The Absolute Basics:
If you consider that on average you have just over an hour to impress a future employer it’s worth putting in some time beforehand to do some preparation. After all as a tax professional you wouldn’t do a pitch to your clients or to the Board without a considerable amount of preparation. No matter how good your CV, experience and qualifications – we recommend the following:
- Research the organisation thoroughly. An obvious starting point is their website. Ensure that you have read their press release section and are aware of any recent transactions. For accountancy firms the websites of the Top 50 can be found in the surveys section of www.accountancyage.com. You could also use this site to look up recent news articles on the firm. If the organisation is a company – try and get hold of their most recent accounts from either their own website or try Companies House. If it’s a law firm look them up on www.icclaw.co.uk to find out what they specialise in. Also look at their rating in www.chambersandpartners.co.uk. Look to see if there are any relevant tax articles written by the interviewers (try googling their name and company name). Talk to any of your friends who work for the firm. Remember to try and ensure that you subtly mention some of this research in the interview.
- Another obvious point that is frequently forgotten, is to ensure that you are aware of exactly what role you are being interviewed for. You shouldn’t make assumptions, always ask for a job spec and get your recruitment consultant to brief you on the position. Its sensible to then try and match your own experience to the job spec, work out where you might be light on experience and think about how you would answer questions on any part of the spec. Try and think about things you have already done which match the spec and which you could bring up in interview.
- Review your CV, try and look at it from an employer’s point of view and how it in turn compares to the job spec. Think about what you would ask if you were the interviewer.
- Make sure you know the exact location, date and time of the meeting. Ensure that you have plenty of time to get to the meeting – even if it means a trial run of bus or train routes the day before. Always arrive at least 5 minutes (ideally 10) before the meeting is due to start. You may find you are delayed by having to sign in at reception and so arriving slightly early will allow for this. At Georgiana Head Recruitment Ltd we provide you with detailed confirmation letters, maps and directions.
- Make sure you know who is interviewing you, what their grade is and who you should ask for on arrival at the company’s offices.
- In line with diversity laws you may be asked to bring along a copy of your passport and a photocopy so ensure you have an up to date one.
- Always dress smartly, as a general rule for men a dark suit with white shirt or blue shirt is the safest option for women nowadays a suit or dress but something that is clearly office wear. If there is any chance of bad weather remember to bring an umbrella. Even if an office has a dress down policy most companies expect candidates to wear a suit to an interview. I always think it’s like clients they expect their tax advisor to look like a tax accountant or tax lawyer, a suit is reassuring.
- Think about your body language, don’t slouch or fidget, start the meeting with a firm (but not circulation limiting) handshake.
- Always remember to be polite – it’s good form to thank the interviewer for their time at the end of the meeting.
- Don’t ask about interview expenses in the meeting – it comes across as impolite and as if you are more interested in money than the role. Ask your consultant to sort these out. Remember the general rule of thumb you pay your own expenses for the first meeting (unless it is very far away from where you live) and the firm pays for the second onwards.
- Be positive – don’t focus on the negative elements of your current role, and no matter how unhappy you may be at your current company be careful not to criticise as it can make you appear bitter. Focus on the reasons why you want the new position, why you think you can do the job rather than the reasons why you want to leave your current role. Remember this is your chance to sell yourself. Be honest, but don’t emphasise anything detrimental to your application.
- Don’t ask about salary or benefits in the meeting. An employer does not want to think that your only motivation for moving is monetary. You should only discuss financial package if asked directly by the client. Many interviewers find talking about money embarrassing and they also may not be the person who has the authority to agree a salary package. It is best to let your recruitment consultant do the negotiating round salary package – it is after all what they are trained for.
- Humble Bragging – In 2015 Harvard University researchers discovered that candidates who tried to dissemble and make a ‘strength out of a weakness’ during interview questioning came across as dishonest. Whereas an honest assessment of weaknesses came across well see https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=49114 for the 2017 revised paper. So honesty really is the best policy.
- If you want to run through some practice questions, feel free to call Georgiana on 0113 426 6672 or Alison on 0113 426 6671 and they will be happy to help.
Types of Interviews
There are three main types of interviews – Hypothetical, Technical and Competency based. Some interviews will have mixture of all three types of question.
Hypothetical interviews are where an interviewer asks you how you would deal with a situation, or what you want out of a role. An example of this would be for an interviewer to ask ‘’So how would you market this department internally?’’. It is aimed at looking at your potential and how you would deal with a situation. This style of questioning can lead to more of a discussion format.
