How to stand out in your next job interview as a CPA

Business women talking in the officePrepare to talk about your past experience in an interview with detailed examples related to the job description (Getty Images/Pixelfit)

If you’re just starting out as a CPA or moving into a new role or industry, it’s important to know what to expect at an interview — and how to prepare. While there are certain consistent fundamentals that every applicant should keep in mind, such as: B. Showing up on time and being interested in the organization, but you also have to deal with the specifics of the position you are applying for. And as interview practices evolve over time, you also need to be up to date with current techniques.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for and shine at your next job interview.

KNOW WHAT EMPLOYERS WANT TODAY

Well before you get to the interview stage, you need to be aware of the profile employers are looking for in a CPA today. “It’s very different now,” said Irene Wiecek, FCPA, FCA, professor of accounting, department at the University of Toronto and a member of the task force that developed the new CPA Competency Map (CM2.0). “CPAs used to be more about creating order. Now everything has changed and they must learn to adapt. You should think about developing skills and competences that are transferrable to other things; not just being trained to do one thing.”

When interviewing potential hires, Wiecek looks for candidates who are comfortable with change. “I’m looking for someone who is adaptable, flexible, able to deal with ambiguity and has a broader perspective on issues such as work-life balance, environment and equity, diversity and inclusion rather than just thinking about profits.”

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Analytical skills and familiarity with technology are equally crucial, says Massimo Marinelli, managing partner of EY Canada, Talent. “CPAs aren’t just bookkeepers — in the information age, they need to use their analytical skills to understand and interpret complex data, while developing strong interpersonal skills. We actively seek candidates who bring diverse mindsets, embrace technology, collaborate and lead with curiosity to create positive impact.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Before the interview, find out what format it will be in and how many steps will be involved. And in general, the higher the position, the more extensive the process. “If it’s a very high-level position, you’ll meet multiple people in different departments in different face-to-face and online formats,” says Michael French, National Director, Client Solutions at Robert Half.

Of course, you’ll also want to do some basic research about the organization and prepare some questions, says Jennifer Mazzarolo, CPA, president of the Maverick Consulting Group. “If you’re interviewing with a private company, it can take a lot of Google searches. If it’s a public company, look at their SEDAR [System for Electronic Data Analysis and Retrieval], which includes financial statements and MD&A notes. Regardless of the industry/ownership structure, look for press releases from the last 12 to 18 months.”

Familiarize yourself with issues such as new technologies, indigenous beliefs and sustainability issues, Wiecek advises. “You have to be more aware of these things and how they affect you as an individual. There is so much information out there on these subjects. I always listen to podcasts, watch videos, and turn to other resources that can be found on LinkedIn to understand different perspectives.”

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CONTROL THE NARRATIVE

As part of your preparation, you will analyze the job description to understand where you may have skill gaps (e.g., you may lack experience managing people or handling US GAAP). “When you find a gap, you can say, ‘I haven’t done this before, but here’s what I would do,'” says Mazzarolo.

Make sure the answers are also appropriate for the interviewer. As Mazzarolo points out, financial and technical accounting issues are very different from HR issues, which typically revolve around leadership style, team dynamics and career progression.

You should be able to support your experience with detailed examples related to a job description. “Tell stories about challenges you faced — like dealing with a difficult colleague — so you can talk about how you responded,” says French. “Employers are often interested in how quickly you can get back on your feet.”

As Wiecek points out, talking about where tax rules are going may not be as important to you either. “A lot of this is or will be automated,” she says. “Talk more about stakeholders, where you see uncertainty in the future and how you would deal with it. You need to have stories to tell about trust and ethics, about information systems, your perspectives on diversity, equity and inclusion, and sustainability—topics that show how agile, curious, and ethical you are.”

PREPARE FOR THE “GOTCHAs”.

There will always be a moment when you will be asked something unusual (with the intention of throwing you off course, of course). For example, French has heard from people being asked how many gas stations there are in Toronto, or if they were at a zoo how many animals they would see.

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According to Mazzarolo, you’ll never be prepared for these types of questions, so don’t worry about how to answer ahead of time.

Marc Belaiche, CPA, President of TorontoJobs.ca agrees. “If you’re caught off guard, don’t panic – take a deep breath and ask for clarification. Consider presenting multiple options to show you can think outside the box. Just remember that with any interview, you have to expect the unexpected.”

In the end, with a solid combination of technical and people skills, an open mind, good preparation, and the ability to adapt and think quickly when needed, you should be well positioned to excel at your next interview.

As Mazzarolo puts it, “The interview is the starting price of your next job. You may not be the ideal candidate on paper, but if you pull off the interview, the job could be yours.”

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