Chartered accountants: avoid the top 3 interview mistakes

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Interviews are something that most people struggle with. We all want to progress to the next level of our career and whether this is for an internal promotion or for an external career move, we can all improve our interview technique.

Having interviewed hundreds of accountants over the last 10 years, it is apparent that, with a little practice, the most common mistakes are very simple to correct. It’s worth remembering that the interviewer wants you to do well and they are simply trying to determine the following:

  • What you can bring to the role
  • Your approach and attitude to work
  • Your desire to work in their team and for their business

If you want to maximise your chances to succeed in an interview, the following are the three most common mistakes people make and you should avoid. You can also learn more advanced techniques at our free to attend careers evening event in London on 15 November 2016.

1. Using the term ‘we’ and not ‘I’

This is still one of the most common mistakes and although not exclusive to accountants, it is amazing how many times I have heard the feedback: “They were an excellent candidate but I found it really hard to know what they personally did verses what the team delivered.”

In a modern workplace, most of us work in team environments and within our organisations we talk about “us” and “the team” as a collective. Most of us are more comfortable giving credit to the team and the group, however when you are talking to a prospective employer about yourself, it essential to talk about your personal achievements.

Think about: Were you a driving force behind the project? What part did you play? How did you help drive the outcomes and what were those outcomes?

A good interviewer will counter question until they know what part you played but a less experienced one may not and you could lose out to the person that says ‘I’.

2. Underselling or selling the wrong things

This is one of the most common interview mistakes recently qualified chartered accountants make when looking to move from practice to industry. Having achieved good A-levels and a 2:1 degree, you go straight into a top accountancy practice. You mistakenly assume that the interview process for your next career move will be the same as when you graduated. However, it now becomes much more about highlighting your key work achievements rather than just exam success. The interview approach you had as a graduate will change as you progress throughout your career. For example, getting a 1st in your degree or passing your qualification is NOT your greatest achievement (it is expected). On many occasions, I have heard recently qualified accountants say that they don’t have any achievements but with deeper probing and insight this is rarely the case.

Think about: Whether you uncovered a control deficiency for a client? Did you identify a revenue leakage? If so, how did you resolve it? Who did you have to influence to make the necessary changes? What was the outcome of the change you made?

Using real world examples of how you work and what you have achieved gives employers a much clearer indication of what you can deliver for them. You may never need to pass another exam paper in your life so think about which achievement will give a more positive impact to your potential new employer.

Top Tip - Always think when answering: What did I do? How did I do it? What was the outcome? There are several models you can follow including the S.T.A.R. (Situation, Task, Action, Result) model but what is most important is that you become accustomed to talking in that style in a natural way. This will ensure you always deliver a credible answer and don’t sound robotic or overly rehearsed.

3. Lack of preparation or research

While working as a recruiter, I wrote an article on how to prepare for an interview and it broadly focused on the importance of preparation and research in advance of an interview. The content of the article is still very relevant if you are looking to prepare for an interview and rather than repeat its entire content I will focus on the issue of interview anxiety below.

One of the most common phrases I hear is; “I get the jobs I don’t want because I feel more relaxed, and the ones I really want I struggle with, I get nervous and end up not performing at my best.”

There is some interesting psychology at work here. Think about how you prepared for the interviews you have really wanted verses the ones you didn’t want. I would be prepared to bet that you did extensive research and preparation for the role you wanted but took a less than thorough approach on the ones you cared less about. Although feeling more relaxed can sometimes be helpful, as an approach to interview preparation, it is generally counterproductive.

Think about: Prepare for all your interviews in the same rigorous way so that you train your mind to view all job interviews with the same level of importance. This approach should help you to remain calm under pressure and perform at your best to give you a better chance of getting the job you really want. This also means that if the company or role you weren’t too sure about turns out to be better than you thought, you will be prepared.

If you want more detailed tips and practical advice, on 15 November 2016, ICAEW is holding a careers event for late stage studiers and qualified accountants with as much as five years post-qualified experience on a range of topics including; building your career brand, real life success stories, CV clinics, an interview master-class, keynote speakers and an insightful panel debate. It’s a free to attend event and should be attended by anyone wanting to progress their career both internally and on the job market. To find out more and book your free place click here. Please note: limited places are available and allocated on a first come, first served basis.


Rory McDermott
Head of Talent Acquisition Solutions at ICAEW

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