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The Basics: Interview Preparedness For Socially Awkward, Loner Refugees

One might think after 3 years of answering what appears to be the same handful of questions over and over and over and over and over and over and over we'd totally be sick of it but I assure you we're not. There are no stupid questions only stupid people so if you've got half a brain in your head and need some help, hit us up and we'd be happy to help. Unless you are stupid, in which case you're totally on your own, kiddo.

Hi Adrienne,

I was hoping you could give me some guidance on how I should prepare for interviews.

Short bio:

– 3.3 GPA in college. I nearly failed two accounting courses.
– worked full-time in college to pay tuition and rent
– Didn't do recruiting, because I didn't like the city I lived in
– Quit the job a few months after graduating, last March.
– Moved to a new city, and started taking CPA exams.
– Still waiting on REG score, but I got a 90 on FAR and 94 on BEC and I'll be taking A&A shortly

I've done a tiny amount of networking since moving here, and my "people on the inside" have told me that I'll get interviews at each Big Four office once I get my final passing score. The advice I've received so far has been to be well-informed about the firms' audit clients and to be able to make the case for why I want to work at each specific firm. I don't really know how I'll address the inevitable "why didn't you go through recruiting?", but my failure to do recruiting still landed me an interview (that I didn't apply or ask for) at a Big Four office in my old city. I've been putting together dossiers on the firms, and I'm going to re-read "how to win friends and influence people" 6 times or so to get my social skills back (they've atrophied since I started studying 70 hours a week for these exams). What else should I do? For what it's worth, I just want a job in auditing – I'd be happy to work for a smaller firm so long as I can just get my foot in the door into the profession.

OK, sorry if I offend anyone else by saying this (no I'm not) but it is worth noting that auditors are some of the most socially normal individuals of the entire public accounting hierarchy. While it is true there are always exceptions to the rule (Colin, for example, used to be an auditor so I need say no more), generally speaking auditors tend to be a little more lively than their tax counterparts. Which means you also have to be a little more lively and by "lively" I mean "not fucking awkward." Auditors travel in packs so if you're not going to fit in with the herd from the gate, you're not getting any offers. And no "How To Win Friends and Influence People" seminar is going to help you if you're just a toolbag no one likes.

NOW, here's the good part: you're plugging away on the CPA exam. In some cases, showing initiative on your own there puts you ahead of the slightly less socially awkward toolbag in the resume stack with you who is going to wait until he's four years in and unable to be promoted to seriously crack open a FAR book for the first time. So you do have that. But don't tell me that studying 70 hours a week has sucked every drop of social juice out of you, there are plenty of ways to keep studying somewhat social and still stay on track. I work from home, have cats and the only two people I speak to in a given week besides strangers and the jerks in the GC comment section are Colin and my boyfriend, yet I can still carry on a normal conversation with grocery store clerks and my neighbors. Fitting in – for the purposes of public accounting, at least – means just that, being able to hold a normal conversation and, ideally, being somewhat likeable but even that isn't exactly a full requirement. Surely you can do that, no?

In the meantime: mock interviews, mock interviews, mock interviews. They are quite possibly one of the most awkward things you can do but they DO help. So grab a friend you trust who isn't a total jackass and do some mock interviews. This may sound really weird but video them if you can so you can review your body language, your expressions and your own answers later. You'd be surprised how weird, awkward or sketchy you come off and won't know unless you review the tape. Oh and here are some questions the Big 4 may or may not ask that should help.

Of course be prepared to answer for your GPA (which isn't as important as some make it out to be as long as you aren't a 2.1 or something), your move and the fact that you didn't take part in recruiting. Answer all of those as honestly as possible without being too defensive or too stupid. Saying "I didn't like my city" is going to be hard for a firm to swallow, because what's to say you like theirs now and won't just pick up and take off again when you're sick of it?

Instead of doing "a tiny bit of networking," get your ass hooked up with your state society of CPAs and any other professional events you can, even if they are not directly related to accounting (I get invites for things like young professionals happy hours in my town on LinkedIn all the time) they'll help you exercise those atrophied social muscles and maybe make some good connections. How'd the interview you got in your old city go? Perhaps there is a networking opportunity there if you didn't completely blow it and simply ignore their emails after the fact because you knew you were leaving town and didn't even want their stupid interview.

You sound pretty reasonable, I don't think you'll have too hard of a time. Just prepare your answers to the tricky questions, keep plugging away on the exam and if worse comes to worse, you could always try the – *shudder* – recruiters.