There are 10 common questions you need to be ready for in an accounting interview.
Employers ask many of the same accounting interview questions… whether it’s a Big Four accounting firm… or an accountant job interview at a tech company, healthcare company, etc.
So here are the top 10 accountant interview questions to be ready for, with tips and examples of how to answer them.
In any accounting job interview, you will face questions about what you did in your previous position. Employers are looking for similarities/overlaps between past work and what you’d be doing in this job.
So make sure you study the job description, know what their job involves, and then prepare to highlight these similarities in your interview answer!
Don’t just list everything you did in that last job! Pick the tasks that will be relevant/helpful to you in this next job. Show that your past work prepared you to succeed in their position.
That’s what employers are looking for when they ask you this interview question.
And it’s okay if your last accounting job doesn’t overlap perfectly with this next role; just do your best to highlight the similarities and demonstrate that you’d be successful in their role!
When employers ask interview questions like this, they’re trying to figure out if you have the skills and experience necessary to come in and succeed in their job. They don’t want to hire someone who will fail. So focus on proving you’ll do well in their job.
You may also hear variations like, “Walk me through your recent role. What did you do?” So be ready.
A good portion of your accountant job interview will focus on technical and situational questions like the one above.
Even in an initial phone interview, you’re likely to hear a few basic technical questions to judge your ability as an accountant.
A company doesn’t want to bring you on-site to meet five people in a full day of interviewing if you don’t have the basic technical “chops” they need, so they’re going to ask.)
So to prepare for technical accounting interview questions, here’s what I recommend:
Make sure you review your past work, and also what you learned during your academic career.
Sometimes employers can ask very “academic” questions that can catch you off-guard if you’ve been working as an accountant for many years already.
I see this a lot when helping software developers interview, too. They learn to do things a certain way in their jobs, and forget about the academic side of what they learned in terms of computer science, etc. Then in their next interview, they struggle. So brush up on this type of knowledge!
Employers ask, “what can you tell me about yourself?” in almost every interview, and it usually comes right at the beginning, so you need a great answer.
Here are four key steps to answering:
First, employers want to know about your background as a professional when they ask this, not personal details. So stick to your professional career story.
Start with how you got into the field of accounting, and when you began. If you just graduated with your accounting degree, you can start with why you chose this major.
Next, take them through a few key accomplishments you’ve achieved in your career (or academic career). If you’ve made some career moves and job changes, explain those key moves and why you made them.
And then finally, explain your current situation. Why are you job hunting now? What are you looking to do next? (Or if you’re a recent graduate, how are you looking to begin your career?)
For example, you could end your answer by saying, “So now that I’ve been a supervisor for two years, I’m looking to advance to the manager level and continue leading teams. When a friend forwarded me this job description, it seemed like a great fit, so I knew I should apply.”
Employers are always going to want to know your reasons for choosing this career in an interview.
Why? Well, if you don’t seem to enjoy your career or have any reasons why it interests you, then they’re going to worry about your ability to stay motivated, work hard, work through difficult days/weeks, etc.
So be ready to explain how/why you chose accounting as a career, and maybe one or two things you enjoy about it (this could be technical challenges, working with numbers, working as part of a team, etc.)
After employers ask why you chose this career, they’re going to want to know why you are applying to their specific job.
They want to see that you’re targeting specific things in your job hunt and not just desperately applying everywhere. Employers ALWAYS want someone who’s looking for the right fit, not just any job that’ll hire them.
If you don’t take this approach, it could be a big reason why you’re not finding a job.
If you seem to just want any job you can get, employers will be worried that you’ll take their job, but leave as soon as you find something better. They don’t want to spend weeks training you just to have you leave in six months, so they aren’t going to hire you unless you can show you’ve done your research and know why their job and company interest you.
Employers ask, “what type of work environment do you prefer?” to determine if you’ll enjoy their workplace.
They don’t want to hire someone who prefers working alone if their office is very collaborative and social.
So be ready to explain what type of work environment you like best in any accounting interview. And research their company first so you don’t put your foot in your mouth and say something that costs you the job!
You can search the company on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and elsewhere online to try to get a sense of their company culture.
