Stand out from the pack

Sep 01, 2020

Sometimes being brilliant at your job isn't enough. You have to make yourself stand out in a different way, but how?

WORDS BY SINEAD SMITH, Director for Newly Qualified Accountants at ACCPRO

In the April 2020 issue of Extra, I broke down the three Ps that contribute to the perfect CV: presentation, prediction and personalisation. Now, with exam season just behind us and thoughts turning to life beyond the training contract, there is merit in expanding upon that third P –  personalization – and how it can be leveraged to elevate your job application and set you apart from the 1400+ other Chartered Accountants Ireland students who will receive FAE results this year. 

Distinguish yourself

Think about your office, your team, your intake. How many of those other soon-to-be qualified ACAs share your professional story and have a CV that will mirror yours? I would hazard a guess that it is a vast majority. Taking that realisation and further building on the sentiment posited in the April issue that your CV serves as a first introduction to you, it stands to reason that you would want to differentiate yourself as much as possible from your peers.

When you sit down to write your CV, you should ask yourself two questions: “Who am I?” and “What is the story I want to tell?”.  That story can be professionally oriented but, it should also be personal in a way that sparks the interest of a hiring manager or recruiter and gives them a full picture of who you are and what you bring to the table.

Achievements and awards

In Ireland, we are conditioned to value our academic achievements above almost any others. This even extends to some employers who will ask, at interview, about Leaving Cert points despite the fact that you have achieved so much more academically and professionally since you were 18. By all means, note your Leaving Cert points if they were particularly good and definitely note any results and impressive rankings for your degree, masters or postgrad but, don’t forget about professional achievements either. 

Professional achievements aren't always exam-based and it is those that aren’t that will add interest to your CV. These can include a strong internal rating from your firm’s assessment system, any in-house awards you have received or being selected for a big secondment or project. However, it is worth remembering that most people reading your CV, won’t understand the significance of a “1 rating” or the Star Award so, do briefly qualify what that means and why it is noteworthy e.g. “Achieved a consistent 1 out of 5 rating, with 1 being the highest possible rating. This is only awarded to a small number each year.” 


Companies aren’t interested in simply hiring number-crunching robots when they need an accountant. They are usually looking for a diversity of professional experience and personal interests that will enrich the existing team and add value to the company. Consider this a, within reason, carte blanche opportunity to put a unique spin on the story your application tells.

Think about what you do in your spare time. Perhaps you volunteer every weekend with Dogs Trust or provide tutoring to students at your old school. Maybe you are an advocate for a cause and chair meetings or organise events. These are all relevant points of interest and show you to be dynamic and multi-faceted.

However, your extracurricular interests don’t have to be altruistic. Your hobbies can convey a message so, think about how you like to unwind. Sports are a great way to demonstrate commitment, teamwork and drive. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness all suggest that you actively try to manage stress levels. Podcasting, blogging or freelance journalism show that you put effort in to becoming a subject matter expert. Toastmasters or debate suggests strong communication and presentation skills.

Unique hobbies can also be endearing. In the April article, I mentioned jigsaw puzzles, mid-80s British sitcoms and agility training and I can now add calligraphy, geocaching, foraging and fermentation to the list of hobbies that sparked conversation in the office! Similarly, if you have hobbies that are relevant to the company you are applying for, detail them e.g. playing video games (gaming company), cooking (restaurant chain), coding (software company).


Personalisation can extend to your in-person interaction also. When preparing for an interview, check out the LinkedIn profiles of those you are meeting and don’t be afraid to reference it in conversation. Saying something like “Mary, I noticed on LinkedIn that you recently joined the company, how have you found the transition from practice to industry?” will show a huge amount of diligence and thoughtfulness and will instantly make your interview memorable. 

The takeaway here is that, when writing your CV and preparing for interviews, put some thought into it before you put pen to paper. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are more than your exam results and that recruiters and companies want to speak with people who are multi-dimensional.