Stella’s wisdom on how to interview and win a job

Stella’s wisdom on how to interview and win a job

September 25, 2018 by Stella Petrou Concha

If you break out in a sweat at the mere thought of a job interview, you’re not alone – even the most qualified and experienced finance professionals out there can find them uncomfortable.

But while you’re tossing and turning the night before your interview, there are other candidates sleeping soundly. So, what’s their secret?

Understanding the job interview process and the expectations of your prospective employer is a key starting point. This allows you to be prepared, confident and set yourself up to stand out from the crowd.

No matter which finance job you are interviewing for specifically, there are certain rules and guidelines that hold true across all roles and organisations. Read on to discover 5 simple but effective tips to help you nail your next job interview and win your dream job.


1. Understand & Give Them What They Want

While on the surface it may seem like qualifications and experience are what all employers are looking for first and foremost, there’s a lot more to it than that. Of course, you need to have the skills required to do the job well, but to win a position at many of the best companies you also need to tick some other boxes.

For example, Google’s head of hiring, Laszlo Bock, once stated in an interview that while high test scores and a university education is relevant, the number one thing they look for in a potential employee is learning ability. This is followed closely by emergent leadership and humility – with expertise bringing up the tail.

Leaders at many of Australia’s top companies tell a similar story. Gareth O’Brien, Finance Director at Elgas, looks for business cognition, which he describes as the ability to “make sharp decisions specific to the key elements of the business”. He also values emotional intelligence, and defines this as “tenacity, curiosity, personal accountability, self-confidence and inner strength”.

Many other high-level employers we’ve spoken to agree, with critical thinking, perseverance, and an appetite to learn and grow all rated highly. So, what does this mean for you? To prove your emotional intelligence attributes, you’ll need to be prepared to go beyond your qualifications and experience. Have some examples up your sleeve of times you’ve shown resilience, solved problems or stepped up to lead when required – because it’s almost certain you’ll be asked.

The top critical competencies in finance are the following:

  • Problem Solver
  • Creative Thinker
  • Relationship Orientated
  • Mental Toughness
  • Curiosity
  • Passion for detail


2. Pitch Your Why, Not Your What

Discussing examples of your responsibilities and achievements is a normal part of the interview process, but you’ve likely already covered it in your resume. That’s why to really make a lasting impression, you need to go beyond the facts and share your unique “why” which I call your pitch.

So, what is your pitch? A pitch is not the “what” and the “how” of your working life; it’s not what you do day to day or how you do it. Your pitch is all about the “why”. It’s the story behind your motivation and reasons behind pursuing your path. Why have you chosen to do what you do? Which experiences have led you to this point and shaped who you have become? What drives you every day and makes you tick? Your pitch is why you do what you do.


Your pitch is why you do what you do


For example, if you’re asked to explain your current role, you could say: “I’m a Financial Controller at a large company, I’m accountable for monthly results, and I lead a team of 10.” But this alone adds nothing – and your interviewer already knows it because they’ve read your resume.

A more memorable pitch would sound something like this: “I’ve always had a passion for helping people and solving problems and working in finance allows me to have a real impact by being on the frontline of business problem management. I believe that the best finance professionals always have people at the centre of their decisions, and this has allowed me to become a successful Financial Controller. My passion for helping others and ability to solve complex problems allows me to manage highly-organised teams who are engaged in their vision”.

Sharing your pitch gives your interviewer an insight to your values, and who you are as a person. This helps them to understand not only if you’re a good fit for the role, but also if your values align with the company and their culture. Think about what drives you and makes you unique and be prepared to inject some “why” into your answers. It gives your interviewer a glimpse beyond your resume, and a reason to remember you.


3. Be a STAR – Demonstrate Your Competency and Potential

In the past, it was not uncommon for an executive position to be decided purely on a person’s CV, but this approach often led to the wrong candidate getting the job. These days interviewers are realising the importance of competency and knowledge, and your ability to demonstrate these attributes in relation to the position can be the difference between being shortlisted or not.

Convincing the interviewer that you can do the job well and have the potential to be a genuine leader of the company requires research and preparation. Start by reading up on the company to find out how it’s organised, get a feel for the culture and learn about the people, including the interviewer. Then, look closely at the job description to pinpoint the main challenges of the role, and come up with compelling and relevant ways you can address them. It’s also important to identify the leadership qualities that will see you succeed in the role and prepare some examples of times you’ve demonstrated your ability to lead in the past.

