Congratulations! Your search among dozens of available finance and accounting jobs has finally resulted in an interview at a promising company. Or perhaps you are staying within your company and are interviewing for a promotion against several high-performing coworkers. Either way, it’s important that you be prepared.
With finance and accounting jobs as competitive as they are, acing the interview is a surefire way to put yourself ahead of the other candidates. We spoke to many industry professionals to get their input on some common (and maybe not-so-common) things you might be asked in your next interview.
Questions about past performance
An interview panel is likely to inquire about how well you did at your last job. Says Bruce Hurwitz, an executive recruiter and career counselor who has placed and consulted many professionals in the industry, “The two most important questions, and the ones that get them jobs, are: ‘How much money have you saved your employers?’ and ‘How did you find it?’ The ability to discover waste and fraud are critical to securing accounting and finance jobs with moneyjobs.com.”
Chris Delaney, author of “The 73 Rules of Influencing the Interview using Psychology, NLP and Hypnosis Persuasion Techniques” (MX Publishing, 2012), offers the following two examples as common interview directives: “Describe a time when you had to build a collaborative relationship, either internally or externally, in order to achieve a particular goal,” and “Give me an example of the different approaches you have used when persuading your team, colleagues or manager to agree with your views.”
“Tell me about a time when you made a policy improvement suggestion. How did you get your point across and was your idea implemented?” That’s a question Elaine Boylan commonly asks in interviews at New York’s Adelphi University, where she is the senior associate director of the Center for Career Development and oversees the Accounting Recruitment Program. Another is, “How have you used data or other technical information to convince a manager (or committee) of the importance of change in policy or a streamlined procedure?”
Questions about job mastery
Of course, you should also expect a good number of questions about how finance and accounting jobs are carried out, specifically. As Melissa Campbell, finance and accounting placement consultant at recruiting firm Murray Resources, puts it: “Any level candidate in accounting or finance is expected to know details such as industry, ownership, locations, departmental structure, revenue, closing cycle, software utilization, [and] departmental structure without hesitation. Answering very specific questions with vague or unclear answers is interview suicide.”
Delaney offers the following specific questions that fall under this umbrella:
“Which ITC packages, such as Oracle or Sage, are you proficient in using, [and] what are [their] advantages and disadvantages?”
“What is your understanding of value added analysis?”
“Define a shadow balance sheet and its advantages.”
Boylan’s list is a bit more comprehensive, and includes inquiries such as these:
“Which accounting programs or systems have you used? Which do you find the most effective and why?”
“How do you ensure accuracy when you prepare journal entries or record transactions?”
“Explain the Accounts Payable cycle.”
“What steps do you take before approving an invoice for payment?”
“Give me some examples of deferred revenue expenditure.”
“How would you set up a table to calculate prime cost, factory cost, total cost of production and cost of sales?”
Finally, even when it comes to finance and accounting jobs, no interview would be complete without a question or two about the candidate’s life outside the office. Michelle Dunn, who has run her own collection agency and authored several books on the subject, including “Starting a Collection Agency” (Never Dunn Publishing, 2008), has an interesting question she asks of those trying to be collectors: “Have you ever been in debt yourself and had bill collectors call you?”
Dunn explains why this question is so helpful for her. “I would talk about this with them, if I was hiring them as a bill collector — I have found people who have experienced being in debt, how it feels, what the options are, etc., make better collectors because they can put themselves in the debtors shoes,” she says.