Top 5 Qualities to Highlight When Interviewing for Public Accounting

Feb 13, 2019

By Elizabeth Harkness, HR Manager

As HR manager, I talk to every candidate who comes through the door with the hope of landing a position at Weinstein Spira. With respect to public accountants, in particular, we look for people who have certain qualities that will be a good fit for our firm and our client base. Education and experience are always key considerations when sorting through a stack of resumes; however, there are other less tangible qualities that set you apart and predict success in an accounting environment. While there are many things that go into making a final hiring decision, here are the top five qualities our hiring managers like to see.

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1. Professionalism

It is critical to demonstrate a level of professionalism adequate for the position you are going after. Although this may look somewhat different when interviewing for an internshipentry-level accounting or upper management job, it is a “must-have” quality to be able to get along with clients, as well as people in the office. It has nothing to do with how smart or accomplished you are academically or in the field. You will not be a good fit at Weinstein Spira (or any accounting firm, for that matter) without being professional in your manner. The interview setting is the place to put your best foot forward and demonstrate this quality by exuding a confident, composed demeanor, along with professional knowledge.

2. Trustworthiness

In the accounting world, people are entrusting you with their finances and sensitive business information, which makes being trustworthy, or having high integrity, of utmost importance. This can be demonstrated in an interview by sounding “believable,” living up to your credentials, and showing that you can be relied upon to do a good job. Especially when acting in an advisory role to clients, accountants are exposed to the inner workings of a company and, therefore, expected to keep confidential data secure. Establishing your credibility begins at the interview, but must be maintained ongoingly, as it is at the foundation of your accounting reputation. 

3. Accuracy

This quality is at the very core of being an accountant. In getting to the bottom line, every cent, every decimal point counts. So, whatever you can say or point to in an interview regarding how detailed-oriented you are will go a long way toward proving how rock solid you are mathematically. Hiring managers will appreciate that being accurate matters to you, since even the smallest movement of a comma can result in financial risk to the client.

4. Adaptability

The opposite of rigid, adaptability is needed to survive in the office, on a team and in an ever-changing environment—as is the case with most accounting firms. Juggling schedule changes, receiving last-minute information from clients and, if applying to a mid-level firm, wearing many hats (from accountant, to coach, to business developer) are some of the challenges you will have to adapt to the job. Being flexible during the interview and easily transitioning to answer different sorts of questions are good indicators of adaptability; in other words, showing that minor changes do not derail you. Think of it as a test to ensure resiliency in the face of new corporate policies, new employees and yes, new clients with their own quirky way of doing things.

5. Sense of Purpose 

This quality, though last on the list, is perhaps what defines you most as an individual, setting you apart from other candidates. We like to see clarity in what drives you. Accounting is a very demanding profession, and it requires staying focused even during peak periods and long hours. A clear sense of purpose will carry you through those overwhelming times. Before interviewing for that next career opportunity, get in touch with your driving force. Is it to support a family? Is it to be the best accountant you can be, no matter what? Communicating this “raison d’etre” to a hiring manager gives them a true idea of your individuality and personalizes you in a memorable way. So, be prepared for questions like: What’s important to you? Why are you here? What drives you? We know it’s not just about the numbers!

The trend in HR recruiting and hiring is going beyond the canned questions and answers of the past. You have a unique story to tell and we want to hear it. Highlighting these five qualities (and similar ones you may come up with) will help us get to know the real you. At the end of the day, the more you can be yourself, the better. Whether such qualities are directly brought up by the interviewer or not, you can inject examples of when you exhibited trustworthiness, accuracy, etc. in school, on the job or in life. It’s your chance to be the very best candidate you can be! 

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Category: Culture