Sometimes advice from your childhood stays with you.  For me, the thing that stuck was the need to be prepared, which I learnt from my time in the school Cadet Force. To give yourself the best chance of success, preparation is key.  It helps you make the best impression you can when working with colleagues and clients. 

So it can be quite disheartening when interviewing candidates if they are unable to present themselves as positively as their CV suggests they are capable of.  CVs can be important but I am more interested in the individual and what they tell me about themselves.

Being Jersey-born and bred, nurturing local talent is important to me and finding the right people for our team is crucial.  Unfortunately I too often meet candidates who let themselves down by a lack of confidence when talking about themselves, something which, all too often, stems from a lack of interview preparation.

When recruiting, we focus on the applicant as an individual, their experiences, and why they want to join our successful team.  We have found that spending time with candidates to understand their interests, capabilities and future aspirations is often a great measure of their suitability for the role.

We really want candidates to make a good impression and engage us in their desire for the opportunity.  However, despite there being plenty of information available about the training and opportunities a role can offer, applicants are often poorly prepared for the interview and an otherwise promising meeting simply fails to fulfil its potential.

So, what should you do?  Well, if you’re thinking of applying for a professional training contract, whether it’s with an accounting firm or any other professional employer, we suggest candidates follow these simple recommendations:

Know your CV

Your CV should reflect you as an individual, and there is no-one who should be able to talk about it more enthusiastically than you.

There is nothing worse in an interview than asking an applicant about their CV, only for them to struggle to talk knowledgably about themselves.  Know your CV inside out and be able to talk about yourself and your experiences.  Think about the questions an interviewer might ask from the information in your CV.  This will help you present a well-considered response and avoid uninformative yes/no responses.

Research the role you are applying for

Simply having a vague notion of wanting to be an accountant or wanting to work in finance is not enough.  Employers are looking for enthusiasm and evidence the applicant has considered the opportunity and has applied because they have a genuine interest in the role.

Applicants need to demonstrate an understanding of what they are letting themselves in for.  Research the ACA training requirements, talk to friends and family who already work in the profession and look at a variety of firms’ website training pages.  

Know about the firm you are applying to

Each accounting practice is different.  Firms have different cultures and client portfolios or offer different training environments.  Jersey’s finance industry is blessed with many great employers, so choosing the one that suits you best is essential when committing to a three-year training contract.

Some candidates take up a summer work-experience placement with us to give them an insight into both the work and office environment, and I recommend anyone thinking of pursuing an accounting career seek out placement opportunities.

Have some small talk

Research has suggested the first 12 words you utter can determine the interviewer's overall impression of you - so small talk can be crucial.  Commenting on the weather is always a safe ice-breaker but you can also be more imaginative in demonstrating a sense of confidence in your surroundings (even if you don’t feel it!).   Making your comments relevant to the opportunity will help create a good impression.

Think about your body language

Interviewers are sensitive to body language, so avoid fidgeting and make sure you maintain eye contact.  Normally we would recommend having a strong handshake but, for the time being, you will probably be interviewing remotely, so instead, make sure you remain focussed on the interviewer and find yourself somewhere to sit where you can be relaxed and avoid distractions.

Have some questions of your own

People love to talk about themselves so a little research on the person conducting the interview can go a long way.  Information from the firms’ website or from professional profiles online is a good place to start.  But remember, while it is good to have questions prepared, the best type of question is asked in response to what you and the interviewer are talking about as it demonstrates your listening, communication and conversational skills.

About Alan

Alan d’Authreau grew up in Jersey, having been educated at Victoria College before studying Chemistry at the University of Leicester.  Alan was keen to return to Jersey after completing his degree and joined RSM Channel Islands in 2010.

He is now a manager, with a focus on audit and accounting assignments.

RSM Channel Islands is an Approved Employer with both The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales and The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.  Candidates wishing to apply for training positions with us should submit a covering letter and full CV by email to [email protected].

RSM Channel Islands is an independent member firm of RSM, the world’s sixth largest provider of audit, tax and consultancy services, encompassing 116 countries, 750 offices and more than 41,000 people.

This article was published in the Winter 2020 Jersey Evening Post Careers and Employment Review supplement.