When you consider how to interview for finance and accounting jobs, thinking about the potential interview questions — and practicing how to answer them — is as important as planning your interview attire and knowing the "questionable questions" you probably shouldn't ask.
Although some common interview questions seem easy enough to answer when you're talking with a friend, the task can be more daunting once you're asked by a potential employer. Understanding each question's purpose can help you prepare responses that shine as much as your credentials.
Aside from the skills-based interview questions you might get asked, here are some common ones, along with insights into what hiring managers are actually asking:
Why do you want to work for this company?
Although one potential employer could be among a list of many you've scheduled an interview with, hiring managers want their company to be your top choice. Demonstrate your knowledge of the company you gained during your research prior to the interview and show your excitement for the position.
What can you tell me about yourself?
While this may seem like an open invitation to discuss your pet, softball league and interest in crime dramas, the hiring manager isn't usually asking about your personal life. This question is geared toward determining your accounting skills, interests and experience. Your response can be explaining how you're a good fit for the company's needs, for example, or show your career objectives. Keep it short while including at least one past career highlight.
Which enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are you familiar with?
Given the prevalence of these tools today, you should have a response ready. This question tells the hiring manager about your technical experience with systems such as Hyperion, Oracle Enterprise Manager and Microsoft Dynamics GP.
How many tennis balls could we fit in this room?
Often, candidates are thrown off guard by offbeat questions, as they aren’t usually found in a list of interview tips. Sure, as an accountant, you need mathematics skills, but the question could still seem unrelated. If asked something like this, keep in mind it is meant to test your critical-thinking abilities, problem-solving skills and poise, not to look for a specific number.
Can you describe a time you helped reduce costs at a previous job?
This question drives at the heart of your role as an accountant. Consider a specific instance from a previous job and give a detailed account.
How do you avoid errors?
Seeking to determine how detail-oriented you are, this is another opportunity show how you’ve avoided costly mistakes in previous jobs.
Do you have any questions?
The worst answer to this question would be “no.” Ask about the position and something about the company, which you've learn from your research. In addition to showing your enthusiasm for the role and engagement in the conversation, use this time to make sure the job is right for you, too.
Read what questions you shouldn't ask — and five you should ask, too.
Now that you have some ideas of some common interview questions you might encounter, prepare by rehearsing your answers. You might get some off-the-wall questions, too, but the more you practice, the more you'll be able to respond with confidence.
Meanwhile, don't stop your job hunt just because you have an interview in the works. Find out how we help accounting and finance professionals like you find just the right fit.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated to reflect more current information.