What bosses want

Published: 23 Nov 2016 By Alice Hardman

what do employers want to see

The recruitment season is in full swing. Whether you’re in the middle of an application form, or have already secured a place on an assessment centre there will be one question at the forefront of your mind:

What do employers really want to see?

Here at ICAEW we have spoken to a number of partners and business leaders to find out  what they’re really looking for in the next generation of ICAEW Chartered Accountants and how you can shine in the workplace.


One of the key deciding factors for employers is whether you have enthusiasm and drive for the career you’re about to embark on. They understand that as a trainee chartered accountant you won’t know all the answers, but are looking for those that have got the desire to learn. Aliki Whitworth, the former Finance Director of Yahoo (Switzerland) says, ‘I have learned to appreciate people who are eager to understand the business, who are detail-orientated but efficient and have a good understanding of the tricky balance of time versus quantity.’  Emily Tate, the Chief Financial Officer at Office Shoes (UK), agrees: ‘Being bright and numerate really helps, but attitude is what makes people stand out. I value people with drive and energy.’

Of course doing your research is important when you are applying for roles, but the real lasting impression is whether you are passionate about a career in accountancy. Make sure you leave your interviewer in no doubt that you have an interest in the business and that you’ll be prepared to commit to balancing a full time role with your ACA studies.


Our employers unanimously agreed that being able to show your real personality both at an assessment centre and at work, was essential. ‘We want people who don’t check-in their personalities when they come to work.’ Mark Sherfield, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at BDO UK said. Melissa Christopher, a Partner at Fitzgerald and Law adds: ‘We want to see that you are willing to learn and are a well-rounded person, with interests and a life outside work.’ Don’t be afraid to show the real you at an assessment centre – interviewers are well practiced and can spot it a mile off if you’re not being genuine. They want to see a flavour of who you really are so that they can decide if you will fit in at their organisation. After all, nobody wants to have to put on an act every day at work.

Flexibility and teamwork

Accountancy is a very diverse field - there is no such thing as a typical ICAEW Chartered Accountant. Many companies, therefore, look for variety with future trainees, to ensure that their teams are well rounded. Joe Scaife is a Partner at Bishop Fleming explains that they like to have ‘a mix of personalities: extroverts, introverts, some who are focused technical thinkers and others who are more “blue sky” thinkers’.

A career in accountancy will often require you to work well in a team. Whilst self-confidence is important, there is such a thing as being too confident. Amanda Hall, a Partner at Quercus Corporate Finance notes, you need to be ‘ambitious but not too self-important to roll [your] sleeves up and get stuck in.’ Working with your peers in a collaborative and productive way is something nearly every trainee accountant will need to do. Very often at assessment centres they will have tasks designed to test your ability to do just this; make sure that you don’t become dominated and don’t dominate others.

Communication skills

Something you might not realise is how important communication skills are as a chartered accountant. Whether you work in practice or in industry you’ll be working with a range of people, of all levels of seniority, and you’ll often need to present complex information to them in a suitable format.

As Gerard Zaid Rahman, the CEO of BDO (UAE) points out ‘Technical skills we can teach, but the ability to connect with clients is not easy to develop in those who don’t have it.’ Firms need to know that their new trainees have the ability to talk to clients in a confident and professional manner.

Problem solving

Creativity may not be the first thing that springs to mind when someone talks about accountancy, but it is actually very important part of the profession. Rachael Cunningham, Finance Director at DVLA, says that she needs her team members to be able to ‘think and problem solve creatively.’ As an ICAEW Chartered Accountant you will need to provide solutions to problems, using a mixture of your ACA training and creative thinking. It will be your job to identify issues that a business faces and provide solutions to challenges before they arise.


For Austin Rudman, Partner and Head of Financial Services at KPMG in UAE and Oman, his priority is ‘people who are good communicators, flexible, adaptable to changing circumstances and have a real passion for continuous learning’. The accountancy landscape is ever changing, and whilst a training agreement might last three to five years, you will continue learning long past your final exam. This is what makes accountancy such an interesting career, so to really stand out you will need to demonstrate to any potential employer that you are able to adapt to change.

Any final tips?

It’s only fitting that we give one of our employers the final say on this. Paul Dillon, Director of Internal Audit at the House of Commons has three things that he looks out for:

‘I look for people who are interested (they’ve gone beyond the first page of our website and have researched our organisation properly); interesting (they can talk about their previous employment, highlighting what they’ve learned); and of interest (they have a life outside work).’

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