Hiring a Financial Analyst? Interview Tips You Can’t Ignore

Shortlisted job candidates for financial analyst jobs are not the only ones who need to prep for an interview. Hiring managers could use some interview tips to prepare as well.

In addition to following interview best practices, hiring managers also need to prepare a set of questions that adequately assess whether the applicant has the financial planning, accounting and critical thinking skills required to become a successful contributor to the team. Here are a few interview tips to consider for financial analyst candidates, along with some sample questions to get you started. 

Start with financial analyst basics

In the first part of the financial analyst interview, focus on the fundamentals. Verify that you have properly understood the candidate’s professional and educational background, including certifications, from the resume. Was anything left off? Also, why is the candidate interested in the position and your organization?

Assess quantitative and accounting basics

Find out more about what tools the candidates use by asking how they would rank their Excel skills. Also, see if they can provide examples of situations in which they've used macros, pivot tables or other advanced functions to build models. For a more direct test of their skills (and if time and facilities allow), you could also present the candidates with an Excel spreadsheet populated with sample data and an exercise, and then have them demonstrate their first steps in analyzing it.

Ask them to tell you about a situation where they used large amounts of data to analyze actual performance against an accounting objective. For example, have they ever performed analysis to identify duplicate charges? What tools did they use to discover them? If performing a market analysis, what data did they use as a source, and how did they validate and normalize it before proceeding?

In addition, have a list of the specialized tools you want the candidates to be familiar with. For example, what ERP or other data management systems are required? Ask about how they learned these systems. Was it through on-the-job experience? If they have none listed on their resumes, have they thought about pursuing a certification? As the candidates answer, you may find ways to interject more questions about the particular knowledge you seek in a new employee.

At this point, you’ll also want to start paying attention to the give and take of the conversation. For example, does the candidate listen carefully to the question or anticipate what it is and jump in before you’ve finished asking?

Evaluate business knowledge and critical thinking skills

You can investigate candidates' abilities to handle conceptual problems by asking about something unrelated to your business. For instance, if your company produces and delivers clothing, see if they can analyze the costs of planting trees in a commercial forest. The idea here is to gauge how well the candidates can identify what kind of information they needs and whether they can figure out where they might find that information.

Also, you can learn about business acumen by asking how their current employers approach strategic decisions. For example, if one works for a fast food company, ask for an explanation of how the company decides where to open new restaurants or when to close existing ones.

Consider cross-team communication

You expect your employees to have the soft skills necessary to talk to marketing managers and business colleagues in other departments in a productive and collaborative way. To open a dialogue about the importance of a customer service or consultative orientation, consider asking these questions:

  • How would your boss describe you?

  • What about fellow project team members?

  • Have you ever failed to meet a client or colleague’s expectations? How did you resolve the situation?

  • If this was an ongoing work relationship, what steps did you take to mend the relationship?

  • Tell me about a time you influenced an initiative in your colleague’s department.

With preparation on your part, you'll be able to properly assess during the interview what applicants have the skills you need so you can make smart hiring decisions.

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Editor's note: This post was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.