By Brandi Britton, Executive Director, Contract Finance and Accounting, Robert Half With your bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field eagerly in hand, you are about to enter an excellent job market. In 2024, 66% of companies plan to hire for finance and accounting roles. Moreover, current shortages of accounting and finance professionals have translated to accountants and auditors experiencing an unemployment rate of 1.9% in early 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate for financial and investment analysts clocks in even lower at 1.5%.  But despite this strong hiring market, I’ve been hearing from some recent graduates struggling with their job search. Even though they are applying widely and aggressively, they aren’t getting the results they expected. Some tell me their resumes seem to go into a black hole.   If you relate to this situation — or fear it — I have good news. Your first job after earning a new degree is actually much closer than you realize if you change your approach. Instead of mass applying, consider a more strategic, selective and tailored way to search. Here are seven key tips that will help you find the right employment faster: Reflect on what you’re curious about and what you want to learn before applying for a job Prioritize what matters to you Target organizations you might want to work for Test drive different roles and industries  Build professional relationships  Work with a recruiter Set yourself apart 
You might think everyone else graduating has it all figured out regarding their college-to-career transition. But the majority don’t. And that’s perfectly normal and OK. But before you jump into action scouring job sites and repeatedly hitting send on your resume, it’s important to pause first and look back at any work and internship experiences you’ve had to date. This self-reflection will help you strategically align what you’re drawn to with potential roles, increasing your chances of finding a job that interests you. For example, if you worked as an intern, what did you like about it? What didn’t you like? The answers to these questions can help point you in a solid direction. Also helpful is breaking down the sometimes daunting “what do you want to do?” question into less intimidating prompts. Remember that because post-graduation is a time for exploration, there is no right or wrong answer when you ask: What do I want to learn?What skills do I want to gain?What industries and roles am I curious about?  Also, consider what you’re looking for in an organization: Do you want to work in an environment with a collaborative, tight-team culture or more independent-type work? Would you like to work for an organization known for its industry luminaries or impact? Are you more interested in working for a startup, a brand name or a public accounting firm? 
With your answers to the above questions in mind, list all the factors that matter to you about where you might work — career growth and training, stability, mentorship, work-life balance, friendly colleagues, an inspiring mission, corporate culture, salary and more.  Next, take this list and rank each of these factors in terms of importance to you. And yes, this prioritization can be challenging. But because no job is perfect and unlikely to check all your boxes, you should be clear about what matters most to you and evaluate each opening based on this list. This considered approach will ensure you don’t waste your energy and emotions on a potential opportunity that doesn’t match your preferences. Instead, it will help you focus on openings where you’re more likely to learn new things and feel engaged. And when interview opportunities arise, say yes. Each interview is a valuable opportunity to learn more about a company and industry and to make a new contact.
Start by making a list of industries that interest you and align with what you value. Even if you don’t see relevant openings in these industries, you can still build your knowledge of them through proactive relationship-building and research Check to see if you know anyone who works in your industries of interest (or if they know people who do). Ask if they might be open to speaking with you about their field, role and organization in an informational interview. Read more about approaching these types of interviews in point No. 5 below. As well as building relationships with people at your target organizations, stay abreast of the organization by following them on professional networking sites and subscribing to their blog, podcasts and newsletters. What you learn can only help you should a job open up and you secure an interview. 
If you haven’t decided on a specific role or industry to focus on, sometimes the best way to find out what excites you is to try out different career paths.  Contract work, which is temporary but stable, allows you to experience various industries firsthand by going behind the scenes. Some of these industries range from entertainment and tech to financial services and health. You can also learn different software, which can give you a competitive edge over a peer who has spent several years working with the same software at the same company. While performing contract work, you will also naturally grow your professional network, which is advantageous to your long-term career growth.
Professional recruiters are another group of people worth getting to know. They understand the nuances of your local market and can put you forward for jobs you wouldn’t see otherwise because they aren’t listed publicly.  The job of a professional staffing agency is to help you land a good role, so they both advocate for you with an array of potential employers and advise you on how to put your best foot forward at no cost. They can coach you through the recruiting process, provide feedback on your performance and suggest ways to boost your soft skills while cheering you on.  And contrary to what you might think, most recruiters don’t just work with more experienced professionals. They work with new graduates like you who want to find the correct type of employment more quickly.
I always tell recent graduates that the best time to build their network is now. Yes, it’s a time investment, but it is one of the main ways you will get hired — not just this year but in many years to come.  You can easily establish professional connections by starting with your personal ones — college mates, professors, those from student associations, such as fraternities and sororities, neighbors. Connect with them online, peruse their connections and reach out to those whose roles or organizations interest you.  If you don’t know anyone, you can reach out to someone cold via email or a professional network site. Of course, do your homework first. Research the individual and be specific about why you’re getting in touch and what you hope to learn from them. Include a detail about their work that genuinely stood out to you, which shows you’ve been thoughtful about contacting them. Ask them for an informational interview via a video platform or in person.  Of course, always be gracious and appreciative of their time. To demonstrate reciprocity, look out for opportunities to offer something in return, even just commenting or sharing one of their posts.  I also advise attending in-person events — career fairs, industry conferences, alumni get togethers — to broaden your network and increase your knowledge of the hiring environment and your areas of interest. 
Conducting a successful job search is a skill in itself. In addition to being strategic and selective, you should try to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Similar to how you only received a top grade on a project or report in college when you went the extra mile, the same approach applies here.  Luckily, several opportunities exist to set yourself apart when applying for a job. I hear from employers all the time that they don’t necessarily care what a candidate’s degree is but whether that person can communicate well. As a result, I tell graduates in accounting and finance to emphasize and demonstrate their strong communication skills.  The most surprisingly overlooked moment is after an interview. Because most candidates don’t send a follow-up thank-you email, although employers view it favorably, you will give yourself an edge if you compose a sincere and well-written one. A personal and promptly sent email will show — not just tell — a potential employer about your professionalism and excitement about the role. If your interviewer said something that resonated with you, mention it in your email. It will demonstrate your listening and soft skills. Another opportunity to stand out is to craft a compelling LinkedIn profile. Invest the time it takes to provide hiring managers and other professionals with a clear understanding of your skills, talents and enthusiasm. Think carefully about the experiences, internships and jobs that have formed you and position them in a way that makes it easy for someone to see why you would be an asset to any organization. Follow Brandi Britton on LinkedIn