interview advice for accountancy & finance jobs based in Scotland

The recruitment process for temporary and permanent accountancy jobs in Scotland has never been more stringent. Hiring companies are looking for exact match candidates both on paper and in person. Competition is fierce and it's vitally important to impress.

To assist you at interview stage, we've compiled a list of questions which have been asked at recent temporary and permanent interviews set up by Randstad Financial & Professional. Some are technical and will of course only come up if you're going for a similar relevant position or sector. Most are competency based, requiring you to give quantifiable examples of when you've demonstrated particular skills and attributes.

Either way, we would advise you to familiarise yourself with both types of questions and consider how you might answer these.

Good Luck!


technical questions:


• Can you demonstrate how you've been able to interrogate large amounts of data to provide meaningful management reporting.
• What do you think will be the longer term effects of the recession on our business?
• Describe a situation when you've been faced with a difficult accounting issue and how you've dealt with it? What did you learn?
• Describe a situation when you've been faced with a particularly challenging internal client and how you dealt with it? (Ensure you can say what you would do in theory even if you don't have a real example).
• When have you used your initiative to change a process?
• How are the IFRS affecting the compilation and presentation of financial statements in the UK?
• In the current economic climate what operational risks do you think would be relevant to the banking sector?
• How would you go about auditing a small financial services company?
• What impact do you think Sarbanes-Oxley has had on companies?
• Why did you choose to pursue an accountancy qualification?
• Why do you want to move out of practice?
• What is the extent of your audit experience?
• What made you choose a career in corporate tax?
• Have you had any experience in due diligence, mergers & acquisitions or corporate finance?


questions specifically for temporary candidates:


If you're interviewing for a temporary position, the pressure is sometimes more intense, as the company is looking for someone who can hit the ground running. Your interviewer will want to make sure that you’re the right personality and cultural fit for the company and team, while determining if you’ll be a valued and productive addition.  Therefore, you need to sell yourself according to the requirements of your potential employer – and meet what they're looking for in a successful applicant. Concentrate your answers towards their needs, rather then focusing on your own.

It's vital to explain your experience clearly and to quantify the value you have brought to previous employers.  And, because of the nature of temporary work, you may find you're quizzed closely on previous employment dates etc. Typical questions our temporary candidates have faced recently (depending on the role) include:

• Can you clarify the dates you worked?
• Can you confirm the exams you sat at school and the grades?
• Why have you moved around so much?
• What have you learnt from each of your last few assignments?
• What do you enjoy about contracting? What's the hardest thing about it?
• What tricks do you use to acclimatise yourself to a new business when you start?
• How do you quickly prove your self?
• If this position had the option to go permanent would you accept it?
• If you received this job offer and another permanent job offer, which would you accept?
• How do feel your experience matches our requirements?
• Provide an example of where you have had to prioritise your work
• What would say are your strengths / weaknesses?
• Which aspects of your previous role challenged you the most?
• What is your greatest career achievement?
• Give an overview of your day-to-day duties in your last position
• Provide an example of a project that has not quite gone to plan
• What would you be remembered for in your previous role?
• What is the most challenging situation you have had to deal with during an assignment?
• What interests you in this temporary position?


questions specifically for immediately available candidates:


During the depths of the recession we saw an increase in the number of experienced professionals considering a step back in their career, in order to return to the workplace following redundancy. Although the market has eased considerably, redundancy is still a possibility in 21st century careers. And whilst it no longer carries a stigma (as it did in decades gone by) clients do need to ensure anyone they hire is committed long-term and they are understandably wary of anyone who may appear too ambitious for the role in question. Therefore, you may find you're asked the following types of questions:

• Do you think you're over-qualified for this role?
• Would this role have held any appeal for you, if you were already in employment?
• If the market picked up in 6 months, do you think you would remain committed to this position?
• Do you get bored easily?
• What are your career options at the moment?
• You worked for your previous company for a number of years; do you think you will find it hard working for a different company?  What difficulties do you think you might face?
• Why have you been out of work for so long?
• Where you do you see yourself in 3/5/10 years?


questions specifically for candidates with managerial experience:


• Describe your management style
• What type of manager would your team say you are?
• What's the biggest mistake you've made when managing people and what did you learn from it?
• What's your greatest strength/weakness as a manager?
• How do you ensure your team reaches both its departmental and individual goals?
• How do you instil a team mentality in the people that work for you?
• Describe a recent situation in which you convinced an individual on your team to do something.
• Describe the last thing you did to improve performance and/or productivity on your team.
• Describe a situation on your team which you had to deal with quickly in order to stop the situation escalating.
General Questions:
Other questions will probe your core competencies whether you're applying for a temporary or permanent position - it's vital you have examples for as many of these as possible.


