Interview questions are designed to draw out information about how you have made a difference in your organisation, but it can be difficult to come up with examples when you are nervous.
To make sure you present your experience and suitability for the role in the best light, preparing and practising answers before the interview is key. If you are not trying to come up with the right example for each answer on the spot, you’ll be less nervous.
Over the course of my career, I have had a lot of experience in the candidate hot seat, as well as in the role of interviewer. Here are some of the most common questions you will come across in a finance interview, along with a framework for preparing your answer to include the detail interviewers are looking for.
1. Give me some examples of how you applied your finance skills in previous roles. Remember to keep to specific examples, ideally from recent roles. Always use examples that result in improvements to the organisation. Bear in mind that a top performing commercial finance team serves its customers (both internal and external) and seeks to stay ahead of the competition by adopting the latest technology and systems.
Outcomes you might want to cover include cost savings delivered or increases in sales income, market share, profitability, and cash flow. Any processes, systems, or services that improved efficiency or levels of service are worth highlighting.
Take this opportunity to demonstrate your interpersonal skills – with colleagues as well as external stakeholders, suppliers, and organisations with which the company has a commercial or statutory relationship.
2. Do you have knowledge of the accounting standards relevant to this industry? Do your research before the interview to make sure you are up to date on current standards and are aware of the latest status of any new draft accounting standards or proposed changes – particularly those specific to your sector, such as charity reporting and accounting guidelines.
Explain briefly whether you have knowledge of accounting standards, generally accepted accounting principles, and the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Describe the depth of your knowledge, how it applies to the role, and, more importantly, how you stay up to date.
3. What is your role in the month-end close process? This is a key question, and you must be able to clearly articulate your role and responsibility. Provide detail as to how you go about the close at your current or most recent employer. Give examples of where you have reduced the month-end close, made the process more efficient, and improved the accuracy of actual and forecast figures reported.
Explain the changes made and how you implemented them, and include the interpersonal skills used to effect the changes within the organisation. If there was resistance to change, explain how you overcame it.
4. Describe a situation when you took the lead on a process or system implementation or were proactive. Hiring managers are hoping to hire accountants who have implementation experience and have encountered and overcome implementation issues, which had they not been addressed would have resulted in delays or even non-implementation of a project.
Give at least two examples of where issues have occurred and how you dealt with them in a timely and efficient manner. How you handled difficult situations involving staff, such as managers, board members, and external stakeholders is particularly relevant.
5. How hands-on were you? Your response will depend on whether you’ve been working for a small or large firm. Give examples of just how detailed the tasks you delivered were; this will demonstrate your experience.
6. What experience do you have of developing business metrics? Keep it brief and give as many recent examples of practical experience as you have. Then you can open the conversation out to previous employers’ specific business metrics.
7. What are your biggest weaknesses? All accountants should be able to give one shortcoming – it’s important to understand what you cannot yet do as well as your strengths. Examples might include, “I’ve never done the monthly close, SEC reporting, or Sarbanes-Oxley on my own, but I’ve supported that process.” Or, “I can be impatient but am learning to handle it better.”
Interview stress tips:
- Think of someone you know who always copes well under pressure, and visualise how he or she reacts to stress. Use this as a visual reminder that stress can allow us to access our courage and strength. It can change us into our “best self” for any challenge we may face.
- Think of the interview as a meeting between two people getting to know each other.
- Before the interview, repeat positive phrases like these in your head or out loud to help you feel more confident:
I am going to do my best.
I am prepared.
I can do this.
This job is mine.
I can ace this interview in my sleep.
Nigel Armitt, FCMA, CGMA, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a UK-based author and coach who specialises in helping professionals prepare for interviews.