Interview Preparation Part 2 - Top tips for frequently asked questions
As well as questions which will test your accountancy knowledge, there are general questions (or variations of them) asked at most interviews. This means you can prepare answers in advance and adapt them to the actual questions asked. Company review websites like Glassdoor are useful. If the company you are applying for is listed, there are likely to be examples of questions asked at interview and details about the recruitment process experienced by other candidates in a similar role.
Tell me about yourself? Talk me through your CV? or What’s your story?
Often used as an opening question, interviewers are not looking for your life history. They may or may not have read your CV, either way they have the document in front of them. Your answer needs to point them to the relevant aspects, not a chronological repetition of what they can read for themselves. Summarise your career story, relevant achievements and training, plus mention interests, volunteer work and languages spoken. Recycle the information from your personal profile on your CV to summarise your key skills. Be concise and take no more than 2-3 minutes. A basic framework for your question could look like:
I always loved helping my mum with her business and working with numbers at school. After work experience at an accountancy firm, I knew this was the career for me. When I gained my ACCA qualifications, I got a position with …….where I gained good experience in……For the next few years I worked in accounts payable roles and was promoted into my current role three years ago, after completing a leadership course. I am known for being very organised and always hit my deadlines. Since my promotion I have successfully streamlined the invoicing system which has increased accuracy and significantly reduced the amount of time we spend dealing with queries. In my spare I am a cub scout leader which I find really rewarding because….plus I also love getting out for long walks in the hills on the weekends.
Why are you interested in this position? Why do you want to work for us? Why are you leaving your current job?
These questions are exploring your motivation for your interest in the role. Your analysis of the job description should give you a good understanding of how you match the role, but you also need to be clear about why you want the job (clue: Because I need one is not the answer!). The recruiter wants to know your interest in the role, why you are a good match and what attracts you to their organisation.
Avoid giving a generic answer. Mention what aspects of this company and role appeal to you. Perhaps their values and ethos match your own or the organisation offers opportunity for the career progression you are looking for.
Your organisation has a good reputation as an employer, plus your work giving advice and support to local businesses resonates with my desire for my work to make a difference within the local community.
This is not the time to be critical of your current boss or organisation. When discussing why you are leaving, stay professional and focus on aspects such as lack of career progression, a long commute or a company restructure. Keep the reason brief then move on to why the position you are interviewing for has piqued your interest.
What are your weaknesses? What aspects do you need to improve? What are you not good at?
These types of questions test your ability to self-reflect. Avoid cliché traits such as being a perfectionist or workaholic and do not mention core skills required for the role. Talk in terms of ‘areas of development’ or what you are not comfortable with rather than using the word ‘weakness’ yourself. Ensure that your answer tells the recruiter how you are overcoming your ‘weakness’ and therefore, the implication is that it won’t be an issue. Have two or three prepared because some recruiters will ask for more than one.
Although, I’ve always performed well in my appraisals and excelled as an accountant, my written English skills have sometimes let me down, for example, spelling mistakes in reports. I took two online courses to improve my business writing and knowledge of grammar which have really helped. I now use the Grammarly software to help double check my text.
What are your strengths? What are you good at?
Aim for three specific strengths which are related to the role and back each one up with an appropriate achievement or short example. Be confident and relaxed about your strengths and avoid boasting or being arrogant. If meeting tight deadlines is important to the role, you could say….
Throughout my career I have been known for my organisational skills, good time management and ability to prioritise multiple tasks often with the same or close deadlines. Combined with my calm manner and good interpersonal skills I always manage to achieve my targets. Another key strength is….
Have you any questions for us?
Recruiters will fail a candidate if they do not have questions or they ask questions which are poor quality. Although you normally only have time to ask one, have two or three prepared and choose the one you feel is the most appropriate, based on what has been discussed. You do not want to be in a position of preparing one question, only to find that it was addressed already during the interview. Also, avoid asking for information which is readily available on the website or within the application pack. Here are some good examples for you to consider or adapt:
What will my priorities be within the first 6 months?
How does this role support the organisation’s mission of …….?
What do you enjoy most about working here?
I noticed in the news that….. How will that impact this role?
How do you support Continuous Professional Development and training?
Remember to practice your answers or have a mock interview with a trusted friend or career coach, who will give you honest and constructive feedback. Avoid over-rehearsing, just know the key points. This will enable you need to adapt your answer to the question asked and sound natural.
This article is written by Michelle Hiseman, Career Counsellor at CV Writers.
CV Writers are the official CV partner to ACCA Careers.