When searching for an Accounting role, you must be ready to answer common interview questions like: Why are you interested in this position? Where do you want to be in 3-5 years? And, why did you leave your last job? But you must also be prepared to answer Accounting-specific interview questions to demonstrate your functional ability and future potential.
We asked several of our Accounting & Finance recruiters on what you should expect. Here’s their advice.
Question: What are your future goals within Accounting?
Employers may inquire if you’re planning to pursue the CPA or are hoping to move up from the position at hand. What they want to hear is that a prospective candidate is willing to take the time and has interest in becoming an expert in the the position they are interviewing for and is willing to take on new responsibilities or technical knowledge within Accounting. It’s okay to show your ambition, just be sure to stick with answers that follow the immediate future. For example, avoid saying you want to be the Controller while interviewing for a Junior Accountant job as it may seem like a reach goal.
Question: What is your experience level with Microsoft Excel and can you give some examples?
It’s important for the interviewer to understand your true level of expertise when it comes to skills and technology. In Accounting, in-depth knowledge of Excel is critical. Here are some examples on how to help the employer understand your level of proficiency:
“I would say I’m a/an (Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced) Excel user. I am comfortable and have experience with:”
- Beginner/basic: formatting sheets, keyboard shortcuts and using basic formulas
- Intermediate: using VLOOKUPS and creating and analyzing Pivot Tables
- Advanced/Expert: moving quickly and comfortably connecting external data and capable of teaching others
If you’re not sure which category best suits you, check out this article from LinkedIn that helps define different levels of Excel skill.
Question: What is your biggest weakness?
When a hiring manager asks this question, you want to address it with an honest, thoughtful answer that highlights your self-awareness, ability to be introspective and demonstrates your confidence. Also, discuss how you are working on that weakness and/or address how you have overcome a deficiency in the past.
When interviewing for an Accounting role, give examples relating to either accounting skills, habits or personality traits. You want to be able to portray your commitment to professional growth to a hiring manager as well as highlight your hunger and interest in the role for which you are interviewing. Your ultimate goal with this question is to convince the interviewer of how your weakness can be turned into a strength.
Different examples of weaknesses can be about the following traits:
- Competitiveness (note: similarly to perfectionism, this can be a strength)
- Self-criticism /sensitivity
- Take on too much responsibility
- Focus too much on the details
- Working long hours
Many times you won’t have all the Accounting skills listed in a job description. If asked the weakness question you want to show your ability to learn and how you can overcome the “weakness” of not having a specific competency the job is requiring. For example, if you don’t have a technical Accounting skill that is listed in the job description, admit that. Then add how you learned other technical platforms quickly, and how you believe you can learn that skill promptly, too.
It’s also a positive to describe how you were able to overcome a weakness and a positive way the situation turned out. Show that you have grown as a professional, and how that slightly negative characteristic is now a positive attribute that you can bring to a new position. It’s always a good idea to give examples and use specific situations from a previous job to illustrate your point.
Question: What size company suits you best?
One tricky question we often see is “What size company suits you best?” which can be a double-edged sword. Answer too small and the interviewer might think you can’t handle the pressures and nuances of a larger company. Answer too large, and they might think you are too pigeon-holed into specific responsibilities and won’t be the “wear many hats” type.
While being true to what you actually want (this will differ person to person), I think the key to answering this question is to show your versatility. In a smaller organization, it’s important to be able to get into the nitty gritty of AP, AR, and journal entries, while also seeing the bigger picture and being able to report those findings to the management team. The combination of being able to get into the weeds and then turning that into actionable data to people outside of finance makes you extremely marketable to a variety of industries / organizations.
By asking this question, hiring managers are testing your adaptability to different situations. You want to show that you can pitch in where necessary and that no job is too big or small, while also showing that you have the aptitude and confidence to work within a larger organization. That sometimes could mean sharing data with Director,VP or C-level employees.
Question: What is your salary expectation for this Accounting position?
As a candidate, you never want to throw out an exact number during the interview. You should always answer with, “I am looking for a fair offer in line with my skill set.”
If you give a certain number, it could disqualify you from the position, even if you’re flexible with your salary. Also, not providing an exact number gives you the opportunity to negotiate if an offer is made.
If they press hard on a number for your salary, you can say that you are targeting and interviewing for Accounting positions in a certain salary range and provide a scope that is in line with their expectations.
Question: Tell me about your last role.
When the hiring manager asks you to share more about your time at XYZ Corp and to detail some of your responsibilities, make sure to tailor your response to the company that you’re interviewing for and not just a list of your past duties.
Employers are looking for relatables to make their decision making process easier. They also want to hire someone that will need less ramp-up time. If your resume doesn’t speak to the Accounting job you are applying for, ensure you articulate the connection between responsibilities.
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