Interview preparation and advice

The key to performing well in an interview is preparation, preparation, preparation! It is essential that you do the groundwork in advance to ensure that you perform at your best and do yourself justice.

Where to start

An interview is your opportunity to sell your skills and experience and to ensure that the interviewers are convinced that you are the best candidate for the job.

The starting point for this process is to ensure that you are clear about the role you are interviewing for, what the interviewers are looking for in terms of skills and competencies and then being able to demonstrate that you actually have the skills, competencies and behaviours required. You will also need to be able to outline how you can add value in the role.

Two way process

An interview is a two way process and it is also a means by which you can learn about the job opportunity and employer so that you can make an informed decision should you be offered the job.


Types of interview

Traditional interview

Generally involves a discussion about your CV; a review of previous roles and the experience gained in each

Competency/behavioural

Focuses on examining previous behaviour to show how you would perform and interact with others

Virtual interviews

These are now commonplace and use video technology to allow the discussion to take place remotely

How do competency based interviews work?

The interviewer may provide a list of competency areas which their questions will be based on beforehand which then gives you the opportunity to prepare thoroughly or they may just bring up the given competencies in the interview. In either case there is a lot of preparation you can do with examples that you can slot into different answers. These examples should reflect you in the best light and cover a wide variety of qualities and achievements which should already be mentioned in your CV.

Interviews are typically conducted:

  • In person
  • By telephone
  • Via video or Skype

Preparation is essential

An effective method of preparing in advance of an interview is to write down the questions that you think you might be asked, as well as the answers you would like to give. This approach will help you to focus and to start thinking in interview mode. This preparation will serve to reduce the pressure you feel during the interview. Similarly, the answers you give are more likely to flow well as you have thought them through in advance. What can also prove beneficial is to practice your answers in advance. If you have a willing volunteer, conducting a role play is a very useful preparation tool as is the mock interview service offered by Chartered Accountants Ireland.

In advance of your interview confirm the following:

  • Date of the interview
  • Time of the interview
  • Venue for the interview - ensure that you know exactly where this is and how to get there. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the venue of the interview. AA Ireland (http://www.aaroadwatch.ie/routes/) provides an excellent route planner facility that may come in useful when you are planning your journey. Check to see what the arrangements are in relation to parking. Ensure that you have coins with you should you have to pay for parking. If your meeting will be conducted online, it may be a good idea to test your software in advance of the interview.
  • Who you are meeting with and their job titles. Research the people in question if possible. LinkedIn may prove useful here.
  • Telephone number for the company in case you need to contact them i.e. if you are running late for the interview. You should also have the contact name and number for the person in Chartered Accountants Ireland who you have been dealing with should you need to contact them.
  • The format/style of the interview

Steps to success

  1. Have a plan and be very clear on what the key aspects of your skills and experience you want to communicate.
    Have 3 or 4 key messages that you want to deliver that show the relevance of your background and experience to the role in question and demonstrate your interest level in the role and organisation. If you do not have all the experience that is required make sure to focus on your potential to grow into the role. Back this up with solid examples of how you have mastered a learning curve in the past
  2. Prepare your answers to key questions making sure that they are the best representation of your skills and experience and are backed up with examples from your roles.
    Put together a list of your key achievements and use these examples as appropriate during the interview. Using the STAR approach is beneficial when preparing your examples.
  3. Have questions prepared that you can ask during the interview.
    Strong relevant questions are a way of demonstrating your interest in the role and the level of thought you have given to it.
  4. Practice and rehearse so that you are comfortable talking through your CV, your skills and experience and articulating your skills and experience.
    Be sure to bring as much energy and enthusiasm to the interview as possible. Being aware of your body language and tone of voice is critical in this regard.

