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Prepping for Your Finance or Accounting Interview

You’ve probably heard the adage that “preparation is the key to success.” While this quote may be old, it’s still as applicable to interviews as ever. No matter how comfortable you feel with improvisation, preparing for an interview一especially for a finance or accounting role一is essential to getting the result you want.

It’s hard to sell yourself, but the proper preparation helps you do it with ease. In this piece, we examine what companies are truly seeking in a good candidate, review questions you should be ready to ask and answer, offer tips for remote interviews, and explain how to follow up. If you’re a job seeker in finance or accounting, you’ll want to read on.

Think about what they’re really looking for

Study the job description. Nine times out of ten, there will be a prominent theme in the list of responsibilities. Find out what the must-haves and nice-to-haves are, and make sure you mention those qualities upfront. Write down a list of your achievements at past roles and figure out how to sell yourself in relation to the job description. Are you an expert at process improvement? An excel wizard? Are you a good problem solver? If any of these characteristics match the job description, find a way to work them in.

Also, be sure to mention any awards you’ve received or significant accomplishments you’ve had in the past year. If you’re managing people in this new role, bring up the number of people you’ve managed before and how you led your teams to success. Interviewers can tell immediately if you’re making something up on the spot, so use real examples. If you’re familiar with a particular industry or software, emphasize that experience. Maybe you have a CPA or other certification一mention that as well. Perhaps you’ve worked at a professional services firm or a startup and are very adaptable. Overall, you want to make the interviewer’s job easier by connecting the dots for them.

Questions you should be prepared to answer

There are several questions that almost always get asked in accounting or finance interviews. Often interviewers start with the classic, “tell me about yourself.” This question may seem innocuous, but interviewers are listening for specific must-haves or nice-to-haves. Weave those into your story by highlighting ways you exemplified those qualities in previous roles. Prepare a short elevator pitch that showcases your technical expertise as well as your leadership and management skills.

Of course, interviewers don’t only want to know the good stuff. They’re bound to ask about both strengths and weaknesses. Frame your weakness as something you are now conscious of and are working on improving. Your interviewer might also ask why you want to quit your current job. Be prepared to answer that question thoughtfully, and emphasize why you feel this role would suit you better. Read the job description carefully to pull out keywords and form your answers based on what the job entails.

Questions you should be prepared to ask

Inevitably your interviewer will ask, “do you have any questions for me?” Instead of dreading that question, remind yourself that part of the interview process is evaluating whether or not the company is right for you.

Get a sense of what to ask by doing a quick google search of the company you’re applying to and read any recent press releases, articles, or announcements you can get your hands on. Write down anything that strikes you as curious or surprising. This could be about career trajectory, company culture, product roadmap, or IPO plans. Also, consider finding your interviewer’s bio on the company website and look them up on LinkedIn. Use any past companies, schools, or connections in common as segues into your questions.

If you’re stuck, here are a few sample questions to get you started:

  • Tell me what you love most about your job and or the company? This one gives you insight into the interviewer’s background and what they love about working there, which might give you ideas for other questions.
  • What challenges could someone encounter in this position, and how would my impact be measured? This question can prepare you for difficulties down the road and might reveal the company’s performance review process
  • How is your accounting and finance org structured, and what is the team dynamic? The answer to this question could surface red flags about culture or people and could show you what your trajectory might be like.
  • How often do you have a one-on-one with your direct reports or team? This can give you clues as to your boss’s management style.

Thinking about these questions ahead of time may seem like a lot of work, but you won’t regret it. Not only will you know a lot more about the company and your interviewer than simply what you see on paper, but you’ll also demonstrate that you’ve done your homework.

Remote interviews

Due to the pandemic, many companies have gone fully remote for interviews. Although people are starting to go back to the office, some organizations will likely continue to use virtual technology to conduct at least first-round interviews. With that in mind, make sure that you are using the correct communications tool and your microphone and camera work. First impressions may not be everything, but they definitely count for something. Log in a few minutes early, and dress like a professional. Lastly, make sure you have a strong internet connection and a clean background.

What about the follow-up?

Following up after your interview is crucial. It shows how much you want the job and how much you enjoyed your conversation. At Planet Group, we recommend sending a thank you email immediately following your meeting or at least within the first 24-hours. First, thank the interviewer for his or her time. Next, write a sentence or two about something that stood out to you about the discussion and reiterate your interest in the role. Close by saying you’re looking forward to hearing about next steps. If you have a feeling you might make it to the next round, start to get in contact with your references. That way, they’re prepared as soon as the hiring manager is ready to call them.

Calm those nerves and ace your interview

Everyone gets nervous for an interview, particularly if it’s for a company you really want to work at and if the interviewer’s title is intimidating. The key is to be yourself. After all, that’s how you’ll eventually be at work. Imagine you are talking to a close colleague or family member. Highlight your unique abilities and show off the fact that you’re an expert in your field. And practice, practice, practice. With a positive attitude and a whole lot of preparation, you’ll nail it.

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