Interview Prep: Checklist & Tips

Executive Search Accounting Recruiter

Whether you are a mid-career professional actively interviewing, or a recent grad entering the market for the first time, it is wise to have a game plan before every interview. Going unprepared can lead to missed opportunities. Here are our recommendations:

BE PREPARED

  1. Do Your Research. Set aside an hour a day or two before the interview to research the industry, company, role, and profiles of the hiring manager and other interviewers. Ask your recruiter for information. Click here for a list of questions you’ll want to consider.
  2. Prepare for any behavior-related questions. How do you learn best? How do you operate within a team? What are your strengths? What are some areas in which you need to improve? Be able to communicate specific examples to back up your answers. Be honest about mistakes you’ve made and successes you’ve had. Humility and willingness to learn are attractive qualities in a colleague. Write these down ahead of time and know them.
  3. Prepare for technical and experience-related questions. First, read the job description in detail so you know what’s relevant. Be able to articulate the roles you’ve had and the impacts you’ve made on your employers. If there was a positive financial impact, quantify it and communicate it to interviewers. If you were instrumental in streamlining processes and eliminating man-hours, quantify the impact made on the team and company and communicate that to your interviewers. Make sure you are able to communicate this technical information in simple terms that anyone can understand.
  4. If you are working with one, talk to your recruiter about the critical areas to focus the conversation on. Part of a recruiter’s job is to faciliate the conversation and help both parties avoid miscommunication. There may be certain technical problems the employer has that you have demonstrable success solving, or there may be sensitive team dynamics and issues that you’ll want to steer clear of.
  5. Be prepared to articulate both your strengths and weaknesses. Write them down ahead of time.
  6. Know the reason(s) why you are interested in the job. Obviously, money plays a significant factor, but it should not be communicated as a reason for your interest in the job. Employers want to hire candidates who are excited about the company, the role, and the opportunity to make a positive impact on the company’s bottom line and culture. Generally, you should be interested in the job because it’s the logical next step in your career and you are hungry for the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the organization.
  7. You should also be able to explain what’s driving you away from your current job. Often times, your reason for leaving a company can be categorized in the following buckets: Trajectory (stopped learning), Timing (right time to move because…), Thrust (I’ve had enough, or have a mindset of need to move on), or Technology (our systems are becoming obsolete, we’re not switching to).

PROFESSIONAL APPEARANCE

  1. Dress appropriately. If you are interviewing for a construction company or manufacturer, for example, attire will be different than a professional services firm. It is okay to ask what is expected. If unsure, always dress in business attire.
  2. Arrival. Be punctual and play it safe. Try to arrive 20 minutes early. This will give you a buffer in case you hit unexpected traffic or their office is difficult to find. Assuming you get there early, use that time to review any material related to the company, job, interviewers, etc.
  3. Professional Presentation. Firm handshake, good eye contact and smile. You are qualified or they wouldn’t be talking to you. There’s no need to feel anxious or anything but comfortable and confident. Express gratitude for your interviewers time and consideration. NOTE FOR VIRTUAL INTERVIEWS: Remember to look at the camera and smile.  Log in early and consider selecting a professional virtual background if you are in an unprofessional setting that could be a distraction to the interviewer.

COMMUNICATION

  1. Asking Questions. When asking questions, there are two objectives. First, you want to know exactly what you’d be getting yourself into by taking the job (that is, you want to understand as much as you can about the industry, the company, the company culture, the hiring manager, the department, the role, and what is expected of you in the first few months and in the long-term). Second, you want the hiring manager to know that you know exactly what you’d be getting yourself into by accepting the job. See our blog post for ideas on questions to ask by clicking here.
  2. Answering Questions. When answering questions, avoid the most common pitfall, which is over-talking. Keep your answer succinct, efficient and non-tangential. This demonstrates you have well-organized thoughts.  Include specific examples and quantifiable results, if possible. The difference between candidates who get hired and candidates who fall short is often the ability to give specific examples about their experiences.
  3. What not to do.
    • Don’t speak poorly of your current or past employers.
    • Don’t ask what’s in it for you regarding upward movement, benefits, or salary. You don’t want to give the impression that you are not focused on the job and opportunity. There will be a time toward the end of the interview process to find out what’s in it for you and chances are they will give you that information along the way.
  4. What to do.
    • Express a high degree of interest and enthusiam in the position. This cannot be overstated. You may be uncertain about the company or position when you start the interview process, but if you are pleasantly surprised and decide you really want the job it may be too late if the interviewers get the initial impression that you aren’t interested.
    • Practice active listening. Use phrases or words like “Absolutely”, “That is so true”, “Totally”, “Say that again, please?”, “Do you mind if I write that down?”, etc.
  5. Handling the Compensation Question. If you are at the interview stage, especially through a recruiter, you should already have a a good idea of what the company’s compensation range is and what you are targeting. Typically, there is a pre-negotiation before the actual interview to make sure it’s not a waste of time. If that never took place and you are asked what your compensation requirements are during the initial interview, you have a few options depending on the situation. You can either tell them the salary range you expect or try to defer to them to make an offer. Generally speaking, however, it may be best to avoid getting specific about compensation until both parties determine it’s a fit. There is an article on Harvard Business Review’s website with insightful tips on compensation negotation, which you can find here.

CLOSING THE INTERVIEWING

  1. Express gratitude. Make sure to genuinely thank everyone for their time and consideration.
  2. Declare your interest and intent to move forward. A major factor when evaluating candidates is if they genuinely want the opportunity. If you are interested and want the job, make sure they know that. It can be the difference between you and another candidate.
  3. Offer references. Transparency is key to building trust. If you have strong references, offer to provide that information. It’s as simple as, “would it be okay if I pass along my professional references to you?”.
  4. Plan on writing a thank you note. If you can, get a business card from the hiring manager. If you are unable to do that, ask your recruiter for his or her email address. Wait a day and then send a short and to-the-point thank you note. If the position is in-office, consider dropping off a hand-written note at the company.

About The CSP Group

The CSP Group is a boutique recruitment firm focused solely on finance and accounting professionals. Our focus has allowed us to successfully develop a network with the express purpose of matching leading companies with top talent.

Our firm places transparency and honesty at the forefront of our process, taking every opportunity to do what is right, build trust and further enhance the customer service experience. We are fast. We are accurate. We are a value-added partner with the nuanced and dynamic market knowledge to keep your business competitive and growing.

The CSP Group conducts contingency and retained searches around the country, with operations in St. Louis, San Diego and Denver.

Contact The CSP Group today

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