How To Survive The Accounting Student Recruitment Process This Fall


Many students assume that once they have made it through business school, the rest is smooth sailing.

In today’s corporate climate, however, recruitment processes have become increasingly competitive. Students need to demonstrate that they have something extra to contribute in order to land a full-time position upon graduation.

“Make an effort to get to know the recruiting team. They meet hundreds of students throughout the recruiting season, so take initiative so that you are not forgotten.”
Sarah Whelan, recent Queen’s University accounting grad

Sarah Whelan is a recent graduate of the Queen’s School of Business. She majored in accounting and recently landed a job with PwC in Toronto, beginning her full-time contract at the end of September.

After surviving the recruitment process herself, she has some insightful advice to offer students applying for jobs in the accounting industry.

What are accounting firms looking for when hiring students?

Strong leadership, teamwork and interpersonal skills are very important. “A major part of the job is working within small teams and interacting with clients. You need to be comfortable in a team environment and act professionally at all times,” Whelan says.

The firms put a lot of emphasis on leadership skills and want to hire people that are willing to take initiative. You should emphasize any clubs or teams that you have been a part of that have given you the chance to perform in a leadership role.

When should you start looking for a full-time accounting job?

Most accounting firms start their recruitment for full-time positions in the fall, and will hire for students to start the following year. This means that you should be applying for interviews from September to early November of your final year for a start date immediately after graduation.

“Some of the firms will also have positions that come up at any given time, so you should always keep your eye open for vacancies that will arise outside of the typical recruiting season,” Whelan advises.

Many firms also have a recruiting section on their website that will list the contact information for people you can connect with to get more information about their specific process.

What is a typical job interview like?

Accounting interviews are typically behavioural-focused. Recruiters will ask about your skills and experiences that make you an ideal candidate for the job. One or more people conduct the interviews, and sometimes you will have to participate in multiple rounds of interviews before the firm makes its hiring decision.

“Firms will also typically have a section on their website that will give you some tips for the interviews. Sometimes they will suggest qualities or skills that they look for, and it can be a great indication of what you should focus on during the interview,” says Whelan.

With so many qualified candidates, how do you stand out in the crowd?

Make sure you look and act professional during the interview or at any recruiting event. This ensures that you leave a good impression.

“You should also make an effort to get to know the recruiting team. They meet hundreds of students throughout the recruiting season, so you will want to take initiative so that you are not forgotten. It is a great idea to introduce yourself to the representatives at information sessions and follow up with a personable email afterwards,” says Whelan.

Many firms offer events in the summer for people interested in joining the company full-time. This is a great opportunity not only to learn more about the firm, but also to network with people in charge of hiring before the recruiting process even begins.

What can you do during your undergraduate degree to help prepare you for a career in the accounting industry?

Whelan says she was involved with a number of extra-curricular activities that gave her the opportunity to develop leadership and teamwork skills that were an asset during the hiring process.

“I was the co-chair of the Queen’s Conference on International Business during my third year, and this gave me experience managing a large team and interacting with students, faculty, corporate sponsors, speakers and recruiters. These experiences helped me the most in developing the real life skills that firms look for,” she says.

You should try to get involved in different types of extra-curricular activities that will broaden or diversify your skill set and make you more attractive to potential employers.

In addition, make sure that you familiarize yourself with your school’s career services office. “At Queen’s, the career counsellors were a valuable resource. They were able to answer more specific questions, help you network with specific firms and prepare you for the intensive interview process,” says Whelan.

What are the Top 3 tips for students who are considering careers in accounting?

  • Attend as many recruitment events as possible
  • Make and maintain connections
  • Find out what specific skills each firm is looking for prior to your interview – emphasize how your past experiences make you the perfect candidate for the role

Visit the Accounting Career Guide to learn more about careers in the accounting industry, and find student and entry level jobs from top accounting employers!

Photo credit: Ben Chaney on Flickr