Operation preparation: how to achieve the perfect interview

You’ve got the letter inviting you to an interview – now what? Knowing the dos and don’t from the experts can make all the difference.

Lay the groundwork

“Research is essential in order to make a good first impression at your interview – and should be your initial preparation step,” says Lee Owen, Senior Business Director, Hays Accountancy & Finance. “You can start by looking at the company’s website, where you’ll find further details, news and crucially – insight into culture, recent projects and accolades.”

Additionally, “look at social media feeds such as a LinkedIn company page and the LinkedIn profile of your interviewer, to find out about their career history too.” Be creative and imaginative about how you explore these fact-finding missions. “Your interviewer may follow certain companies or social groups for example; so consider how you can use those cues to build rapport and common ground. Remember, the interview is a two-way process.”

Be prepared

“It’s vital for you to get to know the company,” says David Bowen, Director at Bowen Eldridge Recruitment. “Inevitably one question you will be asked is, ‘what do you know about us?’ There really is no excuse for not being able to answer this confidently – even a cursory look at the company website will give enough information to provide a good answer.” Understand what the company does, what services it provides, and what it makes.

Make life easier for yourself by doing some homework and making full use of the resources available to you. “Know the job description,” Bowen says. “You’ll have this ahead of the interview – it’s there to be read!” Familiarise yourself with it and see where your skills match the requirements – “but also, know the areas where you feel you can develop. Be sure to have a few role-specific questions to ask. And for accountancy starter-roles, check what software system the company is using and when year end is.” Asking your own questions in this way communicates that you are proactive, you think issues through and you have a problem-solving mindset.

“From your research you’ll gain a robust insight into the organisation’s culture,” says Owen. “For example, its website may emphasise its meritocracy, in which case you could share examples of how you were promoted for consistently exceeding your objectives. If it emphasises teamwork, you should share examples that show you work well in a team.”

Know your audience

You should also make time to understand the organisation’s products or services and its objectives. “Find out the main competitors in the market and see if you can gain an understanding of what challenges the organisation or company is currently facing.” Whilst the interviewer won’t expect you to know everything about their industry, “you’ll really impress if you are aware of these issues.”

On the day

  • Don’t be late! “Know where the interview is being held,” David Bowen says, “and give yourself 15 minutes for any unforeseen delays. At the same time, don’t be too early. Arriving at the office 45 minutes before your appointment puts pressure on your interviewers who also have their day jobs to do.”
  • Dress to impress. “If you turn up looking like you’ve not made an effort to be professional, don’t expect the interview to last long. If you’re unsure, always go more formal rather than less formal.”
  • Don’t discuss money. “Unless salary is brought up by the interviewers, this topic is not to be discussed,” Bowen says. But afterwards, “do email the people you have met to thank them for their time.”

Particular advice for accountants is to “try and obtain a copy of the company’s financial records,” Owen says, “so that you can discuss the financial position of the organisation with the hiring manager, and demonstrate your inquiring nature. Remember, though,” he adds, “to keep an open mind as the numbers may not always paint an accurate picture of what’s happening within the organisation.”

Know the company’s mission statement and key values – this can be a useful lodestone for your interview, “and can help you decide if it’s a company you want to work for. You can then use these values during your interview – and align your answers to them.”

Communicate effectively

With any interview, the key is to differentiate yourself from your peers. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding yourself on the shortlist, but being pipped at the post by a similarly qualified candidate. Are there tactics interviewees can adopt here? “Think about your key skills and what you can bring to the role – these are your unique selling points,” says Owen. “However, do be mindful that in your interview you always need to be honest about your experience without sensationalising.” An example of this might be “saying you’d implemented a completely new bookkeeping process, but actually only assisted on a specific part of it. You might not do yourself any favours and appear over-qualified to the interviewer.”

Instead, Owen recommends, “explain your relevant achievements, qualifications and key project work that make you best suited for this particular role – and where possible, give practical, tangible examples.” In order to avoid boasting about your achievements, “try and create a two-way conversation during the interview. This will allow you to showcase your achievements whilst at the same time showing you can build rapport.” Take the opportunity to emphasise your transferrable skills and highlight what you can bring to the table for your prospective employer, Owen advises, “rather than reeling off a list of your accomplishments. It’s good to sometimes summarise what your interviewer said – as this shows you are paying attention.”

“Be honest about your skills,” David Bowen adds, “and where you want your career to go. Remember the role needs to fit your needs as much as you need to fit it!”

Finally, ‘employers are looking for accountants who are hardworking and proactive,” Lee Owen says, “so demonstrate to your potential employee that you are enthusiastic, prepared to work hard and are ambitious for success.” Accountants also need to demonstrate that they have the ability to liaise with stakeholders across a business by adapting their communication styles to suit different audiences. “Avoid using technical jargon or internal acronyms when answering questions posed in the interview – and ensure that you use real-life examples to illustrate your points.”

Ultimately, the day is your chance to shine. Consider these tips, give yourself plenty of time to prepare, and on the day – relax. A professional and confident personality will shine through.

Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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