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The Question:

I'm a recent university graduate with a degree in accounting; all of my previous work experience is in marketing and event management. I will be working to obtain my CMA (certified management accountant) designation this fall and would like to know how I can stand out to employers, even though I have no work experience in the accounting field. Many jobs require three to five years of experience. How can any recent graduate achieve this?

The Answer:

Your marketing and event management experience can indeed be considered an asset for your new accounting career. The key to success is in how you sell that experience to your prospective employer.

To get the inside scoop from the accounting industry, I approached two leading Canadian firms, Richter Inc. and Grant Thornton, and asked for their insights.

According to Susan Hamade, vice-president at Richter Toronto and a certified human resources professional, there is a common misconception in the business community that accountants just "crunch numbers," but she says that couldn't be further from the truth.

"Successful professional accountants, whether they are CAs, CGAs, or CMAs [chartered accountants, certified general accountants or certified management accountants] develop a toolbox of skills in order to provide a vast array of services that clients demand," Ms. Hamade says. "Accountants are not only business advisers, they are also business developers, and marketing knowledge can offer a competitive, professional advantage."

Paul Peterson, national talent resource manager at Grant Thornton, agrees and advises that you also highlight your client service skills from your previous career, since both marketing and accounting are service-based professions.

"There are some skills we want people to have from day one, like relationship-building and selling skills," Mr. Peterson says. "We want to know, if we put you in front of a client, how will you do? The onus is on the job seeker to find a way to articulate that."

So take an inventory of the skills you've learned, and show how you can apply that to your new job. Then you can tell your prospective employer, "Here's what I've done, and here are the skills I've honed from it." Connect the dots and paint a picture for the employer – of your future success within the company.

Mr. Peterson says it's important not to use a blanket approach everywhere you apply: "Target the places where you want to work, learn about their cultural climate and look for ways to link your personality and skills to their values."

In a competitive marketplace, your marketing background can actually help you to differentiate yourself from other recent graduates.

"Go to job interviews equipped with specific examples of how your marketing skills, in addition to your emerging accounting skills, can add value for the employer, such as helping to support their client and business development events, developing content to promote specializations or service lines," Ms. Hamade recommends. "Most accountants are not taught how to market or sell their services, so that background can be an ace in your pocket if you position it as such."

Julie Labrie is president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.

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