Tackling the trickiest interview questions

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There are interview questions out there that seem to be designed to trip you up. From 'What’s your greatest weakness?' - don't say you're a perfectionist - to 'How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge?'.

While most of the trickiest questions can apply to most professions, you can definitely expect to see some of them included in interviews for accountancy and finance positions, especially when you're at an early stage of your career. So if you've got plans to become a management accountant, auditor or something similar, get ready by reading on.

Preparation

Doing your research thoroughly and planning ahead gives you the best chance of catching any curveball the interviewer might throw your way. Bear in mind that a job interview gives you the opportunity to share your story and show your enthusiasm for the specific role and company.

If it's an accountancy and finance role, this is a great opportunity to talk about how elements of your course relevant to the job really resonated with you. For instance, you might highlight the papers you've completed on management accountancy, and how these have made you feel that a role within the finance department of a firm is right for you.

More generally, make sure you know your CV inside out. Study the job description and be prepared to answer questions based on the competencies outlined. Write out questions you anticipate being asked, and work on your potential answers so you can speak with authority and confidence. Finally, come prepared with relevant and insightful questions to ask the interviewer concerning the role and the company.

Interview method

Will your interview be on the telephone, via video conference or in person? Interviews by telephone or VC should be treated just as seriously as those that take place in person, and your preparation should be equally thorough.

If the interview is taking place in person, ensure you're wearing appropriate attire. If it's an interview for a finance role, we advise playing it safe - formal attire is best. It's better to be overdressed than underdressed, and if you’re invited back for a second round interview, you should have a better understanding of how employees at the organisation dress by that point.

When meeting your interviewer(s), always make eye contact and give a firm handshake. The first impression you give and your general appearance will be judged as a measure of your status, your self-confidence and your approach to your work.

Tricky questions?

The job market is highly competitive, and employers need to identify the most suitable candidates. Tricky questions they ask during interviews might not necessarily have right or wrong answers. These questions are designed to examine how candidates respond when they're put on the spot.

Your answers should demonstrate your critical-thinking skills, and show how you make decisions in a short space of time. In addition, they should also give an insight on the way in which you collect the data you need to make the best possible decisions.

'Impossible' questions such as 'How many golf balls are there in France?' have become quite popular with interviews in recent years. If you're going for an accountancy role, this isn't a test of your mathematical prowess - it's an opportunity to show how logical you are and how you approach unexpected problems, so keep your cool and don’t be fazed.

What is your greatest weakness?

Frame your answer so as to give it a positive angle. Focus on a quality that you are working to improve on. For example, it you spend too much time focusing on details, recall an instance when you took the time to step back and consider the bigger picture and the subsequent benefits.

If this is your first post-qualification job in finance, this is a good opportunity to talk about how you overcame issues when studying. Employers like to see that candidates can recognise their shortcomings and are striving to rectify them.

How do you handle conflict at work?

Your answer can help the interviewer predict how you might behave in certain situations. If a manager was to reject all of your proposals, how might you react? Would you take the criticism personally or would you use it as an opportunity to improve? Describe a situation in which you encountered conflict at work, detailing how you found a resolution, and the positive results that ensued.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Knowledge of your employer can help you answer this question, which gives you the opportunity to show your enthusiasm for the role and your ability to contribute fresh ideas. Prepare an appropriate response that reflects the essence of the organisation and your own experiences and expertise. Keep in mind that the interviewer is interested in your long-term career ambitions.

Why are you right person for this job?

Essentially, you are being asked to match your particular strengths to the particular abilities required to successfully fulfil the role. Employers want to see that you fully understand the company's business goals, that your specific skill set can have a significant impact, and that you are truly suited for the role.

Wrap-up

If you're an experienced candidate, you'll likely have heard some of the above questions before in interviews, but if you’re still working towards qualifying, it's worth planning out your answers to the above in advance.

If you are going for your first accountancy and finance role, remember that you've done (or are doing) the necessary learning with a world-class educational body, so have confidence!

In terms of technical questions, your preparation for your exams should mean that you're very knowledgeable for an interview, but we'd also recommend revising the areas of the certificates you've completed that are most relevant to the job you’re interviewing for.

Go to your next job interview with a qualification from a global body - start learning with ACCA-X today.