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Interview Best Practice – Preparing for the Interview

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The traditional interview for accounting or bookkeeper candidates is often unstructured and inconsistent. This doesn’t secure the best candidate for the job. (Robertson & Smith, 2001).  

Interviewers without training often focus on comparing candidates to previous employees or other candidates rather than evaluating essential competencies, but is this the best approach? 

Interviews can adopt formal or informal styles based on the organization and role in question. For example, a small business might interview a bookkeeper at a café instead of a formal boardroom. But research shows regardless of the environment, implementing a structured, competency-based method with thorough planning and preparation is the thing that really matters, and will improve your chance of success. 

Traditional interviews are often led by untrained interviewers, focusing on resumes/CVs with the interviewer doing 80% of the talking. 

Competency/behavioral interviews are conducted by trained interviewers, emphasizing specific candidate experiences, with the interviewer speaking only 20% of the time. 

Whether you are interviewing in person or on-line we always suggest an ideal interview panel is three people – 2 who know the role really well, and one who is trained in competency-based interviewingIf you’re using a recruiter, make sure your agreement with them includes them providing this service. If not, your HR advisor should be able to helpThis panel should then use a competency-based approach, focusing on behaviors required for the role and gathering information about candidates' actual experiences. Understanding past work performance is the best predictor of future success. As the old saying goes the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior” – and it’s true. 

Benefits of competency-based interviewing will include reducing subjectivity in evaluations, providing legal protection for you as the employer, and ensuring consistency in hiring choices. 


Key Competency Questions 

Creating competency-based interview questions involves reviewing the job description, person specification, and associated competencies. Each question should test one or more defined skills, with candidates providing examples of their behavior in specific circumstances. 

Recruitment experts Michael Page group key competency questions into five areas: 

  1. Individual Competencies - flexibility, decisiveness, tenacity, knowledge, independence, risk-taking, personal integrity.  

  2. Managerial Competencies - leadership, empowerment, strategic thinking, corporate sensitivity, project management, managerial control.  

  3. Analytical Competencies - decision-making, innovation, analytical skills, problem-solving, practical learning, attention to detail.  

  4. Interpersonal Competencies - social skills, leadership, teamwork abilities.  

  5. Motivational Competencies - drive, resilience, energy, motivation, result orientation, initiative, quality focus. 

Before interviewing shortlisted candidates, prepare around 3 or 4 relevant questions. Here are some examples of interview questions that explore a candidate’s key competencies:  

Give me an example of where you have upheld these standards when they were challenged by a client or colleague. 

Find an example of where you needed to voice your opinion in the face of strong opposition from colleagues or your manager. 

Describe how you go about planning and organizing your workload to ensure that you meet the quality standards and deadlines required by financial reporting legislation 


Follow up these initial questions to probe deeper into the candidate's examples. Assess their answers on a scale of 0-3 to determine their skill level and gauge their strengths, weaknesses, and attitude towards tasks.  Beware candidates may have prepared initial responses to competency based questioning, so these follow on questions will expose any holes in their story. 



About the Authors

Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.  

Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.

Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers. 

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