Managing director
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Interview skills: Preparation is key

11th Jul 2016
Managing director
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Interview candidates sitting down
iStock_Yuri Arcurs_Interview

Whether you love them or loathe them, job interviews are a necessary process that many accountants will have to go through in order to move onwards and upwards.

Yet the fear of going through an interview, especially if this is a move to another organisation, could prevent as many as a quarter of accountants from leaving their current job according to recent CareersinAudit research.

Even for accountants that attend job interviews, three quarters admitted they get a number of physical symptoms ahead of the interview including butterflies in the stomach, followed by fear, insomnia and loss of appetite. Simon Wright, operations director of gives some advice ahead of the interview.

Don’t be complacent

Having the ability and right skill-set means you are more than half way there to getting the role. Yet, having a laissez-faire approach to the interview process is not the right way to go about things. 

It’s a competitive marketplace and you cannot be complacent and think you can walk into a job without some research and preparation.

Take time to prepare

It seems the most obvious point to make, but some of the most damning feedback from accountancy firms and companies refers to candidates who are ill-prepared for the interview. Their lack of the research (some accountants admitted in our poll do not bother to prepare for even five minutes) could reflect a lack of enthusiasm and commitment for the role. 

If you are being interviewed for a job outside of your current organisation, do take time to look at what the new role will entail and how your existing skills mean that you are perfectly placed, even if it’s in a different industry. 

Don’t be afraid to go back to the organisation (if you have been dealing directly) or the recruitment agency, to ask further questions about the job position ahead of the interview.

Be sure you want to work at this organisation

The lure of a big salary in industry or the idea of working for the Big Four may sound exciting but make sure you do some proper research about the organisation. Take a good look at the company’s website to read up on the latest news and, if they have a media presence, read some recent press articles to get a fuller picture.

You may want to try and connect with peers or contacts who either work or know someone who works at the organisation so you can get a feel of the organisation and the working culture. 

Potential employees will be impressed that you are interested enough to invest time meeting people in advance of the interview. 

Be prepared to talk about your interests

Employers are not just interested about the applicant’s technical expertise but personality too. Some candidates may feel that the questions they have been asked in the past are strange and not appropriate.   

The new breed of accountant needs a much broader set of skills so employers are naturally keen to see how much of a lateral thinker interviewees are and how they might react in a number of different and unexpected situations with a client. 

Questions that have actually cropped up in interviews (and the candidates thought were strange) include: “Sell me a pen”, “What is your greatest weakness?”, “What would your ex-boss say about you to us?” and “When was the last time you visited an art museum or gallery?”

Ahead of your interview think about your interests outside work, perhaps what causes you are passionate about, what  has been your biggest or proudest achievement to date and even an anecdote which shows how you overcame a personal challenge. 

Anticipate you may get some off-piste questions

Do also anticipate that you may get some left-field questions which you could not have anticipated or prepared for.  

Some other unusual, but real life examples, include: “Did you dream last night?”, “Sing me a song”, “How many oranges are eaten in the US each day?” and “Tell me something no-one knows about you.”

While you may not be able to prepare for these questions, the employer will be looking to see how you respond and how you handle yourself. 

 What interview preparation tips would you give other accountants? What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked in a job interview?

In the next article in this interview series , Simon Wright be looking at interview day itself – how to present yourself, dos and don’ts, techniques on the day to calm nerves, dealing with difficult questions and how to demonstrate you are a star candidate.


Replies (2)

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By Hakuna Matatata
12th Jul 2016 10:57

At a recent interview with a reputable airline at London Heathrow I was asked by the HR person what my current salary is almost nearing the end of the interview.. The interview went very well and their were one Manager and her superior form the overseas HQ with the HR person.In the advert they had given no salary I told them (without asking them what range they were expecting to pay) and unfortunately I did not get the job because I believe they found my Central London salary much higher then outer London perhaps?
Should I have answered that question in another way ..please ?

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Replying to Hakuna Matatata:
By chatman
12th Jul 2016 11:11

I don't think you should answer that question. I think you should tell them you would prefer to be selected on your suitability for the role and are willing to discuss salary based on that, not on what you are earning now. This will [***] off any HR person, but who wants to work in an organisation where HR has that much influence?

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