Congratulations, you’ve made it through the initial screening process to an in-person interview! Now it’s time to turn your attention to securing a job offer.
“Landing an interview is definitely an accomplishment, but you still have a lot of work to do if you want to walk away with a job offer,” says Elisa Dammacco, a Senior Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Accounting/Finance division who is a CPA herself. “You only get one chance to make a strong impression on a prospective employer, so the interview is not the time to wing it. If you want to make it to the next step in the process, you need to lay the ground work for a successful meeting.”
For those in need of a quick check list for success, here are 9 ways to prepare for every stage of the interview process at an accounting firm:
Before the interview…
Do your research: A failure to demonstrate knowledge of the firm is a top reason why accountants get passed over for offers. As a result, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with key details such as: the size of the company, the industries they specialize in, and the type of clients they work with. Then, you can take your research a step further by searching for the latest company news, reading online reviews, and looking up your interviewers on LinkedIn.
Know your resume: To position yourself as the best candidate for the opportunity, you need to be able to articulate how your experience will allow you to be successful in the role. Brainstorm your talking points by reviewing your client history and industry experience, as well as, making a list of your top strengths and most significant accomplishments.
Anticipate behavioral + situational-based questions: Most accounting professionals know to prepare for questions that test their technical accounting skills. However, an increasing number of companies are utilizing unconventional interview questions to assess a candidate’s soft skills. “Many of our clients are looking for CPAs with strong critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills,” says Laura Gutierrez, a Senior Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Accounting/Finance division. “Since these traits don’t necessarily come across on a resume, they are asking interview questions aimed at specifically addressing them.”
The day of the interview…
Be respectful: From the security guard to the receptionist, treat everyone with the same level of professionalism and respect as you would the actual interviewer. “Every person you encounter could weigh in on the final decision,” notes Elisa. “In a field that requires heavy client interface, hiring managers will want to ensure a prospective hire treats others with courtesy and respect. As a result, they are very receptive to feedback from every individual who came into contact with the candidate.”
Be enthusiastic: Regardless of whether or not you think the opportunity is for you, it’s important to let your enthusiasm and personality shine through for the entirety of the interview. “Smile, actively listen and participate in the conversation, and sit upright,” explains Laura. “Conveying your enthusiasm will help you build a friendly rapport with the hiring manager, which is something that can inspire them to choose you over another candidate.”
Stay on track: In the early stages of the interview process, try to keep your focus on proving you are the right fit for the role as well as the company culture. Comments or questions about compensation and benefits should be saved for later on in the process, or when you receive an offer.
Ask questions: Asking questions not only shows your interviewer that you are engaged in the conversation, but also gives you the opportunity to evaluate your level of interest in the position. “Remember, an interview is a two-way street,” advises Elisa. “As you do your company research, prepare a few questions that are tailored to each person you plan to meet with.”
For example, more general questions about factors like company culture can be geared toward HR. Specific questions about the role and expectations for your first 6 months, can be saved for the hiring managers. “If you exhaust your question list before you complete your interviews, it’s okay to repeat them with every new person you meet with,” adds Elisa. “Every hiring manager has a different perspective, so this can provide you with more clarity on the role.”
After the interview…
Tie up loose ends: At the conclusion of the interview, Laura advises her candidates to ask if the hiring manager has any further questions or needs clarification on anything that was discussed. “This affords you one final opportunity to sell yourself or address any concerns that the hiring manager may have about your eligibility,” she says.
Know how to follow up: If you applied to the job on your own, it’s considered a best practice to send a personalized follow up note within 24 hours of the interview. The note should concisely express your gratitude, reiterate your interest in the role, and explain why you’re the right fit. If you’ve been working with a recruiter, however, it might be more appropriate to let them facilitate any future communication with the employer.