So, you’ve been invited to interview for your ideal role, and you want to impress. Everyone knows to dress smartly and turn up on time, but the real impact is made in the answers you give to the interviewer’s questions.
Whether it’s your first job as an assistant accountant, or you’ve worked in a senior position for years, there are several questions that usually come up. Most interview questions will centre on the skills most essential to an accounting role, which you can find out more about here. Let’s look at ten top accounting interview questions, and how to approach them.
1. Why do you want a career in accounting?
This is your opportunity to tell the interviewer what makes you the ideal accountant. Try to link your desire to work in the industry with your natural abilities, rather than going for something blunt and uncreative, like ‘because I want a good salary’ or ‘because my mum said I should be an accountant’. So, if you are skilled at picking apart problems, give this as a reason, relating it to analysing figures and financial information within an accounting role.
Other examples of skill-related reasons include:
- ‘I enjoy taking complex ideas and communicating them clearly to others.’
- ‘I have a keen eye for detail, and what to put it to use in a role where this really matters.’
2. What can you bring to the company?
This question is similar to the last but more specific. This is where your pre-interview research comes in handy. Rather than relating your own skills to accounting in general, you need to link them with the company’s specialisms.
For example, if you are interviewing for a role with an accounting firm that works with a lot of startups and SMEs, you could talk about your commercial knowledge of this industry. You could then bring in your communication skills. With a natural interest in the industry, and the ability to communicate complex concepts clearly, you could be the ideal person to help clients with no financial background get a grip on their finances.
3. How do you maintain accuracy in your accounting activities?
Even a simple error could end up costing the business a lot of money. It’s natural that employers want to avoid mistakes, so in this question, they’re looking at how you can demonstrate that you have a detail-oriented mindset, can recognise and address mistakes, as well as prove your dedication to maintain high standards of accuracy.
Emphasise checking over your work several times for errors. It helps to give a specific example of how double checking your work allowed you to put right a significant error, as it shows that you learned from your mistakes early on.
4. What can you tell me about budget preparation?
This is something you will need to know about in any accounting role, whether or not you will be directly responsible for preparing budgets. If you don’t know much about it, consider gaining a basic accounting qualification, such as AAT Foundation Certificate, where all essential topics are covered.
5. Example of providing an outstanding service?
This will be specific to your experience. Think back to a particularly challenging situation, and explain how you overcame difficulties to meet high expectations. Even if this is an interview for your first accounting role, you can take relevant examples from any other roles you’ve had. For example, in a customer service role in a retail environment, you may have communicated effectively with colleagues and the customer to solve a problem, and this would be transferable to an accounting role.
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6. What accounting software package would you recommend to me?
Most accounting roles will involve accounts of specific software, such as Sage. Even if you haven’t worked in an accounting role before, it’s a good idea to be familiar with Sage, perhaps taking a short course on using the software. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of using Sage include:
- A range of standard reports
- Automatic warnings when nearing budgets or time limits
- It’s RTI-ready
- Costly compared with some other software packages
- Can be difficult to use for non-accountants
7. When have you worked as a team to achieve a goal?
Contrary to the stereotype of the isolated accountant working in silence, most modern accountants collaborate closely to complete projects. In many firms, responsibilities are split into different departments, each having a separate set of skills and experience.
So, there might be a tax team and an accounts preparation team that work together to complete work for one client. Try to give an example like this from your own experience. Again, you may be able to find a relevant example from a completely different role.
8. How do you keep up-to-date with the latest developments?
Accounting professionals need to adapt to changing financial regulations and situations, and you need to show that you can do this. If you have studied CIMA or ACCA, you will be in an excellent position to demonstrate your ability to stay up-to-date. Both of these qualifications involve compulsory continuing professional development each year, ensuring you stay abreast of the latest developments.
9. Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
Your answer to this question needs to balance ambition with relevance to the role. So, if you are going into a junior budget analyst role, you can demonstrate your willingness to learn and advance by expressing an interest in working as a senior financial analyst.
However, if you were to interview for a budget analysis role, and talked about moving into a tax-focused role, the employer might question your suitability. Studying for a professional qualification around your job helps illustrate your determination to succeed. While modern employers don’t expect staff to spend their whole working lives at one company, you also need to consider the relevance of your ambitions to the company itself. So, it might not be ideal to apply for a role with a private firm and talk about your dream career in the public sector.
10. What are the biggest challenges facing the accounting industry?
Like question eight, this question allows you to demonstrate your familiarity with the industry. No matter how good your numerical, analytical, or communication skills, commercial awareness is essential. It’s a good idea to regularly read industry publications, and keep up-to-date with financial news so that you can contribute intelligently to discussions on this topic.