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How to talk to recruiters

Follow this advice to ace your conversations.

Congratulations, aspiring accountant, you landed a call with a recruiter.

You’ll have a few minutes with the gatekeeper who can open the door to your bright new future. But how do you make the most of that time?

Here are some tried and true ways to impress recruiters.

Focus on logistics. A key task is to prepare for the interaction by focusing on the smallest details, such as making sure you have the date and time right. For a phone or virtual interview, find a quiet, calm space where you won’t be distracted, said Tatiana Marin, operations manager with Kruze Consulting, a San Francisco-based accounting firm serving venture capital-backed startups. “Don’t be late,” she said. “Call or email if something came up and you can’t honor the set schedule.”

Do your prep work. Next, make sure you are ready for the call. Research the recruiter, his or her company or firm, and, if you know it, the job opportunity you’ll be speaking about. “Don’t come to the interview unprepared,” said Marin, whose company has hired about 20 accountants in the last year. “I’ve had calls with candidates that could not remember the name of the company.”

Rehearse and write down your answers to potential questions including: Who do you think you are as a professional? Why did you choose this profession? What are your professional goals for the next three to five years? Why should we pick you for the role?

Be sure to shine. During the interaction, demonstrate that you’re ready for the professional world by exhibiting great manners, properly using industry jargon, and focusing on your education and career goals. “It’s not uncommon for students to lack relevant experience, so don’t feel self-conscious,” said Matt Erhard, managing partner of the Summit Search Group, a Canada-based recruitment firm.

Also, be careful how you try to build rapport, said Matthew Sorensen, president of Candidate Club, an interactive interview preparation web platform based in Des Moines, Iowa. Instead of humor, pointless stories, or being too relaxed, focus on sharing your after-school involvement, healthy activities, and time spent reading about industry best practices. “Don't bring up other jobs you are applying to, struggles with difficult classes, or complaints about the industry,” he advised.

Display strong body language and don’t “hem and haw” while answering questions, said Marc J. Strohl, CPA, founder of Protax Consulting, an accounting firm based in New York City. “When interviewing by phone or video call, any projection of flaws will be magnified and even more obvious,” he said. “Be decisive, and let the confidence that comes with being prepared shine through.”

Follow up carefully. After the interview, send a follow-up message via email thanking the recruiter for his or her time, Erhard said. “This is also a chance to add any information you forgot to mention, or send along any materials they requested,” he said.

Then, you can check in through email every week, up to a point. “This is frequently enough to stay up to date with the recruiter’s search without becoming overbearing or annoying,” Erhard said. “Move on after three no responses.”

Avoid the urge to call on the phone unless you are asked to, Sorensen said. “It is intrusive,” he explained. “Plus, it puts them on the spot.”

Instead, he suggests a handwritten note or an email summarizing the conversation. Briefly and clearly state how you can help the company and your eagerness to learn more, he suggested. Remember, your goal is to be memorable enough to advance to the next round in the hiring process, Sorensen said.

“Express your love of accounting, desire to get into the industry, and [if applicable] specific interest in the company,” he said. “Connect the dots between your greatest strengths and the company's needs for the recruiter.”

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.


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