The Aces Guide to Interview Success

Providing a STEP-BY-STEP plan for success

The Aces Network is the world’s most exclusive job search site for Big Four accounting professionals.

Shortcomings in experience can be overcome by an exceptional interview. On the other hand, poor interviewing skills can diminish your qualifications. Great candidates are often bad interviewers because they do not interview often.

The THREE components of an interview:

  1. PREPARATION
  2. EXECUTION
  3. FOLLOW-UP

In the guide below = Aces Pro Interview Tip

STEP #1 – PREPARATION

(A) RESEARCH THE COMPANY
  1. Review the company website. Ask yourself “Are you strongly familiar with what this company does, what their business offerings are?”
  2. Jot down some quick facts on the company.
  3. Search the company name in Google and click the “News” tab. This will give you an idea as to what is currently relevant at the company. If the company has a Press section on their website, this is another way to gather RECENT, relevant intel.
  4. If the company issues financial statements (or annual reports) to the public, definitely print them out and glance them over. This is the best way to familiarize yourself with the position of their business.
  5. Look for cues on their website that describe the type of people they pride themselves’ in employing. Try to present yourself as one of those people.
(B) RESEARCH THE PEOPLE
  1. Find out who you are going to meet with.
  2. Search for their profiles on LinkedIn, print them out, and study them. You want your interviewers to know that you are familiar with their background. It can be very flattering and an easy way to win someone over. You never know who might be pulled into the interview to meet with you.An easy way to nail your meeting is to catch an unplanned interviewer off-guard by knowing their background.
  3. Proactively research the backgrounds of the other key people at the organization (at all levels)
(C) KNOW THE JOB DESCRIPTION
  1. Know it like the back of your hand!
  2. “BUILD A BRIDGE” between the job description and your resume.
  3. The company’s job description highlights what THEY are looking for in the ideal candidate. Your resume highlights the qualifications YOU feel are most marketable. It is rare that these two things match up perfectly.
  4. Take some time to do some soul searching into how you can translate each point on the company’s job description to something in your background.
  5. In the interview, you want to be able to “build the bridge” and connect the dots for your interviewer.
(D) REVIEW YOUR RESUME
  1. Many people use resumes that have not been reviewed/revised in many years.
  2. Go back through and be prepared to discuss each listed point in detail. Some interviewers will glance over your resume; some will want to talk about each point. Be prepared for BOTH scenarios.
  3. Assume that interviewers will be looking for embellishments or misrepresentations, make sure you don’t fall into that trap.

STEP #2 – EXECUTION

All of the preparation in the world will prove to be meaningless if you cannot perform well on the interview day. I would never recommend that a candidate prepare for one type of interview structure as every interviewer relies on a different style and technique to screen their people. Regardless of the interview structure, there are a few things that ALL candidates can do to prepare for their interview.

GENERAL TIPS

A) ARRIVE EARLY
  1. Not TOO early. 15 minutes ahead of the scheduled interview time is appropriate.
B) RELAX
  1. This could very well be the single most important piece of advice that I could provide any candidate going into an interview.
  2. Think of it this way: The person interviewing you WILL NOT be nervous… so why should you be?
  3. The person that you are interviewing with will be a future colleague. During the interview, they will be looking at you and asking themselves “Is this a person that I want to work with?” “Is this someone that I will actually like?” Take a DEEP breath before you go into the interview. If you are sitting while waiting to begin the interview, tuck your hands under your kneecaps to keep your hands warm and dry.
C) SMILE
  1. As Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Actions speak louder than words, and a smile says, “I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you.”
  2. Having a captivating smile is a very easy way to make a good first impression.
D) DRESS FOR SUCCESS
  1. Do not mistake a job interview for a modelling audition. You want to dress conservatively to convey a polished look.
  2. For Men: Dark blue or dark gray suit. White shirt. The tie you choose should be modern and stylish. Limit your jewelry to a watch and wedding ring (if applicable). Make sure your shoes match the color of your belt.
  3. For Women: Business suits are still a strong way to present yourself in a conservative manner. Keep you blouse modest and if you wear a skirt, keep the hemline at knee-length.
E) EXUDE CONFIDENCE (NOT COCKINESS)
  1. Stand tall, chin up, chest out, ALWAYS smiling (act as if you are THRILLED to be there).
  2. Sit upright but relaxed. Cross your legs and fold your hands on your lap... it's a safe, reliable posture.
  3. For everyone that you meet, look them directly in the eye and provide a firm (not crushing handshake).

INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUE

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Keep in mind throughout the interview that the sole purpose of the meeting is to obtain a job offer.

