Have you ever hired a new staff member who you were sure was going to be perfect, only to soon realize you have hired the wrong person? You are not alone—just 18% of accounting firms believe their recruitment process consistently identifies the very best candidate.
Your best opportunity to learn and analyze a candidate for a role in your practice is the interview. This is your chance to not only find out about their skills and experience, but whether they have the right personality and attitude that will make them a good fit for the role, and your firms culture. So it is critical that you ask the right questions that will shed some light on these attributes.
We spoke with a number of partners and managers from different high-performing accounting firms to find out the top questions they ask when hiring new candidates. Here are 30 for you to pick and choose from.
How to Answer
Don’t tell your whole life story; briefly summarize your career and the work that you’ve done at a high level. The recruiter will most likely ask follow-up questions based on what you share in your response. Think about using stories of how you gained an interest in the field and what led you to the roles you pursued. This is also a great opportunity to share your future goals and further express your interest in the company. If there was something specific about the company or position that caught your attention, say what it was! Share how your prior experience has prepared you for the position you’re interviewing for. Remember, it’s all about relevance and connecting the dots.
“I’ve always had a love for numbers and really enjoyed my accounting courses in college so I’ve known this was the path for me since I was young. I started my career in public accounting with a Big Four firm in audit. Audit allowed me the opportunity to work with clients of all sizes and industries. I focused on testing controls, writing audit reports, and overseeing the work of my audit team. I also trained our new hires and interns. I got a lot of experience auditing complex accounts such as derivatives and statement of cash flow. What I’ve enjoyed most throughout the course of my career is building relationships with my clients and helping them understand their financials better. I also am up to date on my CPA license and recently obtained my Masters in Accounting, and I’m looking for a position that will allow me to use my experience auditing financial statements to have a hand in creating financial statements.”
The Day of the Office Visit
Again, depending on how the firm is handling interviews, either remotely or in the office, be prepared for at least three interviews. The firm will generally have you meet with manager-level employees and above, usually a few partners. The interviews can last 30 minutes to an hour. Some interviewers will drill you on a checklist of questions and take it very seriously. Others may sit back and just want to have a casual conversation for an hour. Either way, you need to be prepared. Try to get a sense of how it’s going during the interview. Watch the interviewers’ facial expressions and gestures. If you’re seeing negative signs, try to change the subject or bring up the enthusiasm and energy a little bit.
If you’re doing an office interview, most firms will provide some sort of lunch. Just remember, the interview is not over at lunch. While lunch is meant to be more relaxed, you’re still undergoing an evaluation process. The firm will usually have lower-level staffers like Senior Associates, and Associates have lunch with you. They will be the ones who will be observing whether or not you’re a good fit, and once that lunch is over, a decision will be made.
So it’s important to keep your enthusiasm high, even if you’re exhausted. You need to still have several questions to ask: How long have you been with the company? Where are you from? Where did you go to school? For which clients do you work? In what industries do you specialize? You know, I was speaking with “X person” during my interview and he mentioned… what’s your experience with that?
Interview questions to identify who has the right attitude
What are you assessing?
Ability to understand impact and the big picture.
How do you handle this question?
This question will help you identify your candidate’s views on what it means to have an impact— tying into their ability to understand where their work will fit into the bigger scheme of things for your firm. This is essential for any member of your practice, but become even more critical if you are recruiting a ‘doer’ who may not be exposed to the big picture of your firm.