The Footnotes

ACCOUNTING, BANKING & FINANCE

Accounting: Interview tips

A PWC Talent Recruiter shares his advice to Graduates looking to land a role in the big 4.

Nailing some stock standard questions that are likely to be thrown your way…

Why accounting?

A stereotypical answer to this question is that accountancy offers a respected professional qualification which can lead on to a wide range of opportunities in business. This is all true, but it doesn’t answer the question of why YOU want to become an accountant – and if you give as general an answer as this, you can expect to be questioned in detail on the nature of the qualification and the opportunities you see it leading to.

Much of the income of the larger accountancy firms now comes from consultancy and related services rather than from audit. Even in audit you will spend much of your time visiting clients and asking questions, so good interpersonal skills are important. Your answer to this question should probably make this point.

Accountancy is now a fast changing profession, so they are looking for individuals with initiative who can manage change. Ensure that you have a considered answer to this question. It is bound to be asked

What qualities do you have that make you a good accountant?

Aside from the obvious ones such as numeracy and interpersonal skills, key skills will include determination and self discipline (to get through the difficult professional examinations) and an interest in the business world generally. An ability to work in (and ultimately lead) teams, strong analytical skills, good verbal and written communication skills and curiosity (particularly on the audit side) are some of the others you could mention – if you aren’t strong in some of these areas then you may have problems making a persuasive case for yourself.

You are likely to be asked many questions seeking evidence of these particular competencies and will be expected to give examples which are backed up with evidence: for example, if asked about your leadership qualities, you should give an example of where you led a group successfully rather than just stating ‘people always look to me to take the lead’.

Why have you applied at our firm?

Quantifiable differences between chartered accountancy firms are often found on the basis of size rather than between individual firms. In general, the Big Four offer more international opportunities, household-name clients, more structured training, the chance to specialise in particular industries. Smaller firms usually market themselves on factors such as greater client contact, greater variety of work (shorter audits at smaller clients), early responsibility, work-life balance, friendliness and smaller audit teams. In the end, graduates often choose between similar types of firm on the basis of the company culture and atmosphere, which often boils down to which of them seemed the friendliest at interview!

The interviewer will have expected you to have done your research on the firm  not just reading the careers section of their website but looking at the pages for clients, press releases etc.

It is worth noting here that chartered accountancy employers are FIRMS: not companies. A candidate who refers to the firm as a company will reveal a lack of knowledge and annoy the interviewer.

 Tell me about a situation where you showed determination?

Questions like this are designed to bring out evidence of the qualities that you have which you will need to do the job. Be very well prepared with examples of situations where you have used these skills. If you have answered a few demanding graduate application forms, you will have come across most of these questions and prepared answers.

Other situations which are frequently asked about include the following:

Give an example of when you:

* Planned something.

* Took on responsibility.

* Led a team.

* Had to cope with pressure.

* Dealt with an unreasonable person.

* Had to make a difficult decision?

* Used initiative

* Influenced others.

* Solved a problem.

Greatest achievement and why?

 Before your interview think through everything you have done in the last five years and try to find at least one example which fits each of these situations.

Don’t worry if your examples are not earth-shattering, as long as they give some evidence for possessing the quality in question.

You can answer these questions by first describing the SITUATION and/or TASK you had to achieve, then the ACTION you took in the situation and finally the RESULT or outcome. Some interviews consist almost entirely of these types of questions, in which case the order of the interview is set in advance with a standard list of questions. Even more so than usual answer questions honestly – honesty is essential in the job!

Accounting: Interview tips
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