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Surviving the Interview (for Audit, Legal, and Accounting Professionals)

Posted on 06, May, 2013


In an environment where most firms are busy downsizing it's more of a challenge than ever for somebody in the accounting, auditing or legal fields to find a job. Traditionally the way the jobs market worked was that undergraduates from these professions had to experience a trial-by-fire before being able to land a worthwhile job. The global economic meltdown has now also left many previously employed professionals in the accounting and legal fields fighting with undergraduates for the same jobs, making the entire experience for everyone involved stressful.

The one factor which remains constant in the hiring-and-firing cycle of big accounting companies and law firms is that how you handle your interview will either make or break you. Regardless of how incredibly professional your résumé reads it's all about how you both present and sell yourself during the interview that really matters.

Now most people, including accounting, auditing, and law professionals and undergraduates, live in almost paralyzing fear of the interview process, and especially the questions which come out of left-field - designed to throw off your focus and your balance. In a competitive jobs market the interviewers want to make sure that the people they're hiring can think on their feet and won't panic at the drop of a hat. This is doubly true of positions in legal, accounting or auditing firms - they're far more prone to ask you the types of questions normally not asked in another interview.

You need to spend a few hours researching each company you want to work for. Don't just read the corporate notes on their homepage, though you need to be checking for news stories and industry-related articles relating to that accounting, auditing or legal entity too. Basically know everything you can about the company, how they do business, who they do business with and their major competitors in the market too.

You'll also be asked a number of different types of questions during any interview, typically including the following:

About You

Most interviews tend to start with the "So...tell me a little about yourself" type of question, which is something you can count on being asked. This certainty means you should be 100% prepared for it in advance. What you're looking to create is a "sound bite" for yourself that lasts no more than about 30-seconds, or a very quick summary of your professional life. Do not attempt to explain your entire professional career at this point - this is just the hors d'oeuvre section of the interview.

Personal Weakness Questions

One of the most frequently asked "oddball" questions during any professional interview (but especially with accounting, auditing and law firms) is to describe one weakness you might have. The clever way to turn this into a positive is to reply that you're a perfectionist, who loves to get everything done properly, but annoying to some people in the process. You could also describe yourself as a workaholic who's never happy until every project is complete.

Experience Questions

You may be interviewing with or against other candidates who have far more experience than you, especially in the current job market. You can counter these types of questions by replying that your knowledge is "...more current and more in line with current business practices" in the legal, accountancy and auditing industries for example.

Inappropriate Questions

You might be asked an inappropriate question (sexual orientation, marital status, etc…) either deliberately as a way to test your reaction, or it could be asked completely by accident. In either case you should politely ask how the question is relevant to your future position within the company - even if offended make sure that you remain polite.

Good luck with the interview process and in your future legal, accountancy or auditing field.  Even the best prepared job seeker can screw up during an interview - that's just Murphy's Law at work. The flip side of it is that by not preparing at all you're setting yourself up for failure from the very beginning.  

Tags: #interview

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