Career Tips

Surmounting the two-year-experience dilemma – Part 2

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In part 2 of our two-part blog post, CPABC’s Manager of Employment Initiatives, Dan Relihan, CPA, CGA, MBA, concludes our exploration of the two-year-experience dilemma by explaining how new grads might still get a shot at the entry-level interview even when the employer states that they require significant related experience.

 

In our previous post we noted a report from the Business Council of BC that found employers often demand many of the skills and attributes that post-secondary students actually acquire and develop as part of their student experience, without necessarily obtaining any direct accounting work experience.

 

In fact, we find that the majority of CPA students have tremendous potential and proven skills that would put many seasoned executives to shame, yet they don’t meet the screening requirement to gain that all-important first interview. So what is a new grad to do?

 

Many of these employers will still consider candidates who can show they have acquired the skills and attributes preferred, and can prove they are responsible and have the determination to be top-notch employees. The trick is to make sure that you clearly display  your potential.

 

We often find that new grads will undersell themselves by only showing information directly and specifically pertaining to accounting work experience. Or, worse yet, they will pass up applying for the position altogether because they don’t have any actual accounting experience. Please don’t screen yourself out of what may be a great starting job..

 

If you do have accounting-related experience then, absolutely, highlight it loud and proud. But it is just as important for entry-level candidates to ensure that the relevant skills and qualities you have developed outside the workplace are given the attention they— and you—deserve. This will complement any experience you do have, but, more importantly, it could land you that interview even if you don’t have the accounting experience.

 

The first and most important task is to do a very thorough, honest assessment and documentation of the skills, attributes, and qualities you have acquired through various aspects of your recent life. This will take time and thought, but it may make the difference in getting the interview.

Search online to identify the personal traits that employers are seeking today. (And if the position you seek has been advertised, make sure to consider the very traits the employer names as important.) Next, match these skills to examples from every aspect of your life, not just the work and academic accomplishments (though these must not be ignored).

 

Ask yourself questions such as the following to determine what traits you have acquired:

 

  • What campus clubs and events did I contribute to and how?
  • What part-time jobs did I hold and what did I contribute there?
  • What volunteer work did I do for my community or church?
  • Did I learn a second (or third) language?
  • Have I adapted to living and learning in another country or culture, and how did I accomplish this?
  • Did I learn or teach a musical instrument?
  • What have I accomplished through hobbies and interests?
  • Can I report teamwork and other attributes based on sports or playing in a band?

 

Pay special attention to anything that demonstrates teamwork and customer service. If you are thorough, you will be amazed at how many of the qualities that employers seek can be added through your own life experiences.

 

Now that we are aware of these qualities, how do we present them to potential employers? Through the same means as always: the resumé and the cover letter (we’ll cover LinkedIn in a separate post). A functional resumé format might be best to present skills, attributes and qualities organized in skill clusters.  This is an excellent way to bring attention to the actual skills you have developed. Or, perhaps, Google examples of resumés in “chrono-functional” or “hybrid” formats (combination of chronological and functional) to learn how to present some chronological work experience with skills otherwise acquired.

 

Whichever style you choose, ensure that you profile and present these important qualities very clearly.  In the cover letter do not be evasive about your lack of direct experience; this will only draw attention to that fact. Instead, clearly, concisely and proudly offer the traits that you know employers are really looking for.

 

Perhaps the boldest opening on the cover letter might serve best: “I don’t have the two years of work experience that you require, but I have acquired many valuable skills and attributes that pertain to this job and I would like the opportunity to discuss them with you.” Or something to that effect.

 

Finally, be fully prepared to talk confidently about the traits you have presented and how you acquired them, because you just might get that interview.

 

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