Study the job specification

Ensure that you have the job specification in advance of the interview and that you are very familiar with the content. You should also be able to draw comparisons and synergies between it and your experience and background. This will enable you to then highlight more specifically what you can bring to the role and where you can add value. This process also allows you to prepare for how you might deal with and address any gaps in your skills and experience that exist. Preparation in this area is critical.


cta - cv

Know your CV

Your curriculum vitae will be the main talking point of the interview and as obvious as it may sound you must ensure that you are familiar with the content, that you know all your relevant dates and that you can articulate all the contents in a coherent, articulate, logical and interesting manner. Focus on the aspects of your experience that are most relevant to the role you are interviewing for.

Company research

It is imperative that you research the company thoroughly in advance of the interview. You should be able to speak knowledgeably about the organisation and the sector in which it operates. Key points to note in relation to the organisation:

  • Product or service offering, industry sector
  • When they were established and their history
  • Size of the organization – turnover, employees
  • Any recent news features or developments within the organization
  • Know who their main competitors are

Be aware of what the challenges and issues are that are facing the company and their industry sector. Know about any events or news items that may have appeared in the press in recent times. We would strongly recommend that you don’t just rely on the company website for your research. Conducting additional research such as speaking with contacts who may be current or past employees for example can also be very useful. Going the extra mile can help to set you apart from other candidates and show that you are really interested in the opportunity.


Dress code

First impressions are extremely important and it is essential that you are dressed appropriately and professionally for interview i.e. a business suit. The impression you give should be professional, tidy and organised. The first 30 seconds of any interview really count. How you look, speak and enter the room will all serve to create the first impressions of you and can frame the entire interview. Even if the company has a casual dress policy you should still dress professionally for the interview. This also applies to an online interview - it will be more difficult for the interviewer to get a sense of who you are online, so creating a good visual impression is even more important here.

cta - dress code

Be aware of your body language

Throughout the interview the interviewers will be seeking hints as to your personality by the way you talk, walk, move and the way you act in general. It is imperative that you sit up straight and stay alert during the interview. Keeping up good eye contact throughout the interview will help you to generate the right lasting impression and to connect with the interviewers.

It is really essential that you demonstrate an enthusiastic demeanour during the interview and that you create a positive impression. The energy you project can be the deciding factor in terms of you getting a job or not. Employers want to see positive energy, enthusiasm and drive and they can read this from the very moment they meet with you.


Interview questions

Answering interview questions

  1. Answer questions in an articulate, intelligible and concise manner
  2. Ensure that you can be heard throughout the interview and that you speak clearly
  3. Think before you answer and don’t feel that you need to answer immediately- take a few seconds to consider what your interviewer is looking for – then answer
  4. Avoid yes or no answers where possible and try to elaborate and provide more information and examples where appropriate
  5. If you need clarification in relation to a particular question and its’ meaning again don’t be afraid to ask. If you do not know the answer to a question, do not be afraid to admit this
  6. Be prepared for hypothetical questions– consider them carefully before answering
  7. Unexpected questions are a normal part of the interview process so do not be alarmed and answer using your instinct
  8. It is important that there are no long gaps in the conversation and try to ensure that the discussion keeps flowing

Questions to put to your interviewer

It is advisable to have questions prepared in advance that you can pose to the interviewer. Interestingly the questions that you ask can be as important as the ones that you answer as it will give the interviewer insights into you such as how you think, what is important to you and how interested you might be in the role.

It is essential that you resolve any queries you have in relation to the role or company during the interview process. This is your opportunity to establish if this is the role and company for you.  We recommended that you avoid questions relating to salary and package, hours of work, holidays etc as it is best to concentrate on the role and company. Once you have generated an interest in your application you will be better placed to then commence negotiations in relation to salary and package.


Sample questions

  • How did the role come about?
  • Who will the role report to?
  • What are the main objectives of the role?
  • What are your expectations of the person in this role?
  • What is the career progression in the role?
  • What induction and training are provided in the role?
  • Why did you join the company? How long have you been with the organisation?
  • What are the skills and attributes most needed to get ahead in the organisation?
  • Who will be the company’s major competitors over the next 5 years?
  • What has been the growth pattern of the organisation in recent years?
cta - your chance

General interview questions and advice in relation to answering same

Tell me about yourself?