Competency (also sometimes called ‘behavioural’ or ‘situational’) based interviews are where an organisation has developed a set of competencies or capabilities to which they interview to. To give you an example, for a senior manager role they may have identified the competency ‘leadership’. The interviewer will therefore be looking for you to give him/her concrete examples of when you have shown leadership skills in the past. These questions are aimed at getting proof of previous success as an indicator of future performance. Once you have given your example the interviewer will then funnel down with further follow up questions such as ‘’ what was the outcome of this action?’’, ‘’If you had to do this again – would you change anything?’’ and ‘’What did you learn from this?’’.
Competency interviews can be quite tough as they feel like more of an interrogation than a two way discussion – however from an interviewer’s point of view they give a fairer account of what a candidate has actually done.
If you have been told that you will have a competency based interview, it can help you structure your interview preparation. If you can work out what the basic competencies for the role are (these are often on the job spec, or on the organisation’s website), you can think of examples prior to the meeting. Common competencies for tax jobs are:
- Working to tight deadlines,
- Dealing with conflict,
- Attention to Detail,
- Decision Making,
- Coping with pressure,
- Planning and organisation.
Technical Interviews – as the name suggests these are aimed at discovering your technical knowledge and can range from a client asking you to talk through your portfolio to asking for section numbers in the legislation. It is harder to prepare for these meetings, but a good starting point is to review your CV and remind yourself of the work that you have already done. That way you will be able to talk fluently through the areas that you have dealt with.
Practice Interview Questions
The best starting point for interview preparation is to imagine that you are the interviewer and what you would want to ask a candidate. Remember that the interviewer is on your side, they want you to get the job so they don’t need to spend further time interviewing other people. Basically what they need to find out is:
- What contribution you can make to their organisation.
- Why they should employ you and what you bring to the role.
- How you will fit in with the current team.
- Whether you are talking to other organisations.
You need to be able to talk through your CV and your moves to date. You need to be able to back up any questions about your CV with examples. It is essential that you are able to tell the interviewer why you want the job and why you think your experience is relevant to it.
In terms of team fit, you may be asked questions about your aspirations, as an employer may want to know how you want to progress. One obvious thing to say is that it isn’t very tactful to tell the interviewer that you want their job.
The interviewer may also ask you some more general questions about your personality and social life, in part to build rapport and put you at ease and also to see how you would get on with other team members.
The interviewer will also want to know whether you are talking to other firms, what he is trying to find out is how interested you are in the position he is interviewing you for, whether he is in competition for you, and whether if he makes you an offer – you will accept it. It is important not to be seen to be contradicting yourself at this stage in the interview – so if you have already convinced the interviewer why you want to work for his organisation you need to be careful to explain why you might also be interviewing at a totally different sort of company.
The way in which an interviewer gleans this information from you may vary, but some practice questions follow:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Talk me through your CV.
- What are you most proud of?
- If your best friend walked in now what 3 words would they use to describe you?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What do you think you can bring to this role?
- What do you know about our organisation?
- What’s making you consider making a career move?
- What’s your management style?
- Give me an example of a time when you have had to deal with a difficult situation at work. What was the outcome? What did you learn?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to give a client a difficult piece of news.
- Give me an example of a piece of successful business development that you have been involved in.
- Have you made any other applications? Are you interviewing elsewhere?
- Have you had any other job offers?
- What role do you tend to play in a team?
- Where do you want to be in 1, 3 or 5 years’ time? (NB don’t mention anything that isn’t relevant to the role).
- What do you like about your current role? What do you dislike about it?
- What is your ideal role? (Again be sensible – don’t say coach for Man United when you are interviewing for a tax role).
Questions for You to Ask
At Georgiana Head Recruitment Ltd, we often tell candidates that they should also think about what they want out of the interview. It is your chance to ask about the role and see whether it is what you want. An interview should ideally be a discussion – a ‘two way street’.
Your questions will also show off the amount of research that you have done.
Potential questions follow:
- How do you see the team/group growing in the next few years?
- If I am successful what would the next step in the interview process be?
- How would you describe the culture of the firm?
- I notice from your website that XXXXX has happened – how will this affect the tax department in the short term?
- How did the position become vacant?
- What training and support will I have in the role?
- How many people are there in the team?