How to nail the accounting job interview

Most people struggle when talking about their achievements and successes, but a job interview is not the place to be modest.

Landing an accounting job interview is hard. However, it's even harder to ace the interview and get a job offer. Three experts give their tips on how to win over decision-makers in an interview.

By Sonakshi Babbar

Your resume has passed the HR manager’s scrutiny and you have been invited for an interview – well done.

While you are a step closer to your dream job, you now face the toughest part of the job search process.

Job interviews can seem intimidating, but preparation, practice and the right attitude can get you the job you want.

The non-negotiables

A survey by online job site CareerBuilder found nearly half of employers had decided within the first five minutes of an interview if a candidate was a good fit.

Andrew Pearce FCPA, Adviser and Executive Director at business advisory and wealth advisory firm, Collins SBA, believes first impressions are still a priority in interviews.

“Dress appropriately as first impressions really do count,” Pearce says. “If it’s a conservative, more traditional workplace, think about how best to present yourself so your potential employer could imagine you fitting into their workplace. If the workplace is more forward thinking, dress to match the occasion – this attention to detail demonstrates that you care.”

Pearce also says it’s important to have a firm handshake, look the interviewer in the eyes and use their name to greet them.

“The way in which you shake hands with your interviewer is a very important rapport builder and another form of first impression,” he says.

Do your research

“Most job seekers make the mistake of not being well prepared,” says Ross McLelland, associate director of recruiter Michael Page Australia.

“It is important to research not just what the business does, but their values and any other insights you can find online.”

Don't be shy

Most people struggle when talking about their achievements and successes, but an interview is not the place to be modest.

“Some job seekers do not think about selling themselves effectively to the role as well as to the company,” says McLelland. “Candidates need to articulate both why they want a specific job and why they want to join that particular firm.”

Pearce suggests reviewing the position description and giving examples of when you performed well to your strengths and where you learned from experience. “It is easy to say you have a skill or behave in a certain way, but this needs to be backed up with specific examples of how you have demonstrated this.”

“It is easy to say you have a skill or behave in a certain way, but this needs to be backed up with specific examples of how you have demonstrated this.” Andrew Pearce FCPA

Sydney-based recruitment specialist Kara Atkinson believes great candidates never answer questions with just a yes or no.

“Always elaborate your answers and give as much of your personality as possible,” she says.

Sometimes the interviewer is looking for a skill or experience that you lack. In that case, you should be prepared to talk about your strengths and areas for development that can help you perform well in your role.

“Demonstrating a capacity to learn or bridge a skill gap is really important,” Pearce says.

In-demand skills

According to McLelland, business partnering is the most in-demand skill in accounting.

“It’s not enough to just have a strong technical accounting foundation; you need to be able to engage with your clients, really understand their needs, and that requires skills across relationship building, influencing, communication and emotional intelligence,” he says.

Additionally, public practice employers favour professionals who demonstrate a history of being proactive, which means “working autonomously, but also asking for help when needed, he says. “They look out for candidates who are solution focused – someone with a growth mindset and who sees a challenge as an opportunity.”

Ask questions

An interview is about getting a job, but it is also an opportunity to ensure the role and organisation are right for you.

Pearce notes one of the most common oversights from candidates is not asking enough questions.

“It is always good to have a question prepared to ask about the organisation, expectations of the role, the strategy for the business and so on,” says Pearce.

“Ask questions that reflect your research and show your ability to think critically and intelligently.”

It is important to ask the right questions. Atkinson says you should avoid asking anything related to office hours.

“If you are a junior candidate, it may be really important to you, but an interview is all about delivering what the client wants,” she says. “Work ethic is ranked very highly on their list and you must ensure you have ticked that box – asking about office hours changes that tick to a cross.”

Another tip Atkinson offers is to discuss salary expectations with the recruiter rather than the client.

5 job interview tips to remember

Listen
Before answering a question, think about the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, Result) and phrase your answer accordingly.

Eyes up
Look the interviewer in the eye when you greet them.

Follow up
Email after an interview to indicate your enthusiasm and interest in the role.

Practise
Consider possible questions and practise how you would answer them.

Sell yourself
Prepare to talk about significant achievements that you can reference during the interview.

CPA Australia member resource: Get a job: powerful tips and tools to ace any interview by Ron Fry is available by emailing cpalibrary@cpaaustralia.com.au


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