adaptability:


• Tell me about a time when you changed your priorities to meet others' expectations.
• Describe a time when you altered your own behaviour to fit the situation.
• Tell me about a time when you had to change your point of view or your plans to take into account new information or changing priorities.


client focus:


• Give an example of how you provided service to a client/stakeholder which was beyond their expectations. How did you know what they expected? How did you respond?
• Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult client.
• Give me an example of a decision you have made which benefited the client but not you.


communication:


• Describe a situation you were involved in recently that required you to communicate with people at a senior level.
• Give an example of a difficult or sensitive decision that you have had to communicate to others.


problem solving and judgment:


• Tell me about a problem you have recently encountered. 
• Tell me about the last problem you could not solve.


results orientation:


• Tell me about the last long term goal you set yourself and how you have achieved it.
• Describe something you have done to improve your own performance.
• Give me an example of when recently you have failed to meet target.


teamwork:


• Tell me about how you helped the last person to join your team feel part of the team.
• Describe a situation where you were successful in getting people to work together effectively.
• Describe a situation in which you were a member (not a leader) of a team, and a conflict arose within the team. What did you do?


impact and influence:


• Describe a time when you changed someone’s mind.
• Describe a situation in which you needed to change a decision which had already been made.


innovation:


• Tell me about the most mundane part of your job.  What have you done to make it more interesting or challenging?
• Tell me about a recent problem in which old solutions wouldn't work.  How did you solve the problem?


leadership:


• Tell me about a time when you had to take the lead role in a group so that it achieved its objective.
• Describe a situation where you had to lead by example.
• Describe a situation where you inspired others to meet a common goal.


relationship building:


• Give me an example of a client that you have developed an effective win/win relationship with.  How did you go about building the relationship?
• Tell me about a time when you relied on another person to help you with a work-related task or problem.
• Give me an example of a time when you deliberately attempted to build rapport with a co-worker or customer.


self-motivation:


• Describe the last time you were under pressure.  What did you do to keep the level of stress manageable?
• Describe the last time you had to pick yourself up from a disappointment.
• Tell me about how you managed your day the last time your manager was not around to help, advise, give out work or provide discipline.


strategic thinking:


• Describe how you have changed the way you normally work in response to changes in your industry.
• Describe a time you created a strategy to achieve a longer term business objective.
• Describe a time when you had to think strategically in order to make a difficult decision.


initiative:


• Describe when you have had to make a decision by yourself about how something should be done.
• Give me an example of a time where you had to balance getting the job done well and getting it done quickly.  How did you balance these 2 factors?


conflict management:


• Tell me about a time when you voiced a concern or disagreement to a co-worker.
• Tell me about a time where someone has been unhappy with you or how you work. 


planning and organisation:


• When you were planning your day to fit in this interview, how did you decide which task got top priority?
• Describe a time when your schedule was suddenly interrupted.
• When was the last time that you had to take on extra work at short notice?
• When was the last time that you had to work to a particularly tight deadline?


closing questions:


Typically, as an interview draws to a close, you'll usually be asked questions about the company and your thoughts on the position in question. The more you know about the company, the greater your interest and enthusiasm for working there will seem.

It's therefore vital that you research the company and are aware of their products, services, reputation, business principles, mission statement, competitors, culture and history. 

Questions could include:

• Why do you want to work here?
• What do you know about us?
• What was our company’s share price yesterday?
• Tell me about our business, products and services
• What countries do we operate in?
• How many divisions do we have?
• Who is our competition?
• What differentiates us from our competitors?
• How do we differ to your last company? 
• Do you know of any new deals that we’ve recently worked on/closed?
• In what way do you think you’ll be able to make a contribution to this company?

As the interview draws to a close, you may also be given the opportunity to ask your potential employer a question.  If you feel the interviewer may still have a concern about your suitability for the accountancy vacancy you might want to address this by asking "Do you have any reservations about my suitability for this position?" and then addressing those concerns calmly and with examples.


after your interview:


Make sure to ring your consultant as soon as possible to let them know how you found the interview, if you’re interested in the finance position and if you’d like to work at the company.  Your interviewer will often call your recruitment consultant after the interview to find out your feedback.  With your feedback your consultant will be able to reinforce your interest in the position and keenness to start.  Your consultant will also be able to answer any queries that your interviewer might have that were possibly not addressed fully during the interview.

Try to tell your consultant your feedback as soon as possible – any delay might be looked upon negatively by your potential employer.

Good Luck!