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Questions, questions, questions - interview advice for accountants

Written by: Claire Brandon
Published on: 7 Dec 2015

Following on from the last blog on how to consider the interviewer in an interview I want to write this week on handling the interview itself.

There are two simple pieces of advice that will get you through most interviews.

  1. Prepare answers to all common interview questions
  2. Research the company

I will be dealing with the company research in another blog but let’s look at the interview questions. In my experience there are few questions that an interviewee cannot prepare for. Once you are comfortable with your answers you can then work out a basic strategy giving enough information so that the interviewer does not feel you are not being evasive while not giving any details that are going to show you in a negative light.

Money saving hint 
If you are an Institute member you have free access to the library and such treasures as 'Brilliant answers to tough interview questions or Career cowards guide to interviewing skills’ as e-books. View more information here.


Here are a few common questions worth practicing...

1. Tell me about yourself
This question is quite simply a great opportunity to sell yourself.  If you have researched the company and the role all you have to do is to spell out which experiences from your work life, academic, and personal life match what they are looking for.  Be as concise as you can be without missing out any details.  Be positive about all your experience regardless of how it might have felt like in reality.      

It is fine to broadly follow your CV but don’t just to recite it or assume that the interviewer has read it.  Think about the qualities that might be needed in the role and present your experience in such a way that it shows you have them. 

Process hint 
As much as possible make the interview more of a conversation than an interrogation. The way to do this is to check in with the interviewer as to how you are answering the questions.  For example – ‘Does that give you the information you need?’ ‘Would you like more details on that?’  Or ‘What area of my career would you like me to focus on first?’  This gives you breathing space and shows you are not afraid to ask for clarification.

2. What are your biggest strengths/weaknesses? 
This question is a classic opportunity to again show how you would fit well in the role.  Be prepared with three strengths and one weakness.  With the strengths angle them towards the role you are looking for.  And have at least one example for each strength which illustrate how you have applied it.  You can use your research here by finding out what attributes are likely to be needed for that particular role.  

With the weakness choose something that is a genuine weakness but not a cliché like ‘I am a workaholic’.  Then show that you are aware of it and have done something to deal with it.  So one example might be ‘I used to be too much of a micro manager.  When I delegated an item I always wanted to know exactly how it was being done and when it would be completed.  I have learned to delegate items and give people a degree of freedom in how they choose to complete the item as long as it is completed on time.’

Process hint 
If you start to answer a question and you get tongue tied or say something you did not want to, then pause and take a breath.  Say clearly to the interviewer ‘I am sorry that is not what I meant to say, what I meant to say is …’ and then start the answer again.  This shows that you are confident enough to stop when things are going badly and re-focus yourself. 

3. Any questions for me?
If you do not ask any questions at this point you are missing out on an opportunity to show you have done research and you are enthusiastic and interested in the role.  A classic approach would be to ask about an initiative that the company is undertaking and how it might impact you or the role.  Another approach is to ask about the key success factors for the role in the first six months.  You could also ask about opportunities for training and development in a particular aspect of the role that might make you more valuable to them. 

This question usually comes at the end of the interview so it is a good opportunity to leave the interview on a high note. 

Bob Griffiths, ACA, is a career coach and mentor. Find out more about the ICAEW Career Consultancy and Bespoke Coaching Services