Congratulations! You’ve secured an interview with the accounting firm of your dreams…or perhaps just the first company that called you back. Whether you’re nervously awaiting your time in front of the firing line or confidently expecting to bowl over your interviewers and be offered a job or internship on the spot…stop and take a moment to re-think your expectations. Chances are it’s not going to be as difficult (or easy) as you might imagine. But if you take a look at these simple interview tips below you’ll at least leave your interviewers with a good impression of yourself and, at most, ensure that your candidacy gets the attention and consideration it deserves:
Before you step into the office for your big job interview, research the company. According to staffing agency Robert Half, the most common mistake applicants make is showing up to the interview without knowing enough – or anything – about the company or firm. Start by doing research online. Ask your professors, colleagues, or friends, and investigate aspects of the company that genuinely interest you. That way, when your interviewer asks you, “Why do you want to work here?” (and they will) you will have a specific answer.
One of the most common questions asked in accounting industry interviews is: “Describe a situation in which you’ve helped achieve XYZ Goal.” Come to the interview ready to describe a few situations in which you’ve met and dealt with challenges in an organization or by yourself. These can be challenges such as cutting costs, streamlining accounting processes, dealing with particularly tricky clients or customers, or anything that will demonstrate to the interviewer that you can use your accounting knowledge and creativity to solve problems. Even if your career experience is limited, feel free to use examples from your coursework or other experiences in your life, just be ready for this one!
Above all, an interviewer wants to know that you are qualified for the position. If you know specifically what certifications, skills, and knowledge are required, be ready to address those concretely and explain why you’re qualified. Bring to light the most relevant parts of your resume as well as any other classes, training, or experience you might not have been able to include on your resume. If you lack one or two qualifications, at least have an answer ready for how you’re working on attaining them. Don’t let your jaw hit the floor when your interviewer asks about your knowledge of International Accounting Standards. If you know something like this is likely to come up, spend some time on the IFRS website, for example, and be able to talk about how you’re getting yourself up to speed.
In most cases, the person interviewing you is probably going to be your future manager or someone with whom you’ll be working closely. To put it bluntly: the interviewer has to either like you or at least imagine that working with you will not be sheer misery. This might be trickier for some people than others, but even if you’re an introvert who knows nothing about sports, you can still make an effort to connect personally with your interviewer. You don’t have to pry into their personal lives or divulge your deepest secrets, just be relaxed, friendly, and open to invitations to talk about yourself or ask questions. If your interviewer lights up when you mention your passion for stamp collecting or travel, it might be an invitation to make a personal connection they’ll remember when considering your application.
You don’t need to be jumping out of your seat with excitement (in fact, don’t), but you do need to express genuine enthusiasm and convince the interviewer not only that you’re qualified for the job but that you want the job. There are few greater turn-offs to a potential employer than a candidate who seems blasé or apathetic about the opportunity. So come prepared (see no. 1), ask questions, and show genuine energy, interest, and curiosity. Whether it’s your dream job, a stepping-stone to something else, or your last resort before you move back in with your parents, what you’re after is an offer and you won’t get it if you look and act like you don’t care either way.
These kinds of questions might make you groan, but they’re pretty standard interview fare in any industry. Your interview is your one chance to make an impression and make yourself stand out from the crowd in a positive way. Your answers to these questions can make you seem unique and interesting…or not. Remember to keep your answers in the positive whenever possible and avoid cliche answers. Also, and perhaps most importantly, keep your answers concise and to the point. This is not the time to give a rambling, 20-minute explanation of your metaphysical beliefs or to rant about how annoying your old co-workers were. This is a time to share information about yourself which is not on your resume and to show your interviewer that you’re a capable, interesting, positive person who will make a good employee.
This might seem like common sense… but you still want to put some careful thought into what you wear to the interview. A good rule of thumb is to consider what you’d be expected to wear on a particularly formal day at the job—like when attending a conference or making a presentation. And remember that it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed.
Again, this one is common sense. But if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic with 10 minutes to get to your interview, not sure exactly where it is or where you’ll park your car…you’ll wish you’d had a bit more of it, common sense or not. Travel to the interview site once before the interview date and time how long it takes to get there, remembering to account for traffic and other delays. If that’s not possible, give yourself double or even triple the amount of time you think you’ll need to get there. If you end up getting there 45 minutes early, take a walk around the block, sit somewhere and practice your interview questions, or just relax in the knowledge that you’ve accomplished 50% of the battle: you’ve made it there on time. Make sure to check yourself into the actual lobby or office about 10-15 minutes before the interview, and let someone know you’re there. Any more will make you seem over eager; any less will make it look like you rushed to get there.
Once you’ve prepared yourself as well as you can, and dressed-up, and arrived on time…make sure to just be confident and be yourself. Ultimately, remember that the organization is not looking to deny you a job or internship; they’re looking to find the next great candidate to fill their position! They’re looking for someone who is prepared for the challenges of the job and someone whom they can see themselves working with day-in and day-out. You might be that person and you might not. But by being prepared and being yourself, both you and your potential employers will know what to expect when you finally do get that big offer you’ve been waiting for.