After you have spent years studying accounting, you should feel that your college degree program has prepared you well for your intended career. However, you might not feel quite so well prepared for the process of attaining your first job with an accounting degree. No matter how much work experience you have, job interviews can be daunting, but the stress can be even more severe when you’re looking for your first job out of school. Understanding how to get help with your job search, preparing for common interview questions, practicing your technical skills and thinking about your future plans now can help put your mind at ease so that the job interview process goes more smoothly.
Getting Your First Accounting Job Interview
If you haven’t already got an interview lined up, you may be worrying about the wrong part of the job search process. First, you will need to secure the opportunity to interview for a position. Finding a job without work experience isn’t easy, but the work you have done throughout your college education – especially any internship experiences you have taken part in – can help. Take advantage of any internship and recruiting services and events your school may offer. Go to career fairs, find it if your school offers a job board for students and alumni, talk to a career advisor and network with mentors and accounting professionals you worked with as an intern or bookkeeper. Your school may offer resources that will not only help you find available jobs to apply for but also assist you in writing a resumé, cover letter or other application materials. It’s not unusual for accounting students who use the career resources available to them to be recruited to their first accounting position before they even graduate.
Fortunately, job prospects for accountants and auditors are good. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a faster than average job growth rate of 10 percent for the field of accounting and auditing.
Practice Answering Accounting Interview Questions
An interview for an accounting job isn’t a test, although it might feel like one. Rather, it is an opportunity to determine if you would be a good fit for the position and the company. To make that determination, your interviewer will ask you questions, the answers to which should indicate how well your skills, experience, education and personality traits match the qualifications needed to succeed in the job.
While interview questions can vary widely from one employer and interviewer to another, there are many common interview questions that you should be prepared to answer. One of the first interview questions you are likely to hear is the simple, but potentially intimidating, “Tell me about yourself.” If you don’t prepare a response for this or a similar introduction, you might feel that you are being put on the spot, but with a little practice, you can come up with a concise, engaging summary of your education, experience and professional interests.
Another common question for prospective accountants is why they chose to study accounting. This simple question may seem difficult to answer, but think about what first attracted you to the major or the career path. Perhaps you enjoy working with numbers, or you want to play a role in improving financial operations in businesses. Maybe you have always had the ambition to attain a prestigious role in one of the “Big 4” accounting firms, or perhaps you want to use your skills to oversee government spending as an auditor in a federal agency or to help a good cause working as an accountant for a nonprofit organization. Of course, you should tailor your response to the job for which you are interviewing. Focusing your answer only on salary potential or suggesting that the job you are interviewing for is not the kind of accounting role you really want could deter your interviewer from further considering you for the position.
Remember, a job interview shouldn’t be one-sided. You should always do enough research about the organization and the position to help you come up with intelligent questions of your own that will give you a better idea of whether the position is right for you.
Be Ready to Show Off Your Technical Accounting Skills
Accounting positions require technical knowledge. It’s very common for an interviewer to ask technical accounting questions to make sure job candidates know the material and to see what they can bring to the table. Technical accounting questions can range from what steps you take when completing certain accounting tasks to what you know about accounting standards. While new graduates might not have much work experience to draw from, your interviewer may ask you to discuss a time – during an internship or in a project for one of your accounting classes – that you had to handle a particular accounting challenge.
The interviewer’s assessment of your technical knowledge might not end with answering interview questions. Some employers might ask job candidates to complete practical exercises or take an accounting test to demonstrate their skills.
Think About Your Future in Accounting
One further question an interviewer may ask is about your future career plans. This, too, can be a challenging question to answer, especially when applying for an entry-level accounting job. If you have aspirations of working your way up to management or attaining a Certified Pubic Accountant (CPA) license or other professional credential, your interviewer may be interested to hear of your ambitions, particularly if the firm offers a lot of opportunities for growth. Often, employers encourage accountants to work toward professional credentials, and some even pay for the costs of taking the CPA exam, according to the BLS. If these advancements aren’t on your radar, you could focus instead on the skills and experience you would like to develop in the position.
Following up with a thank you note after an interview can reiterate your interest in the position.