interview advice for permanent accountancy jobs within Financial Services

The recruitment process for finance positions within financial services 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 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 finance job. 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. Remember, in any answer you give you need to quantify the results you achieved - so give plenty of concrete stats and facts to back up your achievements.

questions senior finance candidates may be asked:
• Which products do you work with - how do they work, how are they priced, what are the main operational risks around controlling those products?
• Can you demonstrate how you've been able to interrogate large amounts of data to provide meaningful management reporting.
• Have you been involved in out-sourcing any processes/teams to other locations - if so what was your part in it, and what factors (cultural or otherwise) did you have to consider?
• Can you talk me through a difficult situation you've had at work and how you overcame it.
• Describe a situation when you've been faced with a difficult accounting issue and how you've dealt with it. What did you learn?
• Can you give me an example of how you've challenged the status quo in your current role and what the outcome was.
• How could you demonstrate that you'll be a good team player?
• How is our bank's brand name perceived in the current market?
• What have you seen in the press about our bank recently?
• What do you think will be the longer term effects of the recent recession on the financial markets?
• 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 if you don't have a real example).
• Describe to us what your understanding of this role is?
• What do you think are going to be the main challenges you face in adapting to working in this bank from your current firm?

questions you may be asked as a newly qualified or part qualified candidate:
• What is your understanding of a derivative?
• What is the difference between a swap and an option?
• 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?
• How has the credit crunch affected the UK financial services market?
• In the current economic climate what operational risks do you think would be relevant to the banking sector?
• To what extent do you think our company has been affected by the credit crunch?
• How would you go about auditing a small financial services company?
• What impact do you think Sarbanes-Oxley has had on companies?
• Why do you want to move out of practice?

questions you may be asked if you're interviewing for a managerial position:
• 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 - it's vital you have examples for as many of these as possible.

• 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.

• 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.
• Give me an example of a problem which required particularly careful thought.

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 you recently failed to meet target.

• 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.

• Tell me about the most mundane part of your finance 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?

• 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.

• 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.

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.

• 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 accountancy job 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 position, 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.

Once the interview has finished we will help to relay your feedback and the interviewer's feedback and hopefully guide you through to the next stage.
Good Luck!