What you need to know on your first job interview

Tips from five young CPAs

Most accounting graduates realize the importance of their first round of job interviews. A good job offer can set your career in motion and can help determine your future direction. But while these interviews can be nerve-wracking, they can also be a learning experience for soon-to-be-CPAs, who want to start their profession on a positive note. The following young CPAs offered anecdotes about what they wished they had known going into their early interviewing experience, and what they learned in the process:

Ask questions

Several years ago Kim Huynh, CPA, now audit senior manager for Briggs & Veselka Co., in Houston, interviewed for an accounting position at a petrochemical company. “I was ill-prepared, nervous, and wasn’t quite sure I wanted the job so it was all the right ingredients for a terrible interview,” she recalled. Huynh didn’t get the job. Lesson learned? Ask more questions in the interview, about the company’s culture, growth opportunities, training programs, or whatever else is pertinent. This way, the interviewer can determine “what really interests you, who you are, what you look for in a job, and maybe how well you might do at that company,” she said.

Practice and prepare

Five years ago Beth A. Wixom, CPA, accounting and assurance senior with BeachFleischman PC in Phoenix, vied for an internship position at a different firm from the one where she works now. “I remember hoping the interviewers couldn’t tell how much I was sweating,” she said. Wixom arrived early, dressed well, researched the company, and made eye contact—and got the job. Lesson learned? Practice for interviews, even if you don’t know which questions you’ll be asked, and do your homework about the company or firm. Plan ahead and have ready “strong responses to commonly asked interview questions,” Wixom added. “If you do, you are able to think more on your feet, and keep the flow of the interview running smoothly.”

Exude eagerness

David Machado, CPA, senior regulatory analyst with Avista Corp., in Spokane, Wash., applied for a staff auditor position seven years ago with one of the Big Four firms. He got the job offer in part by asking relevant questions, explaining how his prior experience was relevant for the new role, and “conveying an honest, self-aware presentation” of himself, he said. Lesson learned? Accounting graduates still have much to learn about firm-specific processes, such as “audit methodologies, workpaper templates, and standard practices for referencing the Accounting Standards Codification,” he said. “The most important factor in interviewing for a public accounting position as a first job is to demonstrate a self-awareness and ability to learn quickly.”

Pay attention to personality

Courtney Moore, CPA, a senior accountant at Hertzbach & Company, P.A., in Owings Mills, Md., interviewed for her first job as an intern at a public accounting firm during her sophomore year at Stevenson University. “I was way too nervous and very quiet,” she said. Despite this, the firm offered her an internship position one year later, though she did not accept as she was already working at Hertzbach & Company. Lesson learned? Be friendly, converse with interviewers and greeters, and let your character shine. “I’ve realized that an important part of the interview is getting to know the interviewer’s personality,” she said.

Realize rejection can happen for many reasons

About four years ago James Bowman, CPA, now a senior accountant for commercial real estate company The Goldstar Group, in Bethesda, Md., sat through several professional interviews. Due to extensive preparation, he made it to the second round four times and received two job offers. But one first-round meeting went sour because, in an attempt to be clever, he brought up something negative from the company’s past. “I’m guessing the interviewer felt a bit like I was interrogating him,” he said. Bowman did not receive a callback, which he later realized was attributable to the conversation and not to his lack of skills. Lesson learned? Job offer rejection does not always reflect badly on one’s abilities. Instead, it might just set you up for a great job later.

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