Tags: Accountancy & Finance, accountancy-and-finance, blog

By Michael Quinn

When you’re interviewing for an accountancy position, chances are you will be asked a series of competency based questions related to the job you’re after. But what are competency based interview questions and why are they increasing in popularity during an accountancy interview?

Interviews for accounting roles will generally include competency-based questions regarding your approach to current accounting issues and your personal accounting skills, as well as include behavioural questions regarding soft skills, character and work habits. To help you prepare for that all important interview, we’ve outlined five competency based questions, covering important skills and aptitudes you should display in an interview for an accountancy position.

What are competency based interviews?

Competency based interviews are designed to make the job application process as objective as possible - removing any conscious or subconscious bias by the interviewer by asking each candidate the same questions. The questions will be driven by a competency framework that is required for the job, and candidates are expected to respond with specific experiences which demonstrate their skills and aptitude for the role. This can be achieved through using the STAR technique.

STAR stands for – Situation, Task, Action and Result. Plotting your interview answers around that framework is particularly helpful when answering questions which zero in on your behaviour and attitude towards challenges you may have encountered in previous roles, as well as your specific achievements within them. Since past performance can be a good prediction of the future, interviewers ask these questions to see if candidates have the skills and experiences required for the job.

Five examples of competency based interview questions in Accountancy

Below are some of the most common competency based questions in accountancy, with advice on how you can prepare to answer them:

1. Which accounting applications and software packages have you used in the past, and what was the impact on the business?

Research published in Accountancy Age reveals that nearly 60 percent of CFOs believe that combining state of the art technology with process improvement is crucial. With automation on the rise, it’s no surprise that employers are looking for finance professionals with a firm understanding of technological developments in the sector and how they make accounting processes more efficient and forward-thinking.

Competency Based interview questions examples from the specialists.

For this reason, you should provide a detailed description of accounting solutions you have used in the past, discussing how you implemented certain applications, the specific steps taken during conversion and integration, and how you trained staff or colleagues to use new accounting systems. Remember to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of software packages you have used in the past – focusing on how some applications supported and simplified company specific processes, and how they met your exact business requirements.

2. Can you provide an example of accounting reports that you have prepared in the past?

When answering this question, you should demonstrate your experience in preparing accurate and timely financial reports while maintaining accounting principles, practices and procedures. You should emphasise your ability to meet tight deadlines whilst undertaking multiple accounting activities.

Strict deadlines for completing a number of tasks from accounts to tax returns are critical in accountancy, and can be particularly challenging to manage when working with a range of different clients simultaneously. For this reason, you should aim to highlight a specific example where you both managed client expectations whilst adhering to a strict deadline. This is certainly an opportunity for your organisational and time management skills to shine in the interview.

3. Describe an accounting process that you developed or endeavoured to improve.

When responding to this question, you should demonstrate your ability to both innovate historical processes and manage risk. While prudence and risk management in accountancy may seem at odds with innovation, it is possible to turn potential barriers into opportunities. For example, new legislation is often seen as a barrier among businesses, and for this reason, accountants must possess the ability to not only help others correctly interpret and comply with new regulations, but also demonstrate how adapting to new legislation could add value to stakeholders going forward. Remember to draw on your own personal experiences when answering this question.

4. Can you tell us about a time where you helped to reduce costs to a business?

One of the primary reasons why employers hire accountants is to reduce costs within their businesses. You should respond to this competency based question by highlighting a specific situation where you managed to reduce costs unexpectedly through your personal innovation or diligence. Be sure to back up your experience with the financial details of your success.

5. Describe a time where you explained a complex issue to someone with without an accounting background.

Your ability to communicate with people who are not accountants may be very important, especially if you will be in an advisory role with direct contact with clients or with team members from other departments. For this reason, you should emphasise your communication skills and storytelling talent, as well as your ability to work as a part of a team.

About the Author

Michael Quinn - Search Consultancy specialist

Michael Quinn is Associate Director for Search Consultancy's Accountancy and Legal recruitment specialisms across the Northwest. He has extensive experience in facilitating the career development of finance professionals across the region, empowering them to fulfil their full potential and support business growth as a result. 

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