People often feel nervous in a job interview, which can lead to mistakes. Top recruiters of management accountants say some gaffes are even becoming more prevalent. Understanding the biggest mistakes that candidates tend to make — and how to avoid them — is crucial for finance professionals’ interview preparation and ultimate success.
Underselling your abilities
Some candidates neglect promotion of their wider experience and attributes. Required accounting basics are a must, but management accountants should have a wide knowledge of general business and management.
“To succeed at interview, you need to demonstrate examples of your wider skills, such as analysis, risk management and financial planning, and communication and teamwork generally,” said Lee Owen, a senior business director at recruiting firm Hays. “You should also provide insight into the IT tools you have used to produce management information.”
Tom Wood, public practice manager at recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley, said management accountants should make sure they include examples of how they have helped reduce costs while helping a company run smoothly. “A management accountant is there to help a business run more efficiently and to produce financial data that helps senior staff make decisions,” Wood said. “It is a big no-no to omit examples of how you have done this.”
Management accountants should also be able to demonstrate their ability to connect with other people and to explain financial information to a nonfinance person, Wood said.
Many interviewees fail to prepare as well as they should, recruiters said. Good job candidates should do as much preparation as possible, including reading the job specification and company website carefully. Candidates should supplement knowledge from those official sources by learning from news searches or recruitment websites. They should also ask professional contacts what they know about the company.
Adrian O’Connor, founding partner of the Global Accounting Network, recommended that candidates gain deep knowledge of the company before the interview. “Candidates who have done their research minimise their chances of being caught on the back foot with an interview question — and have the ammunition to fire back a few great questions, too,” O’Connor said. “So aim to know more about the company than the interviewer.”
It is important to work on answers to as many other potential interview questions as possible. You can find lists of commonly asked questions online.
Owen said it is important to prepare how you will articulate why you want to work for the company. He advised using social media to research the interviewers, looking for any common ground that you can use to build rapport.
Here are a few more mistakes to avoid:
Not knowing your market. To help companies make better financial decisions, management accountants must have a deep understanding of the market. Owen strongly advised demonstrating proficiency in this area during the interview by discussing how changes in the market — such as new regulations or political developments — could affect the company’s financial performance.
Forgetting the basics. Making a good impression from the outset is vital. Arriving late, not dressing appropriately, and ignoring everyone but the interviewer are common mistakes. Going off on tangents is another. While it is crucial to inject some personality, do not digress. The best way to achieve this is to prepare a list of points that show why you are right for the role — and make sure you deliver them.
Appearing arrogant. Being awkwardly overfamiliar, discussing remuneration too quickly, or proclaiming that you have “no weaknesses” can all be taken the wrong way. “Avoid an attitude that suggests you think you have it in the bag,” O’Connor said. “Instead just be confident in your abilities and give examples that demonstrate your credentials. Also, even if you decide during the interview that the job is not for you, still strive for a positive result. It is a small world, so always leave the best impression possible.”
Talking negatively. During an interview, some questions may lull you into speaking negatively about your previous company. One such question: “Why are you looking to leave your current employer?” At such moments, be as transparent as possible, but avoid negativity about past or current employers.
Owen suggested trying to phrase your responses positively. An example: “I’m looking to leave my current employer because, while this role has taught me a great deal, I could progress my career much further in a larger organisation such as this one with more development opportunities.”
Asking no questions at the end. Finally, one of the biggest disappointments for an interviewer is a candidate who has nothing to ask at the end of the interview. Prepare questions about the role or company so you can demonstrate your inquisitive nature and genuine interest in the position.
Tim Cooper is a freelance writer based in London. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.