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Everything you say about yourself should be geared towards encouraging the company to hire you.

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Going forward, any examples illustrating this technique

Will be highlighted in RED.

(A) DO NOT RAMBLE
  1. CLEAR and CONCISE communication is critical in a successful interview. Answer questions DIRECTLY. I will provide a list below of the top reasons why candidates fail interviews, but rambling is right up at the top of that list.
  2. Clear and concise communication can easily be illustrated when looking at an “intro statement”.

EXAMPLE SCENARIO

Mr. Candidate is interviewing for a Financial Reporting Manager role with ABC Inc. (a generic pharmaceutical manufacturer)

INTERVIEWER: “So Mr. Candidate, tell me about yourself”

– WRONG ANSWER –

CANDIDATE: “Well I grew up in South Jersey and played football in high school. That is actually the first place where I learned how to be a team player. I was the quarterback of the team and remember a time when I was injured in the 4th quarter of a game, but came back it because the backup quarterback was not up for the challenge. This reminds me of something that happened at my job a few months back where the A/P clerk was having trouble processing a check that I gave him. He was not really up-to-snuff but worked really hard… kind of like my little brother. I have always been a hard-worker myself… etc. etc. etc.”

– RIGHT ANSWERS –

“I was born and raised in Ocean City, NJ and obtained my Finance degree from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA.”

“After graduating, I began working with PwC in Philadelphia where I was part of the healthcare/pharmaceutical audit practice, passing the CPA exam in my first year.

“After being promoted to a Senior Associate, I felt that it would be a good time to pursue a role in the private sector and financial reporting has always a passion of mine.

“Since I have been with XYZ Company, I have played an integral role in the development of their financial reporting department and am looking forward to hearing more about how I can add value to ABC Inc.!”

(B) BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER

There is a stark difference between LISTENING and HEARING. Being an “active listener” is arguably the most valuable personality trait that someone can have. An active listener:

  1. Engages the person speaking to them through body language (strong eye contact) and acknowledgement (nodding of the head, etc.).
  2. Does not think about what they are going to say next while the person speaking to them is talking.
  3. Asks strong follow-up questions about what the speaker said to them, acknowledging that they were listening attentively and genuinely interested in what the person said.
  4. Looks at a speaker’s statement as an opportunity to further engage said speaker, NOT as an invitation to speak about themselves.An exceptional active listener is capable of communicating (without saying one word) to the speaker that What you are saying to me is most the profound and interesting thing that I have ever heard in my entire life. You interest me and I am impressed by you.

EXAMPLES

EXAMPLE #1

Mr. Candidate is in the process of getting to know Mr. Interviewer.

MR. INTERVIEWER: “I am a HUGE Eagles fan and was at the game this past Sunday.”

MR. CANDIDATE: (NOT BEING AN ACTIVE LISTENER): “I’m a huge Eagles fan too! My Uncle actually has season tickets on the 50-yard line!”

MR. CANDIDATE: (BEING AN ACTIVE LISTENER): “That’s really interesting! What did you think of the game? Do you think they are going to make the playoffs?”

EXAMPLE #2

Mr. Candidate is speaking with Mr. Interviewer about some of their most recent struggles within the financial reporting department.

MR. INTERVIEWER: “Last quarter, our ERP system crashed in the middle of the month-end close and we really had a hard time issuing financials on time”

MR. CANDIDATE: (NOT BEING AN ACTIVE LISTENER): “Wow, I totally know how that feels. At XYZ Company, our system crashed for six months! It was a total mess!”

MR. CANDIDATE: (BEING AN ACTIVE LISTENER): “That must have been really frustrating. How do you feel that your team could be better prepared if something like that happened again?”

(C) ASK STRONG QUESTIONS
  1. ALWAYS go into an interview with a list of several STRONG interview questions.
  2. STRONG questions are ones that will give interviewer ample time to speak about RELEVANT issues pertaining to the position.
  3. NEVER ask questions about benefits or PTO policy in an interview. Focus on the job.

In the portfolio that you bring into the interview, have a blend of F.A.T. questions prepared to ask:

(F) Flatter – By now, you should have already done some extensive research into the background of the person interviewing you. People LOVE to talk about themselves and people LIKE individuals that give them the opportunity to do so. Ask your interviewer some questions about there success.

  • “What has made you so successful at this company?”
  • “What do you like most about your job”
  •  “What career advice would you give to someone new at your company?”

(A) Achiever – Your questions should communicate to the interviewer that you are firmly committed to adding value to their company and want to know how you can do that.

