How to prepare for an accountancy interview

By Robert Half 1st April 2016

How do you prepare for an accountancy interview? You've safely gone through the process of finding a job, negotiated the application stage and remain in the selection process, but the real hard work starts here. You might be up against some highly skilled candidates for the job, so you need to be firing on all cylinders in your job interview.

Preparation is the key. Knowing what to expect at the interview stage can give you an advantage over some of your rivals. If you have a rough idea of how you will be assessed in an interview and the type of interview questions you'll be asked, it's easier to put in the necessary groundwork.

Rather than worrying about the format of the interview, the questions you'll be asked and how you can display your expertise, you can spend your preparation time refining your technique and practicing your responses. While others are getting stressed, you can be looking forward with confidence. If you know what is coming in your interview, there's less chance of getting caught off-guard.

  • What will the interview format be?

For each accountancy role you apply for, there could be a different interview type. The structure of the interview stage will depend on the particular skills the employer is looking for, their priorities and their view on how best to test your skills and capabilities. Sometimes, the size of an organisation and the level of its HR resources will also influence the type of interview.

While each recruitment process is different, some types of finance interviews are more common than others. When assessing financial management credentials, employers are most likely to run assessments panel interviews and one-on-one Q&A sessions. Comparatively, less opt for technical case studies, group interviews and group presentations.

However, it all depends on the specific skills employers are looking for. Employers will be looking for accountancy skills and technical ability, but increasingly, they are targeting professionals with soft skills too. If, for instance, they are after somebody with strong collaboration and teamwork credentials, or genuine leadership potential, they may be interested to see how you perform in a multi-candidate scenario. As such, there may be a group element to the interview process.

Particularly if you're applying for senior roles, you may be faced with more than one type of interview during the recruitment process. For instance, you may be asked to complete an assessment or technical case study, before moving on to a traditional panel interview or one-on-one. It is best to be prepared for every style of interview that could come your way. Always look to establish the precise format of any interview before you attend - if anything is unclear, ask the employer to clarify.

  • Answering accounting interview questions effectively

Types of interview questions during your accountancy interview will be geared at assessing your skills and ensuring your qualifications translate into practical ability and know-how. You've impressed the employer sufficiently with your finance CV and application to be invited to interview, but now you've got to back up the claims you have made. 

For starters, you should know your CV inside-out and be ready to talk about any element of it (If you need to update your CV, we recommend using a CV template to tailor your CV to the job you are applying for). Always arrive armed with specific examples of how you have added value to your team and organisation, using facts and figures where possible.

It's important that your industry knowledge is up-to-date, and you are able to talk fluently about particular techniques, processes and developments within the sector. The employer will be looking for someone who is genuinely passionate about finance, interested in the industry as a whole, and fully committed to a career in the finance sector. Being able to discuss key topics and themes, and offer specialist insight, will be to your advantage.

  • Answering common accountancy interview questions

Many of the interview questions will relate specifically to the role you have applied for, so ensure you've learned the job description and candidate criteria. You can expect some of the questions to relate to this information, so as part of your interview preparation, think about how you can demonstrate capability in key areas identified. For any skill or experience considered 'essential', you need to have something valuable to say. But you could also be questioned about 'desirable' qualities too.

Another interview tip is to be aware of common lines of questioning. If you've prepared for your interview in advance and have a rough idea of how you will respond, this takes the pressure off. So when common questions come up, you'll be able to provide more confident, fluent answers.

Here are some of the accountancy interview questions that could be posed to any candidate:

  • Which type of financial reports have you prepared?
  • Which accounting software do you use? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  • How do you cope with fluctuations in demand and workload increases at peak times?
  • How do you establish priorities for the day, week and month?
  • What experience do you have of collaborating with other teams and departments?
  • How do you ensure accuracy in your work, and that completed by others?
  • What has been the most significant decision you have made in your current job?
  • What does the following term mean? E.g. cashflow, working capital, etc.
  • What has been your greatest achievement as a finance professional?
  • What motivates you in your career? Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

The chances are, in most accounting interviews, you'll come across some of these questions. But you may also be hit with some you haven't come across before, and this is where your instincts have to take over. Interviewers may try and throw in a 'curve ball' to see how you react, perhaps a line of enquiry that has nothing to do with finance whatsoever. If you have signed up to a recruiter they are able to prepare you for potential interview questions and can help practice your interview questions before your job interview. So as long you're aware of the danger and the chance it may occur during your interview, you shouldn't get too rattled.

Doing your homework on the hiring organisation, key people within the finance department and the job you have applied for should stand you in good stead at interview. Knowledge is power when you're applying for jobs and trying to impress the interviewer or panel. So long as you prepare for your accountancy interview properly and can hold things together during your interview, you'll have every chance of receiving a job offer.

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