When providing examples of your competency, avoid reciting points from your resume. Instead, tell a real-life story of a specific time that you solved a problem or provided leadership, as this is far more meaningful than a stock-standard response.

A great way to formulate a well-structured and complete response to questions about leadership is to follow the STAR model, as recommended by Victoria University in Wellington:

Situation – describe a situation or problem that you have come across
Task – describe the task the situation required and your ideas for a resolution
Action – describe the leadership style you demonstrated and the obstacles you overcame
Results – highlight the outcomes your actions achieved.

A further tip is to link your examples from the past with how they can benefit the company in the future. This allows your interviewer to immediately see the value you can bring.


Be prepared to ask relevant questions in your interview

By asking relevant and thoughtful questions, you leave a positive and lasting Impression

4. Be Curious – Ask the Right Questions

It’s no secret that at some point during the interview you’ll be asked if you have any questions. While most candidates will come prepared with a question or two, they’re often not the right ones. Asking insightful questions can really set you apart. Get it right, and you’ll show that you understand the role, plus, you’ll also find out some valuable information on the company. Get it wrong, and it can be a disappointing note to end on.

Don’t waste your interviewer’s time asking questions just for the sake of it – make sure they are relevant and add value somehow. Here are some great examples of power questions that will impress:

What do you expect me to accomplish in the first three months? Six months? Twelve months? This is a great way to show you intend to hit the ground running and add value to the finance department from day one. It also gives you an insight into the expectations of the role, so you can be better prepared.

Most of our clients are looking for candidates who can learn and evaluate the unique demands of their role in the first three months, while also creating 60-day action plans around stakeholder engagement. Twelve months in, the expectation is to have you handling projects and making inroads on other KPIs.

Which behavioural attributes do the top performers at the company share? This gives you an insight into which attributes are highly valued in the finance team and the organisation in general.

There are many possible answers, from creativity to collaboration, or the ability to process change or achieve group goals. Knowing this in advance gives you an edge and shows that you want to have an impact and join those at the top.

What’s the strategic direction of the finance department for the coming year? This is a key consideration in any finance role and gives you an important glimpse of the bigger picture.

Is the department in acquisition mode or rationalising to reduce costs? Understanding if the business is in growth or rationalisation mode allows you to think about what will be needed from you outside of your daily tasks.

What keeps you at the company? Asking your interviewer this question not only gives you a little insight into the company’s culture, it also helps to create a more equal dynamic for the interview.

By asking relevant and thoughtful questions, you leave a positive and lasting impression – so put some time into coming up with some good ones. It’s also smart to prepare at least four quality questions, as there’s a chance some of them may be covered during the interview.


First impressions count - look your best for an Interview

You only get 1 chance to make a first impression, don’t ruin it.


5. Be Graceful, Punctual and Look Your Best

We’ve discussed some important tips to help you win the job – but no matter how prepared and suitable you are for the position, if you look shabby or turn up late, you’ll likely find yourself at the wrong end of the shortlist.

It seems obvious but it’s oh-so important – don’t dress down or turn up looking like you haven’t made an effort. Get organised the night before to avoid a wardrobe malfunction and give yourself time before the interview to look your best. Even if you’re applying for a position at a company with a relaxed dress code, you’re still much better off over-dressing slightly than turning up looking too casual.

It’s also critical to time your arrival, so you’re not late or too early. Allow plenty of time to get to your destination, as being late will put a big question mark on your reliability and commitment. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so don’t ruin it. Arriving too early can also be awkward – if you’re there more than 15 minutes before your interview wait in the car or find a way to occupy yourself so you’re not hovering around, as this can be disruptive.

No matter what the circumstances are surrounding your decision to seek a new position, it is never wise to criticise your current or former employers. Think about an honest but diplomatic reason for leaving the company. Being graceful is the key here, as talking negatively about your previous boss will only make your interviewer feel uneasy and worried that you’ll turn on them next.


Final Word on A Winning Finance Job Interview

It’s natural to feel nervous about a job interview – but when you understand the process and are fully prepared you can counter your nerves with confidence.

Being confident in your approach to a job interview also allows you to focus on the excitement of a potential new role, rather than feeling anxious about the interview. Your enthusiasm and positivity can then shine through, which is another big tick.

Knowing your strengths and being clear on your unique pitch, helps set you apart. Combine this with some well-chosen questions and you’ll be well on your way to a winning interview.


If you’re looking for more tips about the interview process, get in touch with our team of recruitment consultants or check out our blog!

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