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First Round Interview Tips for This Fall’s Accounting Recruits

Across the country, accounting majors are meeting the firms and being dazzled by the prospect of well paying employment.  For those going through the interview process, here are some tips to position you for success during their first round of interviews. 
Be Professional and Be You
You were invited to interview because you meet the minimum requirements: your GPA was high enough, your resume appeared to be well-rounded, your cover letter was free of grammatical errors, and you may have even conversed with a professional and did well enough not to be crossed off the list. What’s next is for them to gain an understanding of who you are and whether or not they think you will fit in for at least the next few years.   
When I went through interviews, I made an incorrect assumption that I should demonstrate an understanding of in-depth technical expertise and tried to talk about a subject way over my head. (Transfer pricing, WTF was I thinking — gah!) Keep in mind firms are ready to train you and expect that you come in with just the basics gleaned from your coursework. You can demonstrate professionalism by talking about simpler subjects that show you are serious about the profession. Your plans to pass the CPA exam, an interest in learning more about the various career paths, and a demonstration of skills relevant to the job — e.g. initiative, time management, solid work ethics — are all solid ways to convey professionalism.  
You should also show that you have done your homework and know a little bit about their firm, including the clients they serve and the type of work they do. Their company website is a place to start but a richer place for learning more is conversations with current employees who can give you a feel for the environment. As a recruiter, I used to love to ask the basic question “Tell me what you know about the firm.” The answers made it very clear if a person genuinely wanted to work with the firm or if they were just looking for any j-o-b. 
Being you is also a critical component to the process and also one that can be a challenge. You want to be as authentic as you possibly can be in a professional environment but not so authentic that you are discussing a time when you worked in a group and someone didn’t do their share with an example from your alcohol-infused spring break. Imagine that you will be having a conversation with someone older than you, who is conservative, and is a person you admire. For me, that is my grandma. I can be authentic with my grandma and have a fun, engaging conversation but I don’t share TMI. Believe it or not, showing up as a fun person that people want to be around is a really important attribute.  At times, you will be spending more waking hours with your colleagues than you spend with your family and friends. It is important they get a feeling of who you are and if you are the type of person who will both fit in to the firm culture yet who is professional enough to put in front of their clients.    
Remember, Interviewing is a Two-Way Street
Interviewing can be a nerve-wracking process. This is because, just like dating, it causes us to feel vulnerable. Will they like me? Am I smart enough? Will I say all the right things? And just like dating, interviewing becomes easier with experience and time. We gain confidence once we have done it a few times and have a better understanding of who we are and what we are seeking.  
Since most students have not yet interviewed for a professional position, anxiety can be high. This is why being mindful that an interview is a two-way street creates an access to power. It keeps you present to the fact that you are both in a position of being assessed and doing your own assessment. Rather than being at the effect of their evaluation and fretting about what you might not have, look to what the prospective employer can offer you. Will their work environment support your professional development? Do you like the people you meet and feel you would enjoy being with them upwards of 40 hours per week? You worked hard in school to earn the seat at the interview table. Take confidence in what you have done so far and look to how this job will or won’t work for you. 
The Basics (Just In Case)
For those who haven't hit up career services or interrogated a friend who has been through the process, here are a few other basics to keep in mind.  
  • Those greeters in the lobby are interviewing you too. While it may not be a formal interview, they are getting a feel for you and listening for anything you might share with other students as you wait for your timeslot.  
  • Check out Glassdoor to see if you can collect any specifics on what others experienced during their interview process. Be wary of company reviews, however. They may have been posted by disgruntled employees or, conversely, those who serve the company Kool-Aid.  
  • Keep your game tight and demonstrate integrity during the entire process. Recruiters and interview teams attend all the same events, so they get to know one another. If you try to play the field and aren’t honest with a firm about your intentions, they may find out. Don’t interview after you committed to work somewhere else. Don't no-show or cancel at the last minute. The accounting profession is a small one. Rather than running the risk of tarnishing your reputation early on, be open and honest about where you are at in the process. People will understand if you are uncertain or need more time to make a decision. They aren't as understanding when you waste their time.    
Please post comments if you have any additional tips to offer our candidates or have specific inquiries we may have missed. Next week, we will tackle how to convert second round interviews into offers and may be able to weave in your additional questions there.