This isn’t a trick question like so many people think, but there are a couple of things to make sure you include in your answer.
First, you want to sound like you’ve thought about this question. Saying, “I really don’t know” is a horrible response. You need to give them an answer that shows you’ve thought about this question, because that will make you seem more career-oriented and motivated.
Next, you want to sound slightly ambitious, but not too ambitious. For example, don’t say that you’d be happy staying in the same job for the next five years (even if it’s true).
But at the same time, if you’re interviewing for a Staff Accountant position, don’t say that you really want to lead people and that you want to move out of hands-on accounting work as quickly as possible.
If you say this, they’ll have concerns about whether you really want to do this job you’ve applied for (and you won’t get hired).
So when you explain where you see yourself in five years, show that you have ambitions and goals, but also demonstrate that you’re interested in the specific job you’ve applied for, too.
If the interviewer asks, “what’s your greatest achievement?” don’t be timid. It’s okay to brag and talk about something you’re really proud of. Show some excitement/emotion.
Pick something from your professional career. Or if you’re looking for your first job with no experience, then pick something from your academic career (like a presentation you gave, an accounting project you completed, an internship you worked in, etc.)
Explain what you accomplished and why you’re proud of this. Bonus points if you can pick an accomplishment that’s related to the work you’ll be doing for them in this job! (For example, if you’re going to be managing accounting projects for clients in this job, sharing something related to client work in the past will go over well as an answer to this question).
Employers may also ask you to talk about past failures/mistakes in an accounting job interview.
If they ask for a time when you failed, walk them through a scenario where you didn’t achieve the outcome you wanted, and most importantly – the lesson you learned from it and how you’ve improved since then!
Don’t ever badmouth or blame others. When the interviewer asks about past failures, they really want to hear you taking responsibility and learning from a situation.
To organize your answer, I recommend the STAR method: Situation. Task. Action. Result. (This is a good way to break down your answer for any behavioral questions you’re asked).
So describe the general situation. Then describe the task at hand, or the goal you needed to accomplish. Then the action you took.
And finally, the outcome. Why did this fail? And what did you learn from it?
If you want to put your interview answer over the top, finish up by describing a more recent situation where you used the lessons learned to get a different outcome!
For example, after describing the past failure, you could say, “I was in the same situation very recently, and I used the lesson learned to take a better approach. I did a better job delegating tasks and we finished two days ahead of schedule. The project was a success and the client was thrilled.”
When employers ask, “what areas need improvement?” they’re looking for an honest, thoughtful answer. But don’t say something vital to the job! That’s true when answering, “what’s your greatest weakness?” too.
Pick a real area you’re working on improving, but make sure it’s not essential for the job you’ve applied for.
As an example, if you’re a Staff Accountant, you could say, “I haven’t held a formal leadership position yet, but I’m working on improving my leadership skills. I want to become better at communicating, leading projects and meetings, and delegating tasks.”
Then, end your answer by showing you’re taking initiative to improve this weakness. How do you plan on improving in this area? What are you already doing to accomplish this? Show initiative.
If you get confident answering the 10 interview questions for accountants above, you’ll get more job offers and make a better impression in your interviews.
Make sure you practice your answers to each question before the interview, though. Nothing comes out perfect the first time… so reading through this once and then moving on won’t get you hired.
Practicing will help you sound more confident and help you identify the areas you struggle to talk about BEFORE the interview, so you can fix them. This is how to ensure your interviews go well – identify weaknesses and practice them before the big moment.
To practice, I recommend bookmarking/saving this list of questions and recording a few test answers with your smartphone voice recorder app. Every phone should have one.
Then play it back to see how you sound, and keep practicing each accounting interview question until you’re happy with your answers.
You don’t need to memorize your answers word-for-word, though. In fact, I recommend you don’t. You’ll just sound like a robot if you memorize everything, and employers hate that.
Instead, practice hitting the key points you want to talk about with each question. Think of the 3-4 key points that you’d like to talk about for a topic, and then make sure you can navigate your answer from start to finish while hitting those key points (and being concise/brief).
Here’s a recent LinkedIn post I shared with exactly how I recommend practicing any interview questions:
Once you can do that for each accounting interview question above, you’re ready for the interview!
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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