BAP Quarterly: Volume 8, Issue 1: Winter 2017

Job Interview Tips for the New Accounting Grad   

By Paul McDonald, Senior Executive Director, Robert Half and Professional Partner, Beta Alpha Psi

 

You have an impressive accounting resume: a high GPA, internships and many of the career skills managers look for in a new hire. Now you need something you may not have picked up in any of your classes: job interview tips.

When seeking that first “real” job after graduation, one of the biggest hurdles to career success is your first conversation with a hiring manager. Which interview questions and answers should you prepare for? What do managers want to hear? Do interviewers still ask about a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses? Is there a way to prepare for curveballs? 

There’s plenty to be nervous about in advance of any phone or face-to-face interview. But with some forethought and practice, you can impress your potential employer and better increase your odds over the competition. Here are some job interview tips to help you make the hiring short list.

1. Get smart on the employer and job

A recent Accountemps survey asked 300 senior managers about their favorite interview questions. The top choice — cited by 39 percent of respondents — was to ask job candidates about the position they’re applying for and what they know about the company. Why? Basically, employers want to quickly gauge your seriousness and interest level in the role. If you’ve taken the initiative to become knowledgeable about the potential employer, it suggests you’ll be similarly proactive and dedicated if offered the job.

Job interview tips: Really do your homework and go beyond browsing potential employers’ homepages. Instead, seriously research the companies you’re interested in. Dive into their history, press releases, community involvement and recent publications. See what kind of social media presence they have, which will give you a good idea of their values and culture. Figure out how the job you’re interviewing for fits into the big picture. The more you demonstrate that you understand the business, the more likely you’ll make the short list.

2. Reconcile the experience they want with what you have to offer

Questions about the candidate’s previous or current experience, a favorite of 22 percent of surveyed managers, come to the heart of any hiring process. Obviously, employers want to know if you have the academic or work history to succeed in the position. If you’re changing roles, they’ll want to know what transferable skills you bring to the table.

Job interview tips: Your mission is to convince interviewers you’re the perfect person for the role. To begin, mine the job posting for clues on possible interview questions. For each bullet point under the job description, note how your experiences align with that particular task. For example, if the role involves internal audit support, talk up how you’ve assisted senior accountants on audit functions during a summer internship, and mention that A you earned in your auditing class. 

3. Highlight your personable attributes

Hard skills and experience are important, but managers also want to hire staff they can easily work with. That’s why another favorite question concerns candidates’ character traits. Interviewers have 45 to 60 minutes to assess not only whether you have the requisite technical abilities, but also the work ethic, adaptability and communication know-how — all crucial soft skills — to be an effective team member.

Job interview tips: Again, the job posting is your friend. Really study it and notice what values pop up again and again. For example, if you see lots of words like “timely,” “accuracy,” “deadlines” and “complete,” you’ll know to highlight your attention to detail and excellent time management skills. Be ready to share real-life examples during the interview.

Common interview questions and answers

Although you never know what you’ll be asked, it’s a pretty sure bet some variation of the questions below will come up. Before you go into any interview, practice these standard interview questions and answers with a friend. But make sure to give your own responses — you want to sound natural and authentic, not robotic or rehearsed.

  • “What do you know about our company, and why do you want to work here?” Because you’ve done your research, here’s your chance to show how much you know about the company and how you’ll excel in the position. Demonstrate your knowledge of its business goals and recent challenges, and explain how you have the skills to contribute to its success.

  • “What has been your most significant accomplishment related to accounting?” Even though you don’t have a long work history, you can still impress with accounts of how you led a successful classroom project or recovered 99 percent of past due accounts during your last internship.

  • “Tell me about a recent problem and how you overcame or resolved it.” The hiring manager wants to know what goes on behind your decision-making process — as well as the outcome of your choices. To prepare for such interview questions and answers, come up with a classic story arc: exposition, challenge, resolution, and outcome. You’re the protagonist, but be sure to also include others in your example to demonstrate your commitment to collaboration.

Fielding curveballs

Okay, you know how to answer some common job interview questions. Now comes the hard part: questions that catch you off guard. Interviewers want to know how well you think on your feet. This is why they throw unexpected and oddball questions like “What animal best describes your personality?” and “Tell me something about yourself that’s not listed on your resume.”

Job interview tips: Be a good sport and respond in the same manner the question is asked. If the question is playful, for example, take a few moments to laugh and banter (this also buys you time to think). Then mention the first non-embarrassing thing that comes to mind.

Remember that some curveballs are actually illegal. Job interviewers may not ask questions regarding your marital status, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, whether you plan on having children and so forth. If you have to field questions like this but really want the job, just smile politely, give a vague response and change the topic.

 These job interview tips are just a start. As you look toward graduation, read up on additional career advice. Then walk into that interview with confidence, and hit those softballs, hardballs, and curveballs out of the park.

 

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Paul McDonald is senior executive director at Robert Half. He writes and speaks frequently on hiring, workplace and career management topics. Over the course of more than 30 years in the recruiting field, McDonald has advised thousands of company leaders and job seekers on how to hire and get hired.