A Job Interview Lasts 41 minutes — How to Make the Most of Each Second

July 16, 2018

You see your dream accounting position on a job board and you eagerly send in your application. Soon, you are asked to come in for an interview. Congratulations! You’ve passed the first hurdle, which is impressive when you consider all the resumes an employer receives (about 40 for each advertised position) and how few people make the cut (roughly seven, according to a recent Robert Half survey).

Still, you don’t have the job yet. Not by a long shot: Of senior managers polled, 64 percent said it’s common for a job candidate not to live up to their resumes during the interview phase.

So how do you maintain that good impression as you move from paper to in-person? By building on the aspects of your resume that attracted their attention in the first place.

Here are the four reasons your application likely passed the first hurdle, along with what you should do during the interview to rise above the competition.

1. Experience relevant to the job

Accounting firms and finance departments seek new hires who can hit the ground running. Your work history suggests you have what it takes to become a valuable team member, and now the hiring manager wants to verify the depth of that industry expertise. Impress them by:

  • Highlighting your accomplishments. Now is not the time to be modest or self-deprecating. While you don’t want to come across as arrogant, the interviewer really does want to know how amazing you are. Give detailed examples that illustrate how you’ve applied your knowledge and saved the day. An effective way to do this is to use storytelling techniques that build your narrative: Set up the scenario, describe actions you took and the results you generated.
  • Quantifying results. Numbers speak louder than generalities. How much money did the company save when your cost model helped them select the best financing for growth? How many hours did you shave from year-end closing? How have your suggestions enhanced revenue? If you’re a public accountant, what are the results of your client satisfaction surveys? Past results are a powerful predictor of future performance, so wow interviewers with measurable results.

2. Soft skills

If you’ve ever worked in accounting and finance, you understand that the job isn’t just about crunching numbers. Your application materials likely said you are a team player, can solve problems, spearhead projects, communicate well and adapt to change. Now explain just how you’d do this.

Give past examples. For instance, tell interviewers about the time you analyzed and then convincingly presented data to executives, or how you teamed up with colleagues in IT to make the transition to cloud accounting.

In addition, be prepared to highlight how you’d bring some of these other soft skills to the job:

  • Innovation and creativity
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail
  • Dedication to ethical behavior
  • Customer service
  • Proactiveness
  • Ability to work without daily supervision

3. Compatibility with corporate culture

Hiring managers are looking for good chemistry, which is difficult to determine from words alone. Your challenge during the interview is to convince them you’d fit right in. You should have already researched the prospective employer before applying for the position. As you respond to interview questions, detail your understanding of the company’s values and what your own beliefs and preferences have in common with theirs. They’ll be examining your answers and weeding out those who seek a different type of workplace.

But words alone aren’t enough. To gauge whether certain people would thrive in their environment, managers notice everything about them: their clothes, body language, sense of humor and more. As part of your pre-interview prep, find out more about the company’s dress code, work style and, yes, personality. Then present yourself as to be that candidate who will fit seamlessly into their workplace culture.

4. Technical abilities

A large part of why you landed an interview is your proficiency in technical skills. Now is the time to elaborate on those skills and mention what you could do for them. You could say: “Your department uses SAP. In my current job, I spend roughly 40 percent of my time on this system for big data management and business analytics. I believe I could use my technical knowledge to optimize your supply chain and improve gross margins.” The more specific and relevant you can be, the better.

Managers spend an average of 41 minutes interviewing each candidate. As a job seeker, your challenge is to make the most of that limited time to convince prospective employers you have the necessary experience, soft and technical skills, and cultural fit to excel in that position. Use those 41 minutes well.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. For career and management advice, follow our blog at blog.roberthalf.com.

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Robert Half and its three financial divisions — Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, and Robert Half Management Resources — are the exclusive partner for financial staffing services through the AICPA Member Discount Program. Get the 2018 Salary Guide and save on specialized staffing services for your business. Click here to learn more!