Keep your answer brief and resist the temptation to ramble and digress. Use your curriculum vitae summary as a starting point and keep it relevant and specific to the role for which you are interviewing.

What do you know about our company?

Ensure that you have completed your research in advance and that you can elaborate on the activities of the company and details such as turnover, products/services, locations, history, mission statement and any recent key news or events relating to the company. Always ensure that you demonstrate a genuine interest in the company and industry sector.

Why do you want to work for us?

Resist the temptation to talk about what you want initially – focus more on what the needs of the business are and then you can tie this in with your own requirements. This is your opportunity to demonstrate and explain your motivations and interest levels in the role i.e. you would like to assist with a particular project solve a particular problem, contribute to certain company goals.

Why should we employ you? What differentiates you from another candidate/applicant?

In this scenario you should briefly summarise why you are suited to the role and give examples of where you have proven this in a previous role.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Concentrate on your strengths providing three examples and only one example of a weakness. When providing an example of a weakness, ensure that it is one that you can turn into a positive. You could also speak about a weakness that you had identified previously and how you addressed is via training etc. to a stage now where it is no longer a weakness or issue for you.

Always ensure that the examples you give are relevant to the role. None of us is perfect so it is only natural that we will have some weaknesses. The key here is your awareness of what your weakness was or is and how you deal with this.

How would you describe yourself?

Use adjectives that are relevant to the competencies required for the role e.g. driven, ambitious, analytical, problem solver etc…Refer to the job specification for guidance on this.

How would others describe you?

Use adjectives that are relevant to the competencies required for the role as above.

What would your work colleagues say are your strengths and weaknesses and why?

Again make sure that the examples you give are relevant to the role for which you are interviewing.  It is important to be able to substantiate what you are saying by providing examples of when you demonstrated your strengths and weaknesses.

What have been your most significant achievements in your career to date? How have you contributed to improving productivity and effectiveness in your role?

Keep your answers job related and relevant. It would be good to mention that you feel that your best achievements still lie ahead of you and your future employer. The STAR method used to build competency based answers to interview question will serve you well in this area. (Situation, Task, Action, Result)

When have you failed in the past?

When you provide an example here make sure you explain what you learned from the situation.

Why should we recruit you?

Again this is an opportunity for you to reinforce and consolidate the reasons why you are the best candidate for the role – a good opportunity to really sell yourself – qualifications, experience, track record etc.… Highlight what it is that makes you different from other candidates. Focussing on your positive behavioural attributes can be beneficial also such as solutions focus, positive, collaborative etc.

What do you like/dislike about the role?

Concentrate on what you like about the role being specific about what it is you like. Only mention one minor aspect that you do not like. Also it would be worth mentioning ‘that all positions and jobs have elements to them that we do not relish but still have to be tackled’.

What do you look for in a role?

With this answer you need to stress that you are seeking an opportunity to perform, make a contribution and be recognized. Don’t fall into the trap of answering the question purely from the perspective of what’s in it for you.

How long will it take you to settle into the role and to make a meaningful contribution?

In this instance you must confirm that it will not take long at all and that with your skills and experience that you expect to more or less hit the ground running. Give an example where you have done this in the past. A good example can be a temporary/contract role or indeed a project assignment where very often you need to adjust very quickly and cover a heavy workload in a short space of time. (STAR approach relevant here too)

How long do you plan to stay in a role at this level?

This can be a tricky question. You must balance the fact that you are happy to stay in the role but that you will also be seeking progression. You could say ‘As long as it is beneficial to myself and the organization to stay at this level’. You can also take this as an opportunity to express an interest in further education, upskilling and future career development.

 What is your leadership style?

Again this is where you are required to provide specific examples. (STAR)

How would you describe your personality?

Provide a number of positive adjectives including ‘balanced’ as well as providing relevant examples for each.