  • What are the characteristics of your strongest performers?
  • What cultural traits are most important to your team?
  • In what ways do you feel I would be able to add the most value to your company in the first 6 months?

(T) Technical – Demonstrate your technical understanding and subject-matter knowledge pertaining to the role?

  • “I reviewed your company’s 2014 Annual Report and noticed that your Bad Debt Expense increased 250% from the prior year. Has your team considered engaging an outside collections service to reduce Accounts Receivable?”
  • “I’ve noticed several top companies transition to state-of-the-art CRM systems, such as SalesForce, that have led to improved sales. Has your company considered investing in one of these systems?

Generic Questions to Start

  1. Where does the position fit into the overall structure of the department and the organization as a whole?
  2. Can you describe the corporate culture or environment at the company?
  3. What are the qualities you believe a successful candidate should have in this position?
  4. What is your highest priority, now as well as the next three to six months?
  5. What are the characteristics of your top people?
  6. How would you describe the rest of the team?  What are their personalities like?
  7. Where do you see your company going in the next five/ten years?
  8. Who are your major competitors?  How do they stack up against you in terms of product, market share, methods, and weaknesses?
  9. What do you see as the potential benefits for someone in this position?
  10. What is your typical process for getting people up to speed?
  11. Where did you come from?  How did you get started at the company?
  12. What have you enjoyed most about the company?
(D) PROVIDE STRONG ANSWERS
  1. Any answer that you provide to a question in an interview should REINFORCE your interest and qualifications for the role.
  2. Before answering a question, think to yourself: “What does the interviewer want to hear?”

EXAGERATED EXAMPLE

Candidate is interviewing for a Sales Manager position at ABC Inc.

MR. INTERVIEWER: “What are your career aspirations?”

MR. CANDIDATE: “To continue developing my sales skills while adding value to a company within the <insert ABC Inc.’s industry here> industry.”

MR. INTERVIEWER: “What qualities do you look for in a company?”

MR. CANDIDATE: “Positive quality about ABC Inc. found during research”

MR. INTERVIEWER: “What is your dream job?”

MR. CANDIDATE: “Sales Manager at ABC Inc.”

(E) BE PREPARED TO ANSWER THE “TOUGH” QUESTIONS

~Beware of the interviewer that wants to break you~

  •  No matter how strong your qualifications are the wrong answers to “tough” questions can eliminate you from contention.
  •  As an interviewer, you should really EMBRACE the “tough” questions as an opportunity to do two things
  1. Show that you can think on your feet.
  2. Reinforce your interest and qualifications for the role.

Strong answers to some commonly asked TOUGH questions:

Why are you looking to leave your current position?

  • GOLDEN RULE: NEVER speak negatively about your current or former employer. Negativity is (generally) unattractive and should be avoided throughout the interview process. Furthermore, speaking ill of others subliminally suggests to the interviewer that you may struggle to get along with others.
  • Regardless of your current or past experience, reflect on the POSITIVES of your career.
  • Show an APPRECIATION for your current/past employer.
  • Use this opportunity to REINFORCE your interest in the role that you are interviewing for.
  • In short, you are not “looking” to leave your current job, you are “very much interested” to obtaining the job that you are interviewing for.”

EXAMPLE ANSWER– “I have really enjoyed working for XYZ company and felt that I have grown tremendously since I have been there. I am looking for an opportunity that can provide <insert what the job opportunity you are interviewing for offers here> and am specifically interested in your company because <insert specific reasons here>.”

What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?

  • This is an EASY one that you can SIMPLY prepare for!
  • Strength: Pick a strength that directly relates to the job that you are interviewing for.
  • Weakness: Provide an honest and convincing weakness… just make sure it has DOES NOT RELATE to the job you are interviewing for.

EXAMPLE SCENARIO – Mr. Candidate is interviewing for an Internal Audit Director position.

EXAMPLE ANSWER – “I would have to say that my greatest strength is in-depth knowledge of corporate compliance, how to identify internal control deficiencies, and providing executable solutions. My greatest weakness, which I am currently working to improve, is in the area of corporate taxation.” Note that a convincing weakness was provided but that corporate tax has very little to do with the internal audit function.

Why did you leave XYZ Company in 2008 to join MNO Incorporated? OR Can you explain the gap in your employment from (MM/YYYY) to (MM/YYYY)?

  • Always, always, always, be able to provide CLEAR and CONCISE reasons for movement on your resume. Fumbling words while answering questions surrounding this can understandably raise suspicions that the movement was performance-related.

EXAMPLE ANSWER – “I had a great experience at XYZ Company but was offered an opportunity at MNO Incorporated that provided significant room for upward growth. I left XYZ on very good terms and am happy to provide my old manager as a reference.” Do not be afraid to mention your professional references when explaining job movement. Strong references are the easiest way to corroborate past performance.

