big 4 accounting interview tips

What Qualifies Me to Give Interview Tips?

During my time at a Big 4 Accounting Firm I was a part of the vast majority of the interviews for the new trainees. That means I would go into a room with the recruitment member of HR, and have a phone interview with any of the applicants who had successfully made it past the testing round.

I have experienced everything from a perfect interview to an absolute car crash of an interview. However, there are some key factors which you could implement into your interview style which can increase of chances of impressing significantly.

In this post I will discuss my top 10 tips for landing a trainee accounting role. Some of these tips will also include common things people do which aren’t viewed well during an interview.

 

1. Research the Company

Asking what you know about the company is a pretty common question, and is something I would always ask in an interview. Even if a direct question is not asked, it is always wise to drop little notes into your comments which show that you have researched the company and know what you’re talking about. Knowing that you’ve just spammed your CV to every accounting firm in the local area is an instant way to get rejected in my book. We want someone as interested in us, as we are in them, it takes two to tango. This is especially the case with joining an accounting firm as a graduate or school leaver, as we want someone who is going to be incredibly committed to staying at the firm for the extent of their studies.

This is obviously to have a different strategy based on how large the company you are applying to is. For example, theĀ Big 4 firm I joined was easy to research generally. However, there was very little information about that specific office online. During my interview I actually was asked what I knew about that office….which I didn’t answer that well.

However, it is important to know that you don’t need to have an absolutely perfect interview in order to be offered a position. Nobody is looking for perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist. Just be professional, and yourself. If you are the right person for the job, it will be offered to you.

research accounting company for your interview

 

2. Understand ‘WHY’

I will never forget the interview I had when a kid who was around 18/19 responded to the question of “Why do you want to become an accountant” with “I don’t know, it just seemed like a good idea”. What made it more surprising was that the interview actually was going really well up until that point. However, as soon as he uttered that response, it was an instant “NO” from the both of us interviewing him.

So, a key tip I have to give is truly understand why you want to become an accountant. There are so many people in the field who have gone into it because they think it is a good idea, or their parents have told them it was a great place to get their foot in the door.

Training to be a qualified accountant is an intense and mentally tough road, so I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t genuinely want to get to the finish line.

 

3. Be Honest…

We can tell when you’re lying, believe me. There’s often a significant stench of bullshit, and we can sense when you’re just trying to give us answers which you think we want to hear, as opposed to what you genuinely think.

Telling us that you’ve always wanted to be an auditor since you popped out the womb isn’t going to impress us any more than telling us that you research auditing recently, and concluded it was the most beneficial step into your career in accountancy.

My best advice when asked any questions during an interview is to just be yourself, and say exactly what you think (in a professional manner). If you do not get accepted beyond that point, then at least you were yourself. This is far better than landing the job, and then everyone swiftly thinking they made an error when you turn out to be the opposite of the person interviewed.

Also, make sure you’re natural. I always promote the usage of examples to go along with your answers to interview questions. However, don’t force examples in where they’re not needed, or it feels unnatural to use them.

 

4. Teamwork

Teamwork is such a key aspect of being an accountant. Especially if you decide to start off in a field such as audit. We will often ask a question around teamwork to find out exactly what kind of person you are like in a team. There is no right answer here!

Often applicants feel as though they are obliged to tell us how great of a leader they are. At the end of the day, every team needs leadership, as well as people who can be effectively led. Don’t feel ashamed if you’re not a natural leader. I usually find the best response to this question is simply the person who manages to give an effective example alongside their answer. If I had to describe the perfect answer, it would be someone who shows an ability to transition between leader and follower effectively, and gives an example of this. These are the best individuals, as they can let their ego go to one side and rise to the occasion, no matter what the requirement.

accounting advice for interviews

 

5. You’re Rambling

This literally happened to me in an interview today. It is more common on phone interviews than in-person interviews, as it can be difficult to tell when the interviewer wants more information from you when you cannot see their face.

My advice in this regard would be to not be scared of the silence. Interviewees have a habit of just continuing to talk if they hear even a second of silence at the end of their sentence. Sometimes the interviewer is simply taking notes and hasn’t had to opportunity to add their response in yet.