Where do you see yourself in three years?

This is your opportunity to display your ambitions. To answer this question effectively it will help to know the management structures within the organisation. A good option is to confirm your desire to be a true professional in your field and to be a team player. It is a good opportunity to ask what potential future opportunities there may be. Be careful not to come across as wanting to move on too quickly.

What other roles or career options are you considering at the moment?

Ensure that you do not mention anything that is too obscure as it will show that you are lacking focus and consistency. The options you mention should be broadly similar to the role for which you are currently interviewing.

How do you deal with working under pressure and to tight deadlines?

Give details of how you do so currently and be specific. It is the perfect opportunity to sell your skills and experience once again and to reinforce the message that you are a strong contender for this role.

How do you make decisions?

Display that you are logical, methodical and fair in your decision making process and back this up with examples from your career to date. Don’t be afraid to incorporate examples from a non- work perspective. Adding examples from a sporting or volunteering context can help to show another dimension of your skillset.

What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make?

Try to relate the answer to your prospective employer. Give an example where the result was a positive one. Make sure that the interviewer is aware of your thought process and rationale for the particular decision.

What problems did you identify in a previous role and what did you do to change them?

Choose examples that you feel the interviewer can relate to and that portray you in a positive light.

How do you deal with conflict?

You must show that you are professional and ethical and that you are aware of best practice and follow same at all times.                                          

Have you ever been in a conflict situation with a manager?

The example you give should have a positive outcome and should not have been a situation of your own making rather one that you resolved.

What excites/interests you about this role?

Just be honest and let you enthusiasm show through. It is a good opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the role and to ensure that the interviewer is no doubt as to your enthusiasm for the role.

What don’t you like about this role?

Be brief and only mention one minor element and finish by saying ‘that all jobs have an element that we do not like and that is a fact of life’. 

What would you do if you were not happy about a decision/policy made by management?

Show that you are professional in your approach and display that you could deal with this situation in a mature manner. It is imperative to stress that you would be open to discussing the issue with management in a calm fashion with the view to resolving any misunderstandings and coming to a mutually agreeable solution.

What motivates you?

This is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your levels of energy, drive and ambition. E.g. you like working under pressure, you like working in a busy & challenging environment.

What demotivates you?

Keep the answer brief and explain that this rarely happens and that you are capable of motivating yourself. Mention also that if you were demotivated that you would speak to your manager to seek guidance and direction.

What is your management style?

Structure the answer so that it is broadly in line with the company culture.

Describe a time when you felt you were out of your depth in a role? What did you do to overcome this situation?

The example you give should show your versatility and ability to adjust in a new scenario.

Provide details of an occasion when you had to deal with a crisis in work?

The example you provide should have a positive outcome that you were instrumental in. You must show that you remained calm and that you took control of the situation by rolling out a logical and methodical process to resolve the crisis.


Closing the interview

What you need to know before the close of the interview

  • What will be the next stage of the process?
  • When should you expect to hear from them again?
  • How many other applicants are being considered for the role?
  • How do you rate me in comparison to the other applicants?
  • Are there any areas of my curriculum vitae or experience that you would like clarification on?
  • Do you have any other questions for me?
  • Do you feel that I am a good fit for the role?
  • When do you expect to have a final decision?
  • When would you like someone to commence in the role?

You must ensure that the organisation has no further questions for you and that they have no reservations in relation to your capabilities and suitability for the role. This may be your last chance to do so. It must also be clear to your interviewer that you are interested in the opportunity.

Likewise it is imperative that you are comfortable with all aspects of the role and the company and that you feel you can make an informed decision when you are offered the role.

A professional way to close off the interview is as follows:

‘Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today and I would like to reiterate my interest in the role and the organisation’.

For further advice and support in the area of interview preparation please contact:

Career Development and Recruitment Team
Phone:
01 637 7331
Email:
careers@charteredaccountants.ie


Have a query?

If you have a query, please refer to our support & services page and contact the relevant department with your query.