Interview tips for tax professionals

Niall Harris 30.04.2012

Interviewing can be a daunting task for any professional regardless of their level of seniority or previous experience. It is however the best opportunity you will have to gain an understanding of the role and company you are interested in and establish how your background can contribute to the company’s growth and profitability objectives.  Together with the Tax team here is Morgan McKinkey we put together a list of interview tips that will help you to prepare for that up coming interview.

Interview Preparation

Invest some time in research before your interview. Finding out as much as possible about the company and the people you are meeting with in advance is the best way to ensure you
are ready for any eventuality, and prepare plenty of relevant questions. The more you know before your interview the more confident you will feel and appear.
  • Know the company website inside out
  • Read as much third party information on search engines as you can to familiarise yourself with the company’s past, present and future.
  • Speak to business associates you know have worked at the organisation for their advice.
  • Utilise the knowledge your Morgan McKinley Consultant will have about their client to build a picture of previous successful interviewees, likely questions and interview structure
  • Know the job description. Having an understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the role will help you prepare and ask relevant questions. This will also help show the interviewer that you are serious about the role and have taken the time to identify how our skills will fit to their needs and expectations.

Common Interview Questions

An employer’s objective in an interview is to build a detailed picture of your skills, experience, competencies and personality in order to assess whether you have the correct skill set and cultural fit for their business. You meanwhile are trying to establish whether they and their firm offer you the best next step in your career. There are a number of interview
questions that are commonly asked, and we would recommend that you prepare your answers in advance. Always remember when responding to questions to keep your responses concise and relevant. Make sure you sell yourself and your abilities using a variety of examples that reflect different aspects of your experience.

Typical questions that are often asked include:
  • Tell me about yourself: This is your opportunity to talk about your main attributes, your qualifications, experience and the skills that you possess, highlighting the skills that are most relevant to the position.
     
  • What have been your major achievements?Try to use an achievement that is work-related and fairly recent. Talk about the skills involved and how this benefited the company - try to quantify the benefit to the organisation.
     
  • Tell me about a difficult situation that you have been in at work and how you overcame it? Employers use this question to try to gauge what you view as a ‘difficult situation’ and if you are able to show a logical approach in how you go about solving problems. Always aim toshow yourself in a positive light. We would normally advise that you choose a difficult situation that was not caused by you, remembering to:
1. Define the problem
2. Discuss the options available
3. Give your final decision and reasons for your choice
4. The final outcome, always try to end on a positive note
  • What is it about this role that interests you? They have asked this question to explore whether the role suits you and fits in with both your medium and long-term goals.
     
  • What is it that you like about your current role? Always try to relate your ‘likes’ to the skills that are needed for the position. Be aware of the balancing act required when answering this question; you need to appear to be positive about your current job while making it clear why you are looking for a new role.What is it that you dislike about your current role? In your answer it is key that you get across to the interviewer that you are able to tackle problems and frustrations as part of your job. You can also use this to demonstrate why you are interested in their role, for example if one of your frustrations is a lack of management responsibility, and they are offering a Manager role.
     
  • What are your strengths? We recommend basing your answer around three or four key skills. You will probably be asked for examples of how you have demonstrated them, so try and prepare a few in advance of the meeting. If your job description contains key competencies for the position you are interviewing for, you should look to these for examples of skill areas you could discuss.
     
  • What is your greatest weakness? A common mistake is to say you don’t have one, as this can lead to a number of other questions. There are two ways that we suggest you can tackle this; either talk about a weakness that is not a key area for the job or a weakness that you have recognised in yourself and how you have worked to overcome it.
     
  • What are the reasons behind your decision to leave your current employer? The golden rule when answering this question is not to be negative about your current employer, as this can imply disloyalty – a trait few employers seek to inherit. Simply mention all the positive reasons for why you want to move on, whether they are more responsibility, greater career prospects or a change in direction. Stay away from referring to money as the main reason for the move.

If you would like some more interview tips then take a look at our Interview questions and Answers blog.

There is a growing trend towards employers using ‘competency-based’ interviewing techniques as a way of separating the really strong candidates from the rest of the crowd.

Competency-based questions

There is a growing trend towards employers using ‘competency-based’ interviewing techniques as a way of separating the really strong candidates from the rest of the crowd. Interviewers want you to be able to talk about how you have dealt with real problems in the past, as this helps them decide how effectively you would tackle future issues you might encounter in your career with the firm. Competency based interviewing is scenario based; you are asked to give detailed examples of situations you experienced in previous roles, and use them to demonstrate your underlying skill-set. They often relate to areas such as influencing, communication, management, collaboration and conflict resolution.
 
Typical questions that are often asked include:
  • Can you give me an example of when you had to work under a great deal of pressure?
  • Can you give me an example of when you felt that you were out of your depth? How did you handle this?
  • Tell me about some risks you have taken in your working or professional life? How did you go about this?
  • Can you describe some of the approaches you take when ‘selling’ ideas to clients/colleagues?
  • When you have managed a project can you take me through how you have approached it?
  •  When have you had to go against general feelings or policies to accomplish a goal? Tell me about it

I've included a list of tax interview questions to prepare for and I've put together a few more competency based questions and hints on how to approach these difficult questions.

Questions for the employer

Remember that an interview is a two-way process; it is not just about the company assessing whether you are right for the role, it is also an opportunity for you to find out information about the company that will help you decide whether the role is right for you.
  • What are the company’s long and short-term goals?
  • What do you think gives this company an edge over its competitors?
  • What is the work environment like?
  • Why do you [the interviewer] enjoy working for this company?
  • Who in the company would review my performance? When?
  • What are the chances of advancement/promotion in this position? When?
  • What are the opportunities for training and professional development?
Also remember that this is your opportunity to really get to grips with the nitty gritty of the job itself – use the job description if available to cover off any questions you have around
your day to day duties. Here are more helpful example questions to ask the employer.

What are your salary expections

For experienced professionals, one of the most dreaded questions is “What are your salary expectations?” There is a lot of advice available on this topic, but one size does not fit all.  Here are a few suggestions that may be useful based on your situation. 

Closing the interview

Many people often do a great interview and then fail to close it properly. This is like baking a terrific cake and forgetting to put on the icing!! The closing of your interview is the most memorable part not only because it comes at the end of your time together, but because you are able to interject your own personality, comments and questions into the conversation with the interviewer. I put together a few good examples on how to close your interview.
 

Phone Interviews

Phone interviews are frequently used by companies to save time by pre-qualifying your interest and expertise. The following are some phone interview recommendations that I put together to ensure your next phone interview is successful for you!

It may sound obvious but ensure….

  • You are punctual
  • You know the date, time and exact location of your interview
  • You know who you are meeting, title, phone number
  • You have clear directions and know how long it is going to take you to get there
  • You wear appropriate business dress and are well groomed
  • You switch mobile phones and other devices off before entering the interview room
  • You stand up when the interviewer enters the room and firmly shake their hand
  • You concentrate on maintaining eye contact throughout the meeting, while ensuring
  • you minimise fidgeting and slouching

I hope you found these interview tips helpful!

Niall Harris's picture
Associate Director
nharris@morganmckinley.com

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