The best thing to do is just say your piece, and then stop, and await the interviewers next question, or response to your statement. There’s nothing worse than a 40 minute interview turning into an hour and a half because the interviewee rambles on and on for the sake of sounding like they’ve got plenty of say. Keep it concise! Keep it relevant!

If you’re still in school, ask a teacher if they will give you a pretend interview. This will put you in an uncomfortable position which you wouldn’t get by asking friends or family to do it. Now, pay close attention to your responses, and try to keep your responses informative yet concise.

 

6. Understand your strengths

There are going to be a series of questions thrown at you which you may not be prepared for. The way in which you always sound positive, is if you can twist your answer to explain your strengths. In order to do this, you need to know exactly what your strengths are. If you genuinely know these, it will come across in a far better light compared to someone who is just giving the stereotypical “perfect” interview answers.

For example, let’s say the interviewer asks you about a challenging time in your life. When explaining this time, twist it on its head to explain how this situation or instance made you stronger and how you were able to overcome it. The interviewer isn’t looking for a fantastic story about a crap time in your life, they’re trying to separate the people who can overcome adversity, and the people who crumble.

The people who know themselves, will do better in an interview. Those people who are confident in themselves will without a doubt impress. It’s the people who stutter and stall because they can’t remember the interview answer they read on Google last night, who will fail.

 

7. Understand your Interviewers

LinkedIn is your friend.

It is also always nice to receive a message after the interview to say thank you for my time. It is polite, but more importantly, it shows interest. As I’ve said before, we will want someone who is as interested in us, as we are in them. There have been interviews I’ve had where the person seemed great on paper, but they just didn’t seem that interested. Sometimes it is just their personality. If this is what you’re like, make an extra effort to hint to the interviewer(s) that you’re interested.

Assuming you know the name of your interviewer(s) beforehand, look them up on LinkedIn and find out a bit more about them. For example, let’s say your interviewer has worked at the firm for 20 years. You may be able to make a comment about how impressive it is that a firm can please its employees enough so that they stay that long (it is rare these days…)

Don’t make any creepy comments though….

 

accounting interview advice

 

8. Have Questions Ready!

Always have a question prepared at the end of an interview. Even if you don’t care that much about the answer. Showing you have prepared and thought of a question is imperative. If I say at the end of an interview “Do you have any questions”, and you quickly say no. I’ll generally downgrade you in my mind instantly.

However! On the other hand, don’t be one of those people who asks 20 questions at the end of an interview. I’d say two is a safe number. No more than three.

The question can be about anything you wish. I’d avoid asking about salary for now though. Common questions tend to be:

  • What are the next stages of the interview process?
  • Could you tell me a bit more about my day-to-day expectations on the job?
  • What would you say is your favourite thing about working at <firm name>? (a common one…)

 

9. Make sure they are right for you

This aspect is significantly overlooked by individuals applying for jobs. Especially by graduates and new people to the job market.

You have to make sure the firm is right for you, especially when you’re going to be spending the next 3 years or more studying and working towards your qualification. Too many people will accept any job that is thrown at them. Unless you’re financially desperate, I would always recommend waiting until it feels right with a certain company.

Admittedly, sometimes the benefits outweigh the simple ‘feeling’ factor. For example, I will be the first to admit I accepted my Big 4 job offer mostly based on the fact it was going to look good on my CV for the rest of my career. There were other smaller factors which convinced me, and I wouldn’t change my mind at all. However, bear this in mind when you’ve finished your interview and you’re facing a potential job offer.

 

10. Know your Role!

This should be a given, and I know some of these are really obvious pieces of advice, but you’d be surprised how many people slip up on them.

I would interview for Audit roles, and the people wouldn’t even know what an audit was. I once had someone I was interviewing who didn’t even know what they were applying for. They’d simply seen accounting job at Big 4, and clicked apply.

So, this bit of advice is pretty simple. Whatever the role you’re applying for, advisory, tax, audit etc. Google it. Figure out what you’ll actually be doing. Often the companies will explain the roles on their websites, which is good, as it should tailor your answer to exactly what the company offer, as opposed to relaying a generalised definition from Google.

 

Finally! Good luck with your interview!

 

I would recommend taking a look at this website to see some common interview questions, and how to answer them.

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *