One of best ways to set the stage for a successful Accounting and Finance job interview is preparing for the most common opener: Tell me about yourself.
Although a seemingly straightforward ask, it can stump even the most confident candidate. Broad, open-ended questions can feel challenging because it is difficult to hone in on what you want to say and how much you should share.
Here are a few pointers to deliver a well-defined response that highlights your key skills and attributes.
First, it’s important to understand why interviewers ask you to share details about yourself. It’s an informal icebreaker that allows you to ease into the conversation before answering more targeted questions about the position, your experience and the company. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s easy and doesn’t require preparation. While informal, the question gives the hiring manager a lens into your confidence level, your ability to distil the most relevant and important information about yourself, and how clearly and effectively you communicate.
Start with one interesting detail about yourself.
But keep it relevant to the purpose of your meeting — to get hired. It’s fine to share a volunteer position, interest, hobby, or other pursuit but tie it back to why you are uniquely positioned for or interested in the open position. Highlight your leadership attributes, giving back to the community, building personal strengths, pursing lifelong goals, etc.
Your response should be based on well-rounded research.
Be very familiar with the job description and company. Know the key skills and experience required, as well as company culture, values and goals. Then, tailor your response to those. Include some “selling points” about how you are uniquely suited for the open position, your goals for the future and why you are passionate about the company. This is your elevator pitch: unique skills + motivations and goals + passion to serve the company.
Avoid irrelevant information.
While it’s good to start with one interesting personal detail, you want to primarily focus on your professional assets and goals. There are few things to avoid when sharing information about yourself. 1) Keep details about your family and upbringing minimal. 2) Never start an interview complaining about why your current/former employer is/was a bad fit. 3) Don’t recite your resume. The hiring manager already knows the bullet points about your experience.
Instead, think about highlighting one to two current accomplishments (unique skills), one to two past experiences that have shaped your career trajectory (motivation and goals) and one to two aspirations (why you want to serve their company).
Plan to spend about 30 seconds in each of these three key areas. The average hiring manager will lose interest in your response after 90 seconds. Know what you are going to say and practice saying it so that your response is clear, concise and compelling — the three Cs of interviewing.
Here’s a strong sample response:
I’m born and raised in Southern California, went to school at UCLA and love exploring this remarkable place we get to live. As a member of the finance committee for Big Brother Big Sisters of Orange County, I understand the importance and power of numbers in Accounting and Finance to help organizations plan with fiscal responsibility to meet their goals and best serve the community.
As a senior financial analyst at ABC Company, I oversee the financial plan and revenue budget of $2 billion with year-over-year topline growth of $20 million. I monitor expenditures to ensure compliance with budget and quarterly forecast models by performing monthly variance analyses with a stop-loss margin of 10.0%.
I’m a team player who enjoys creating systems and processes to help others, both employees and clients, succeed. With more than 15 years senior accounting experience, I enjoy mentoring others and supporting professional development initiatives.
Let me know if you would like me to elaborate on any of these areas.