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Career Guides

Nonprofit Accountant: Career Guides

Posted by Mitch Corlett on Feb 5, 2015 2:33:58 PM

Who is your competition for that nonprofit Accountant job in the Washington DC job market?

When you see a job advertisement, some aspects of the job are obvious. You can envision the kind of work you would be doing, and recognize the new skills you can learn.

But you almost never see your competition for the job, or know what truly drives the hiring decision.

That’s why we’re bringing a little transparency to the hiring process, by pulling back the curtain on the data we've collected from our searches for finance professionals in the nonprofit sector.


So how will your resume stack up against your serious competitors?

Hiring requirements vary widely and are unique to each employer’s situation. But there are a few things that employers usually tell us they want to see:

  1. Are you proficient on the accounting system used by the hiring organization?
  2. Are you proficient in MS Excel and able to create pivot tables and formulas? Do you use other tools like Fxns, lookups, and macros? Are you able to pull relevant data from Excel to create reports for accounting purposes?
  3. Are you incredibly proficient in AP or AR or both? How well does your experience match what the organization requires for this position?
  4. Are you knowledgeable about how AP or your account ties to the general ledger? Can you articulate that to your senior manager? Can you answer questions about it?
  5. Do you have direct hands-on experience or knowledge about payroll or benefits? Grants management?
  6. Do you identify patterns and bring issues and ideas to your senior manager? Do you provide routine, regularly scheduled feedback on a monthly basis?
  7. Are you working with managers to meet deadlines? Do you have an effective personal management system? Can you describe a time when you self-corrected?


And what might prevent you from getting the job?

A resume that shows disproportionate job hopping. Have a clear idea of what you want to do in your career and be able to articulate that. Be prepared to explain why a position didn’t work out, what you liked about the work, why a job was important at the time.


If you aspire to be a nonprofit Accountant, how can you make yourself competitive?

To compete for a nonprofit accountant job, your experience must closely match the specific needs of the hiring organization. If you don’t know what skillsets are required, call and ask prior to the interview. Ask questions like: What’s the primary focus for this position? How in-depth is work with the audit? What troubleshooting responsibilities exist? What does month end look like?

In particular, for accountants at any level, hiring managers are most interested in candidates who have specific knowledge about that organization’s accounting system. Find out what system is being used, and if you haven’t used it, look it up and identify the commonalities with systems you know. Be sure to address your capability to use that system on your resume or cover letter, and be prepared to articulate what you know about the system during the interview process.

Be upfront with your level of comfort working with staff across the organization. Some organizations need a behind-the-scenes accountant crunching out reports while others require finance staff to be highly engaged. Make an honest self-assessment of how you fit the mold of what the organization needs.

Other things you can do to sharpen yourself for a role like this:

  1. Work with your senior manager to find ways to make the month-end reporting process clean and precise. Look for patterns and make recommendations to shave off time and streamline the system to meet deadlines.
  2. To get up to speed on what’s highlighted in the job advertisement, work on a project for 3-6 months to build comparable proficiency.
  3. Indulge your curiosity. Learn new systems and processes when you can. Dive in to general accounting systems knowledge, Microsoft FRx, audit processes, etc.
  4. Ask if you can contribute to audit preparation and/or follow-up. Direct your attention to completing assigned audit tasks in a timely manner.
  5. If you don’t already have your CPA, work on the requirements to obtain certification.


How do you get yourself noticed by employers?

Just doing the work and developing the right skills is not enough. If you want more career opportunities to come your way, you need to make yourself visible. Highlight aspects of your background that employers will seek out most often. Frame your experience using the same language that employers and recruiters use for the job description.

Be sure to list any relevant credentials like CPA or CMA. Clearly state any accounting system you have experience with.

At a minimum, your resume, website bio, and LinkedIn profile should reflect key concepts that help you stand out from your competition. One of the best places to find the right language is in the job advertisements that you find attractive. But to get you started, here is a short list of key phrases used in some of our recent searches:
Accounting: full cycle accounting, AP, AR, bank reconciliations, reconciled investment accounts, bookkeeping, payroll, handled monthly journal entries, reviewed accounting entries, maintain balance sheet, budget work, cash receipts processing
Reporting: generated financial reports, completed monthly compilations, prepared monthly financials, filed taxes, ensured compliance with deadlines, spreadsheets, cash position reporting, report monthly investment activity, reviews coding accuracy
Audits: provided audit assistance, audit preparation, assisted with annual audits, interact with external auditors
Funding: grants experience, A-122, A-133, pledges payable/receivables, maintain records of donor advised funds, process fund distributions, review federal grants spreadsheets
Systems: Great Plains, ProSystems Microsoft FRx, Peachtree, Excel spreadsheet, maintain financial filing systems, created Chart of Accounts coding system
Teamwork: create annual budget worksheets for managers, update leadership monthly


We hope you found this overview helpful.

All of our open searches can be found here. If none of our current searches are a match for you, you are welcome to send us a copy of your resume so we can keep you in mind for future openings. Please email your resume to resumes@staffingadvisors.com, subject line: "Keep me in mind."

As a candidate, what can you do to make hiring more personal?

What exactly improves your odds of creating a strong connection with another human being? How can you get the attention of the hiring manager and make your case? How can you get your point across even when the hiring process is trapped in the land before time? Your ability to tell the right stories about your experience is every bit as important as your experience itself.

The Staffing Advisors team has successfully completed hundreds of executive searches. We know from experience that the job search process is stressful for even the most accomplished executives. But it doesn't have to be. It’s what our Job Search Guide is for.

The Senior Executive Guide to Job Search

Topics: Career Guides

Executive Job Search