In Part 1, I walk you through the steps on how to define the perfect accounting job as a CPA candidate for you. Now, I will be sharing tips on how to prepare for your interviews. Note, some of the tips in this post can actually be applied to non-accounting interviews. However, since I am most familiar with accounting interviews, I think these will be most applicable to CPA students.
Be Prepared To Answer The Question “Tell Me About Yourself”
This might sound obvious but you would be surprised at how difficult it can be to tell the interviewer about yourself. A good answer to this question would be precise, in chronological order and highlight relevant education and experiences. There are exceptions but the interviewers are most likely interested in the part of yourself that is relevant to the job you are applying for (at this stage, at least). I suggest coming up with a summary by doing the following:
- review your resume and the job description
- make a list of relevant education/work experiences
- summarize the topics in chronological order (easier for interviewers to follow)
- practice with friends and family
Note, it is fine for your speech to change every time. The key here is to practice enough so you can casually share your story with the interviewer without sounding robotic.
For example, since I majored in Psychology in university, I always explain how I ended up in accounting. I would mention how I went to university right out of high school and chose the major that was most interesting to me then. Nineteen-year-old me unfortunately did not consider my future career path (spoiler alert: not as a psychologist or an academic researcher). I would tell the interviewer how I was influenced by my passion in numbers/money and my boyfriend who was working in accounting at the time after graduation. Then, I would share my relevant working experience (started as an AR/AP clerk then most recently AP Team Lead).
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
I know, this is cliché. However, this question gets asked so often that you simply don’t want to show up to an interview without preparing for it. Also, knowing your strengths and weaknesses contribute to positively to self-awareness. How can you improve if you don’t know what your weakness is? On another hand, sometimes it’s also about embracing your weakness and not be too critical on yourself. After all, no one is perfect (some seem pretty close though).
There is an overwhelming amount of articles out there on this topic so I thought it might be more useful for me to share mine in this post. Note, my motto when I go to interview is always be true to myself as much as possible. This is because I believe strongly in the importance of the right culture and personality fit. If you are not remotely yourself during the interview, you might have to keep up with that personality at work.
- in love with process improvements – even if something isn’t broken, I will find a way to make it better and more efficient (translates to interviewers: more efficient processes save company $$)
- work well with a team – why make one person suffer a lot when everyone can suffer a tiny little bit instead? (translates to interviewers: team player)
- not a perfectionist – this might be a controversial weakness but I have no problem admitting that I don’t tend to quadruple check everything (in accounting, triple checking is the standard and double checking is the bare minimum) (translates to interviewers: could be efficient or careless)
- talk a lot – now, I understand this might annoy some people but I have, on multiple occasions, learned valuable information that would improve my work or other people’s work through conversations with coworkers (translates to interviewers: could be annoying or easy-going)
Study The Job Description
At an interview, your job is to convince the interviewer why you are perfect for the job. In order to achieve that, you need to share as many relevant skills and experiences as possible.
For example, when I applied for a Corporate Accountant position, I was leaving my job as an AP Team Lead. However, the couple of months prior to my departure, I was covering for the Corporate Accountant who was on CFE leave. Ideally, I should have included the experiences on my resume but I have not had a chance when I applied. Therefore, I made sure to mention that at the interview. I talked about the schedules/working papers I was responsible for for month-end. If I was applying for another AP position, I probably would still have mentioned them to highlight breadth of knowledge but these experiences would not have been as relevant as my AP tasks.
In summary, it is important for you to highlight your skills and experiences to match the job description. This makes it easy for the interviewer to believe that they should hire you.
Prepare A Couple of Process Improvement/Implementation Examples
To highlight how I have gone above and beyond in my previous jobs, I always try to share a couple of examples of how I improved or implemented a process. For example, when my last job had to switch to work from home abruptly due to the pandemic, the payment review function had to transition to digital right away. It was a project that we had wanted to do for quite some time but had never taken off. When the opportunity presented itself, I led the team to transition the process with as little disruption and error as possible.
This might be difficult to come up right away and you might think you have no such experiences. However, do not give up. Something as simple as standardizing the email title for a monthly report that you send to your manager could be a great example. Why? Because consistent email title makes it easy for searching (e.g., Jun 2020’s finance budget report) and this simple act shows that you care about making other people’s lives easier. Who wouldn’t want people like you on the team?
Be Familiar With Your Current Job Duties
It is so easy to forget and minimize the importance of what you do day-to-day when you do them day-to-day. However, job interview is all about selling yourself. In order to be as prepared as you can for whatever the interviewer throws at you, it is crucial for you to know what you have accomplished inside-and-out.
For example, if the job you are applying for is in charge of bank reconciliation. If you have not done bank reconciliation in the past, you can overcome that by sharing how you have done vendor account reconciliations in the past. In theory, the two tasks are similar. Therefore, having experience in one might just be enough for the interviewer. Another example would be the lack of management experience. Can you think of an instance where you were training a newer staff member? Some may argue that management experience is a lot more than that but sometimes it’s all about your potential. If you can do A well, you can most likely do B well.
As I have already mentioned, job interview is all about selling yourself. If you are well-prepared, confident and honest, the right interviewer will see the potential in you. Also, don’t forget that you are also interviewing them. Not all jobs are created equal (e.g., growth opportunities, management, team, compensation etc) and when you have the luxury to choose, be strategic.
Try your best to enjoy interviews because they could signal an exciting new chapter of your life. For CPA candidates, the right job can help you more than you might have thought: PERT requirements, strengthen your technical knowledge, expose you to area of specialty you might want to have a career in and offer important networks.