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Common accounting graduate job interview questions

Emmanuel Payne

There are really only two things job interviewers want to know: do you have the competencies to do the job and did you have the kind of personality that will allow you to fit in.

There are thousands of interview questions a potential employer can ask you during your accounting graduate job interview but they all pretty much boil down to variations on two meta-questions. Firstly, do you have the skill set necessary to do what we want you to do? Secondly, do you have the character traits that will make you a high-performing member of our team?  

Technical questions

These questions are designed to test your knowledge of accounting, audit and tax practices. If you're a recent graduate, your potential employer won’t expect you to possess deep expertise and is unlikely to devote a great deal of the interviews to grilling you on, for example, the finer points of the matching principle. Nonetheless, they’ll want to reassure themselves you were paying attention in uni lectures, so may ask you some of the following questions. If your memories have faded in the time between your last exam and first interview, it’s a good idea to brush up on the basics before the big day.    

These are some example technical questions:

  • Why is it important to match revenues and expenses?
  • What’s the most challenging accounting task you’ve had to solve?
  • What does auditing mean to you?
  • What is the current corporate tax rate?
  • How do you make sure you don’t make any mistakes in your work?
  • What is the relationship between the income statement and the balance sheet?
  • How would you handle a complex financial project, requiring precision, on a tight deadline?
  • What are different ways to calculate accounts payable?
  • What is the difference between accounts receivable and accounts payable?
  • Can you give me an example of when you had to explain a complex accounting or financial process to a non-specialist?
  • What methods have you used for estimating bad debt?
  • What accounting reports are you comfortable preparing, comparing and analysing?
  • Do you understand forensic accounting techniques?
  • How do you go about evaluating the reliability of financial data?
  • Do you have any experience in handling accounting discrepancies?
  • What accounting software are you familiar with?
  • Do you have any experience developing business metrics?

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Behavioural questions

Employers can teach new staff skills but it’s difficult to alter their character. What is known in the trade as behavioural questions, such as, “Tell me how you handled a conflict with a co-worker,” are essentially testing your emotional intelligence. In particular, your propensity to work well with others, be they co-workers, managers or clients. The reason many such questions ask you to reference a previous experience is that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Below are some classic behavioural questions and suggestions on how to answer them.

Question: Can you give an example of when you had to lead a team?

How to answer: Previous leadership experience indicates you can manage others and possibly rise to a senior role. It’s important to provide an example that is both relatively recent and, ideally, demonstrates you have interpersonal, motivational and time-management skills. Don’t just say, ‘I was captain of the university debating club’, explain how you implemented a new way of preparing for debates that got your team into the national finals. 

Question: Tell us about a time when you had to work as part of a team.

How to answer: The interviewer wants to determine what interpersonal skills you have. There’s no right or wrong answer but a mistake people frequently make is thinking they have to prove they are a leader. Good followers who can take responsibility for part of a project are just as important as leaders. Your answer should show you can build relationships, react appropriately to other people’s needs and give and receive honest feedback. Demonstrating you learnt something from the experience (for example, how to be more diplomatic when delegating tasks) also signals you have self-awareness and a willingness to improve.

Question: What are your strengths and weaknesses?

How to answer: The interviewer is looking for a summary of the key skills you think you will bring to the organisation. Start by enumerating your strengths and make sure you show rather than just telling. Don’t say, “I’m a go-getter with excellent time-management skills’ and leave it there. Prove it by explaining, “I studied full-time, worked part-time, was involved in the debating club and also volunteered for charity during my last year at uni.”

There’s no point pretending you don’t have any weaknesses. However, always nominate one that isn’t going to significantly impact your ability to undertake the tasks that will be expected of you. Volunteering, “I’m an introvert and know I need to work on being more communicative,” is much less of a dealbreaker than, “I’ve always struggled with maths.”       

Question: Why do you want to work for us?

How to answer: This is your make or break opportunity to show off all the research you’ve done on your potential employer’s history, corporate culture, competitors and unique selling points. Aside from demonstrating you’re motivated enough to have done the necessary homework, you want to reassure the interviewer that you want to work for their company rather than just an accountancy firm. Accurately or otherwise, this is seen as a sign you’ll stick around.