You can get everything else right but if you mess up the interview, you won’t get the job. So here are a couple of pointers that could make all the difference.

PREPARATION:

> Prepare for the interview. Do not try and wing it! A little preparation can make all the difference. The interview is a process to assess your presence and your ability to handle yourself. Don’t forget that it is a sales presentation and you are the product. Sell yourself!

    > Make sure that, if there is anything interesting in your personal life, it is on your CV under Personal Interests and Hobbies. This could result in some interest from the interviewer and give you a chance to talk about something that you really enjoy.  For example, competitive sport participation, charitable work or an interesting hobby. This lightens the atmosphere and gives you an opportunity to relax a little. (Watching videos/sport and reading novels do not qualify!).

> Check on the dress code of the company. Call reception and ask before hand. Is it tie and jacket or jeans and T-Shirt? Being over/under dressed is your failure in attention to detail.

> Read up about the company on the internet so that you have a basic understanding of its products and reach. Look at the published financials and see if you can identify the business risks – do they carry large amounts of stock, are fixed assets material, do they import etc? You might want to think about how IFRS would apply. 

> Be prepared to answer questions like:

–  What are your strengths and weaknesses?

–  What was your greatest achievement in your last job?

–  What would your employer say was your best quality?

–  What would they say irritated them most about you?

–  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

> Always take a few copies of your CV to the interview. It makes you look professional and practical.

THE INTERVIEW:

> Never underestimate the competency of the interviewer.  You may find yourself faced with a young person who may appear to know little about CA’s. Usually they know exactly what they are looking for. Ignoring this could make you look arrogant and self-serving.

> Shake hands with a gentle firmness. A strong handshake could be offensive and a limp one disconcerting. Take the middle road.

> Look at each person in the eyes and smile. This starts the connection process. If you look away you give a shifty and distrustful impression.

> Sit with your back straight with one arm on the desk and leaning forward. This makes you look bright and interested. Sprawling out leisurely could make you look laid back and flippant.

> If you feel yourself getting anxious, breathe deeply. This settles the cortisol in the system and gets the serotonin flowing again. Take a sip of water.

> Time is of the essence – people, especially executives, are under extreme time pressure. Get to the point quickly and don’t ramble on.

> Always assume that the interviewer has not read your CV properly (usually the case with executives – not so much with HR). When asked “So tell me about yourself” always start with your qualifications. Don’t give too much detail. For example “I’m a CA(SA) MBA”. Give the institutions that you qualified at if they are strong. Otherwise let the interviewer ask – don’t volunteer. Never mention academic failures unless you are asked the question. You’re a CA – that’s good enough! If you had a bit of a bumpy ride getting there, you don’t need to advertise it.

> Get straight into your work history starting with your current position and moving backwards. Begin with your status on the organizational chart and the number of your direct reports.

> Focus on your management skills. Task-driven stuff is not as valuable as supervision and management. If you don’t have any direct reports, focus on your ability to get others to do things for you. If you are coming out of the auditing profession remember that,even as a supervisor, you probably ran teams of professional staff, were accountable for deadlines, dealt with the client at CFO level and interacted with your firm’s up-line (partner, manager or director). These are all important bits of information that define your management abilities and maturity. Putting it across confidently will give you a big advantage.

> Avoid talking negatively about previous bosses or colleagues. It could create the impression that you are a difficult person or you are covering up something. If you had been retrenched from your previous job rather say you took a package. It sounds better and is not a lie – it’s putting your best foot forward and will make you feel better about yourself.

> Never lie!

> Always show yourself in the best possible light – let the interviewer assess you rather than you assessing yourself. A good example of this is, when you are asked about whether you have worked on a particular computer package, instead of saying ‘no’, rather say “When it comes to financial systems I know what I’m looking for (balance sheet, income statement, by division by company and consolidated, variance to budget, month by month,year on year) . In my experience I have worked on a number of different computer packages and they are all very similar –  they usually have user friendly menus designed for the average employee to find their way around the system easily. Accordingly, as a CA, I can get my head around any system quite quickly”.

> Stress your character traits. In a recent survey senior executives were asked what the most important attribute was for an executive. Most respondents voted good character traits above all else. Examples of these are attention to detail , meeting deadlines, reliability, trustworthiness, loyalty, etc. These can be highlighted by pointing out how these attributes were apparent in your previous job. This gives the interviewer some ammunition when approaching your previous boss for references.

    > Your body language is a dead bust – it can contradict what you are saying. Some of the things to avoid are folding your arms, slouching or sagging facial features. All these indicate that you lack confidence. This will worry the interviewer. Be aware of yourself at all times!

You could be asked if you have any questions about the job or the company. Be ready to ask a few intelligent ones. This highlights your astuteness and maturity.

>  Get a time-line on when you can expect to get feedback from the interviewer. Again this reflects sharpness and an assertive disposition.

Never forget that, as a CA, you have the best all-round  business qualification. If you stand solidly behind this, you will always come across well.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW:

     >   Wait for the time-line to pass before making any further contact. In addition know that executives are busy and it requires some focused time for them to go through all the CV’s and decide who gets on the shortlist. Don’t get despondent. Be patient and do not nag!

Good luck and happy hunting.

 

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