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Accounting Candidates and the Importance of Active Listening

When seeking to fill an accounting position, our clients have a fairly set and predictable series of criteria for candidates - and with good reason. Unlike other jobs in the professional services industries, accountants follow strictly defined procedures and processes. However, I have noticed an increase in the number of employers who are looking for their accounting candidates of all levels to not only be skilled with numbers, but also communications. The one communication skill that is really growing in popularity is active listening.

Active listening is a soft skill that as its name suggests, means listening with true intent to learn and really hear what the speaker is conveying. Employers are placing a greater emphasis on accountants, analysts and financial service consultants that can understand and capture all of what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. If you think about it, we are all a little guilty of being a passive listener at times. Someone starts a conversation and your mind races ahead to what you think they are going to say, or to what you plan to say next. Research shows that this is especially common in professionals like accountants who are process driven. Active listening takes practice and patience, a conscious effort to hear not only the words, but to understand the complete message and meaning.

Active listeners remain neutral and non-judgmental, not taking sides nor forming opinions, especially early in the conversation. Active listening is about patience. Sometimes a speaker pauses because they are deep in thought, resist the temptation to jump in and finish their sentence for them. Active listening involves giving the other person time to explore their thoughts and ideas, they should be given time for that. Active listening not only means focusing fully on the speaker, but also actively showing verbal and non-verbal signs of listening. Generally, speakers want listeners to demonstrate ‘active listening’ by responding appropriately to what they are saying. Responses employers should look for in a candidate include:

Let’s face it, every employer is looking for a candidate who is a skilled accounting/finance professional, but it’s often the intangible skills that seal the deal.

When people talk,  listen completely.
Most people never listen.
~ Ernest Hemingway

Accounting Candidates and the Importance of Active Listening

Common Resume Mistakes

After 30 years as a recruiter, I have pretty much seen every approach to resume writing out there. And, it is no surprise. Whether you are a recent college graduate seeking an accounting position or an experienced IT professional, writing a quality resume is difficult and time consuming. .

Luckily for you, SNI’s Career Center offers a collection of great resume writing tips and if you visit our site, you can even download a sample resume to get you started. These tools are great way for you to start your resume development process..

But, if you are like most candidates, you are also looking for way to make your resume stand out from the pack. However, nothing stands out more than a well written and easy to read resume. The following are four resume writing guidelines that I provide to all candidates that I work with. While they may seem obvious at first glance, they also represent the most common errors I see on the thousands of resumes I review each year:

  • Eliminate Errors: A professional proofreader may charge you $25-$50 to review and edit your resume. Trust me when I say: SPEND IT. When scanning a resume the second I hit a typo I stop reading and move on. Why risk not being considered because you missed something that spell-check did not catch? Have an objective proofreader – not your Mom, roommate or significant other - review your resume. Even the most accomplished writer will find two or more things that need to be fixed.
  • Skip the Humor: It seems 10 years ago some recruiter wrote an article telling people to be colorful in their resumes and the advice won’t go away. Trust me when I say that your experience and accomplishments will speak for themselves. Adding silly things, like you were a part time mime instructor and ninja in college might get a laugh, OK, I did smirk when I read it, but I did not interview the person. Show your personality and humor during the interview, but your resume is designed to present a factual summary of your experience and skills.
  • Honesty is Still the Best Policy: Whether you are a new college graduate or experienced professionals, you have something to offer an employer. Don’t eliminate yourself from the running by inflating your experience on your resume. As a recruiter, I pretty much know that if your title is marketing assistant you did not develop and launch an entire national product campaign on your own. Experienced recruiters know the job titles and the duties that go with them. We also know the employers and their performance expectations. Resist the temptation to “pump-up” your resume. After decades of doing this, I’ve never seen it really work.
  • Hit the Buzzwords: One thing that I and other recruiters look for is an alignment between the position I am helping to fill and a candidate’s skill set. When developing your resume be sure to use the right set of “buzzwords” to show that you have the skills. Don’t stop with generalities like programming experience and then list only the languages you most frequently use. Get specific by giving details like Languages/Programming: Java, J2EE, C, C++, Perl, PHP, VB.Net, SQL Server, ASP.Net, HTML, XML, SAP, ActiveX. If you are an accounting candidate, don’t limit your summary to analysis and preparation. List specifics like: budgets and forecasting, expense allocations and fixed asset reports. And for office clerical resumes, be sure to reach beyond the global statement that you have data entry skills and provide examples about the kinds of data, tools you have used like MS Excel and projects on which you have worked.

If getting an interview is your goal, then writing a strong, factual, detailed and error free resume is your best tool for success.

Common Resume Mistakes

Recruiting Advice Pro

Killer Interview Questions

After more than 15 years in accounting and financial staffing, I know firsthand that finding a candidate that meets the skills required by a client is only half of the battle. Candidates and employers have to interact during the interview process and determine if they can form a productive and successful relationship.

While there is a wealth of information out there for employers on how to interview accounting and financial candidates – there is much less information for the candidate on how to make best use of the interview process. Candidates have to think about the interview as not only their chance to shine, but also their opportunity to make sure that the position and employer are the best possible fit.

The following are my suggested Top Three Interview Questions for accounting and financial candidates. I encourage candidates to ask these questions to make sure they reach beyond the surface and gain some insights into what employment might really be like with a potential firm or company.

  • 1. What would my focus and key deliverable be within my first 90 or 120 days of employment?

Believe it or not, not all employers have a clear plan for how your time and skills will be utilized. By asking for details about your first 90 or 120 days, you will get a picture of what projects you will be working on and the specific outcomes expected of your efforts.

Candidates should also use the response of the employer as a springboard for deeper questions. For example, if you are told you will be working on a series of audited financials for a client use this information to probe deeper: Is this a new or existing client? Would you be working alone on the effort or part of a team? Also, I it is important to ask what tools and resources you will be given to accomplish the tasks described. The more information you can glean, the better picture you will have of expectations and your opportunities for success.

  • 2. What qualities do top performers here all share?

This question is one of my favorites, because it is about a dozen different questions rolled into one. Employers who can’t quickly tell you the attributes needed to succeed are really admitting that they lack a formalized process to measure, recognize and reward success. To be candid – if they don’t know how you can succeed in their business, how can you possibly figure it out?

Employers that are mutually interested in your success will have a detailed answer to these questions and will provide examples of specific employees who exhibited the desired traits and enjoyed success as a result. The employer’s answer also gives the candidate the chance to either showcase their own skills and experiences or talk about their interest in developing the desired traits.

  • 3. Can you tell me how much time I will spend on each of the core functions for this position?

When it comes down to it, every job has a series of core functions that are performed on a regular basis. Asking this question will get you a clear picture of what you will be doing if you are offered and accept the position. Don’t get distracted by just asking about the duties. Chances are the employer will list the most interesting duties first. Probe deeper and ask what percentage of time will be spent on each function. If the percentages given do not add up to 100%, make sure to ask what the “other duties as assigned” might include. This will give you a clear picture of how you will be spending your day.

In the end, there are no magic interview questions to ensure that you find out all you need to ensure you make the right decision. But these questions should help you to reach beyond a perfunctory dialog and get down to what life might be like should you be offered a position.

Recruiting Advice Pro