Quantifiable differences between chartered accountancy firms are often found on the basis of size rather than between individual firms. In general, the Big Four offer more international opportunities, household-name clients, more structured training, the chance to specialise in particular industries … Smaller firms usually market themselves on factors such as greater client contact, greater variety of work (shorter audits at smaller clients), early responsibility, work-life balance, friendliness and smaller audit teams. In the end, graduates often choose between similar types of firm on the basis of the company culture and atmosphere, which often boils down to which of them seemed the friendliest at interview!
The interviewer will have expected you to have done your research on the firm – not just reading the careers section of their website but looking at the pages for clients, press releases etc. You should also look in the general business press for mentions of larger firms. Factors you could mention include:
Questions like this are testing your general interest in business and finance and your commercial awareness. You will be expected to come up with stories from the political, finance or other specialist sections of the papers that may be relevant to the firm or its clients.
Make sure that you read a quality newspaper regularly so that you are up to date with current business and financial affairs (One of the Big Four firms asks interviewees if they read the Financial Times). Try not to side with a particular opinion. Do not be party political! You should aim to provide a balanced assessment of a topic of interest to you. Explain why it interests you. Be prepared for follow-up questions.
The obvious answer would be careers in banking and insurance and other finance areas, but it is OK to mention any career here as long as you can argue your case effectively e.g. by demonstrating that the skills required are similar to those of an accountant.
Interviewers will be looking for evidence that you have analyzed your skills and interests in a logical manner when coming to a career decision, and also for signs of your commitment to accountancy.
However, in an interview you do not HAVE to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you admit to also applying for highly-competitive areas such as journalism or the Diplomatic Service, the interviewer is likely to assume that accountancy is your second choice. Similarly, you might find the interviewer challenging your interest in business if you said that social work or nursing was also an option.
Questions like this are designed to bring out evidence of the qualities that you have which you will need to do the job. Be very well prepared with examples of situations where you have used these skills. If you have answered a few demanding graduate application forms, you will have come across most of these questions and prepared answers.
Other situations which are frequently asked about include the following:
Give an example of when you:
* Planned something.
* Took on responsibility.
* Led a team.
* Had to cope with pressure.
* Dealt with an unreasonable person.
* Had to make a difficult decision?
* Used initiative
* Influenced others.
* Solved a problem.
Before your interview think through everything you have done in the last five years and try to find at least one example which fits each of these situations.
Don't worry if your examples are not earth-shattering, as long as they give some evidence for possessing the quality in question.
You can answer these questions by first describing the SITUATION and/or TASK you had to achieve, then the ACTION you took in the situation and finally the RESULT or outcome. Some interviews consist almost entirely of these types of questions, in which case the order of the interview is set in advance with a standard list of questions. Even more so than usual answer questions honestly - honesty is essential in the job!
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