggests gaining work experience in client or customer-service roles, such as call centres.
4. Become a social butterfly
Most employers hold a range of events to begin to engage with undergraduates, including morning teas, cocktail parties, information sessions, and career expo booths. Turn up. Your attendance will be noted and recorded and when it comes time to apply for an internship or even a full-time job, it will count – you’ve shown enthusiasm from the start.
“It’s a chance for a connection ahead of the interview,” Mortel says.
5. Complete an internship
Know which firms are employing and identify some favourites. Apply for vacation programmes or an internship. Most employers offer impressive internees full-time positions when they graduate.
For example, KPMG runs a vacation programme of between six to eight weeks during the summer break. An internship, “gives [candidates] an advantage; we select people on the job and offer them positions after,” Rutherford says.
6. Identify your niche
After gaining some broad experience in an internship, you should be able to narrow down what you’re interested in. If you can identify a niche early you’ll gain a competitive edge.
Employers love candidates who know what they want. Rutherford says a lot of undergraduates are interested in roles at KPMG in tax or auditing but are not exactly sure what type of area or role they’re after. At KPMG a career pathfinder tool matches roles with personality types.
7. Apply for graduate positions
Given the sheer volume of hiring, graduation is your big opportunity to join a prestigious or innovative firm. KPMG’s hiring process includes submitting an online application with your CV; a games-based assessment and values inventory; a video interview; then a final information session and 45-minute panel interview.
8. Master the interview
If you’ve followed the seven steps outlined above, then the interview should be a formality. But it’s still important to remember that an interview is like a complex sales process. You have two jobs. You need to convince the interviewers that you can add value to the firm – that you are sharp and can get the job done. But you also need to show them that you are a good cultural fit for the organisation. Ask questions to demonstrate your smarts, rather than make statements, which risks branding you as someone who thinks they already know all the answers. Finally, be authentic and honest, which will help you connect emotionally.
This article is part of an ongoing Careers column offering tips and advice for provisional members of CA ANZ and younger full members. For more information on the Chartered Accountants Program, as well as inspiring stories of young chartered accountants, visit youunlimitedanz.com now.