On the Job Hunt? Find Out How to Answer Tough Interview Questions

3 people at an interview session

If there’s any moment in the job search process when candidates trip up the most, it’s the interview phase. The average accounting and finance professional is much better at researching and solving problems than knowing how to answer tough interview questions.

That’s why if you have a job interview lined up, you need to prepare answers to potential questions before you even enter the hiring manager’s office. Warning: Some of these will be trickier than others.

Breaking down the interview question

To know how to answer tough questions, it helps to understand why they’re asked in the first place. Basically, interviewers need to determine quickly whether you have the following three qualities:

  • Technical expertise to do the job
  • Interpersonal skills to get along with coworkers
  • A desire to join the company

To ensure you have the right temperament for the work environment, managers must go beyond the first quality. To find out how you may fit (the second two qualities), they will ask general questions, behavioral questions, as well as the occasional curveball. This is true whether you’re going for a full-time position or a temporary job, because employers might have a temp-to-hire strategy in the back of their mind.

Top 5 tough interview questions

As noted earlier, interviews are no walks in the park. To succeed, you should research the company and rehearse your answers to many potential questions. Here are five favorite queries interviewers have today: 

1. What can you tell me about yourself?

This is a common way for hiring managers to kick off interviews. When answering, keep the above bullet points in mind. Give an overview of your accounting career skills, work experience, qualifications and personal traits. Your goal is to pique their interest in what you can do for the company. Consider this question the first step in making a positive impression. Note: This is not the time nor place to mention your children, marital status, political activities, religious affiliation, health issues, hobbies, pets or favorite Netflix show.

2. Why did you leave your last job or Why do you wish to leave your current company?

No gossip, please. The accounting world is surprisingly interconnected, and the last thing you want to do is badmouth mutual acquaintances.

If you’re currently working, highlight what you enjoy about the job. Then segue into your desire for professional advancement or another challenge. Are you between jobs because of a mass layoff or recent move, or did a temporary assignment end? Mention that without going into the weeds.

Be more cautious if you were let go for performance reasons. Your goal here is to explain the circumstances — perhaps you didn’t meet expectations because your job description changed or because you didn’t get along with a new supervisor. Reassure interviewers of the lessons learned, and highlight how it was an isolated incident because you have an otherwise stellar work history. Finish on a high note by mentioning your dedication to the accounting profession and enthusiasm for the next challenge.

3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

The key to nailing this tough interview question is preparation. Don’t be caught off-guard if an interviewer lobs you this grenade. Listing positives is easy — you’re great with numbers, excel in several financial platforms, have a stellar work ethic and so on. But naming your Achilles heel or personal kryptonite? That’s another matter. Mention a real but not deal-breaking weakness. Perhaps you’re slightly introverted, find it difficult to take criticism or would rather do things yourself than delegate. Then immediately follow up with how you’re addressing the shortcoming. For example, if you have subpar networking skills, tell interviewers you plan to talk to more people during the next conference you attend.

4. What salary are you looking for?

This is a really tough interview question. Aim too high, and you could put yourself out of the running. Shoot too low, and you might be leaving money on the table.

You could take one of two approaches. Research current starting salaries for the position you’re seeking, customizing it for your city. The Robert Half 2017 Salary Guide for Accounting & Finance and Salary Calculator are excellent resources. Then either give hiring managers a salary range you can live with, or say you’d like to find out more about the job responsibilities and non-wage benefits before naming a number. The point is, you never know when a salary negotiation might begin, so always be prepared with current averages in your mind.

5. Where do you want to be in five years?

Your answer to this question gives hiring managers an idea of your motivation and drive. Saying you love the status quo is not a good response. Instead, lay out professional goals you hope to achieve and how you plan to get there. However, mention your adaptability and openness to whatever comes your way. For best results, keep your ambitions in-house, as few employers set out to hire job hoppers.

The goal of any job interview is to demonstrate your talents, initiative and suitability for the role. Since you don’t know exactly what hiring managers are looking for, it’s not always your fault if you don’t come away with a job offer. But do your prep work, and you’ll greatly increase the chances of landing the accounting job you want.

Read our latest Accountemps survey on how managers’ favorite interview questions get tricky — but most focus on opportunity.

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