By John Reynolds
In January 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median length of time employees are with a company is 4.2 years. On average, this period has decreased over the last few decades. So, chances are, you will or have recently endured the (sometimes challenging) friction of changing companies and going through interviews. The seven tips below should improve your chances of finding your next great career opportunity and hopefully, as a welcome side effect, take away some of the stress.
1. Research the company.
Nothing says “I don’t care” to the interviewer quite like knowing zilch about the company. It is perfectly fine not to be an expert in the company, or even the industry as a whole, when you first apply. Once you are in an interview, however, knowing about the company, industry and generally available information demonstrates your commitment and ability to learn quickly. Here are some quick points to look at in the accounting and finance world:
- What is the business structure? Private, public, government, etc.?
- What is the vision and mission of the company (if available)?
- Is the position corporate or divisional?
- What are the company’s main segments and divisions? How do they generate revenue?
- What was their last reported annual revenue amount, and/or earnings (if private)?
- Are there are any key takeaways from the responsibilities or job posting you could hone in on, such as their total balance sheet amounts if looking at a capital reporting or fixed asset position?
2. Arrive early.
Planning to arrive 10–15 minutes early is usually a good rule of thumb. This puts the recruiter expecting you at ease knowing you aren’t ditching the interview, allows you time to settle yourself in new surroundings and work out any pre-interview jitters and, most importantly, gives you a buffer if life or traffic throws your travel time into question. And if you do run into delays, make sure you call to let them know, ask how to proceed and document the delay as well as possible if it was entirely out of your control.
3. Focus on your strengths.
Many people have a constant doubt about being good enough or the right fit for the job. Modesty is a great trait and something we should all aspire toward, but not in an interview. Set that aside. You are good enough, and your one job is to convey that to the interviewer. Self-doubt does nothing but leave the interviewer with the exact impression you are so worried about. Speak with confidence about what you know or have done and tell them every little thing that makes you a strong candidate. Make sure to make eye contact, and keep in mind that if they called you for an interview, they are interested in hearing how your experiences can benefit this position.
4. Connect the dots.
Often, at least one of the interviewers had a hand in crafting the job description or posting. Speak to those key requirements. Make sure you connect the dots for them by indicating how you check all their boxes for an ideal candidate. This is especially important if your resume doesn’t immediately do that for the company. I have heard many times that a “flyer interview” was given just because something caught someone’s eye. A candidate wasn’t a perfect match simply by looking at their resume, but that candidate can win the job by connecting all the dots during the interview. This can also be extremely helpful with the dreaded “weakness” question: “What would you say is your biggest weakness?” Concentrate on those areas in which you may have less experience, such as the industry you are applying for, or focus on a key area where you take time to ensure you can perform at the optimal level. Come prepared to discuss things you are already doing or can quickly implement in order to mitigate your weaknesses.
5. Ask good questions.
Interviews should always be a two-way street and asking as well as answering questions makes the interview more conversational and puts you in a good position. Ask questions about the company culture, the nuances of the industry or other questions that show you are informed but want to know more. The sooner you can turn the interviewer from an interrogator into someone selling you the job, the more likely you are to have it.
6. ABC (Always Be Closing).
When the interview is winding to a close, be sure to sum up by indicating your true desire for the job and how you think you would fit into their plan, and ask them how they prefer to be contacted in the future for follow-up. In sales, this is called “asking for the sale.” You don’t need to be pushy, but you don’t want them to leave the interview wondering if you still want the job.
7. Don’t forget your manners.
This should go without saying, but manners are something you should carry with you wherever you go. Thank the interviewer and immediately (that day or the next) send a thank-you note to the interviewers and/or the recruiter with whom you worked with. This is not a requirement, and many people have been hired without performing this simple step, but you want to show commitment and that you care.
Keep in mind that every interview is different, and make sure you are authentic about your own interest in the position. With these tips outlined above, you can hone your interview skills and achieve all the lofty interview goals you may have!
John Reynolds, CPA, is a senior accountant and financial planning & analysis analyst at Block.One in Blacksburg. He serves on the VSCPA Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC) and was the 2018–2019 Roanoke Chapter president.