(F) WRAP IT UP NICELY
  1. Let them know you want the job!
    • You might be thinking that this is something that does not need to be said… but companies want to hire people that are exciting and hoping to work for them.
  2. Ask them when you can expect to hear a decision.

REASONS WHY INTERVIEWS FAIL

Reasons

  1. Rambling (Lack of clear, concise communication)
  2. Poor preparation
  3. Lack of interest or enthusiasm
  4. Inappropriate dress (or lack of “polish”)
  5. Lack of Confidence
  6. Lack of strong questions asked
  7. “Know-it-all” Complex
  8. Questionable motivations

STEP #3 – FOLLOW-UP

  • If you are working through a recruiter, defer to them when it comes to contacting the company.
  • Send a great Thank You Note (make sure you get business cards)
  • Be patient and give the company some time to make a decision:
  • DO NOT overwhelm your contacts at the company with follow-up calls/emails.
  1. You usually do not have to chase good news.
  2. If the company is not getting back to you, it probably means that you did not get the job.

ADDENDUM – SALARY NEGOTIATIONS

(A) INTRODUCTION

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This is a conversation that should ALWAYS be initiated by the company you are interviewing with.

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Assume that the company has a specific compensation range in mind. They will not tell you but there is a maximum dollar that they can pay for the position.

TERMINOLOGY

  • TUE (TRUE Upper End): This is the MAXIMUM amount that the company is CAPABLE of paying for the position.
  • IUE (INDIVIDUAL Upper End): This is the MAXIMUM amount that a company is WILLING to be pay you. It is important to note that your IUE may be lower that the TUE.
  • It is important to note that your IUE may be lower that the TUE. Companies contemplate several factors when determining a candidate’s IUE: Most recent compensation, level of experience, perceived valued, comparison of other candidate’s interviewing for the role.

(B) PREPARATION FOR THE NEGOTIATION

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When the opportunity to negotiates begins, keep a couple of things in mind:

  1. You want the company to feel as if your primary motivation is to obtain the job. Compensation is a secondary motivation.
  2. Avoid providing specific numbers for two reasons:
    (a) If the number is lower than your “IUE”, then you will be locking yourself into a less-than ideal figure.
    (b) If the number is too much higher than your IUE or their TUE, they may look at your as being unreasonable and eliminate you from contention.
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Go into the interview with a REASONABLE and REALISTIC target number in mind. Do not divulge this number to the person interviewing you, use it is a goal to work towards using the “Pass the Ball” technique illustrated below.

Question: “What is a “realistic” target number?”

  1. If you are currently employed, a good “rule of thumb” is that a company should be willing to provide you with a 10-20% (10% being OKAY, 20% being EXCEPTIONAL) increase on compensation as INCENTIVE for you to leave your current company.
  2. If you are currently unemployed… sorry, but you do not really have a leg to stand on. A realistic target should be a number equal to what you were most recently making.

TIP: If you have a strong offer from another company, you can use it as a negotiating tool as long as you make it clear that your preference is to obtain the job that you are sitting in front of.

Pass the Ball Technique

  • Think of the salary negotiation as a game of catch, the goal being to have the COMPANY holding “the ball” longer than you.
  • As mentioned before, salary negotiations should always be initiated by the company. Therefore, the interviewer (or Human Resources in this example) should always start holding the ball.

HUMAN RESOURCES (HOLDING THE BALL): “So Mr. Candidate, what is the base compensation that you are looking for? (PASS)

CANDIDATE (NOW HOLDING THE BALL): “I am willing to consider any competitive offers. What is the compensation range for the role?” (PASS)

HUMAN RESOURCES: “That would really depend on a number of different factors (side note: this is a common HR deflection technique). Can you be a little more specific as to what you would consider to be competitive?” (PASS)

CANDIDATE: “I would consider a competitive offer to be a base salary somewhere between $75-85K.”If you must, provide the company with a broad range. Once you have an offer, you begin working towards your target number.

  • At this point, it would be fair to say that the company should have the information that they need to make you an offer.
  • If the offer is at your target number and you know you want the job, there is nothing wrong with accepting on the spot.
  • If the number is lower than your target, thank them for the offer and ask them if you can have some time to think about it.

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At this point, it would be fair to say that the company should have the information that they need to make you an offer.

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If the offer is at your target number and you know you want the job, there is nothing wrong with accepting on the spot.

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If the number is lower than your target, thank them for the offer and ask them if you can have some time to think about it.

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