Financial Controllers - 3 Top tips on how to prepare for an interview
For the purpose of this article, I’m going to assume that, as a candidate preparing for an interview, you have made what I would consider to be the “basic preparations". That is to say:
You have decided upon an appropriately smart outfit (double check with your recruiter on the exact dress code if they’re a particularly casually dressed office, but if in doubt, dress smartly).
You have extensively googled the location of your interview, including your route, find the location fifteen minutes before your interview and grab a coffee to ensure you're on time.
You have extensively researched the business on their website, their LinkedIn profile and their companies house profile.
You have researched your interviewer[s] on LinkedIn. This allows you to see if you have anything in common with your interviewers (great conversation starter if you have the same hometown) and also sends the interviewer a notification showing that you have viewed their profile, which gives them an indication that you have done your interview research.
Now that you have the basics covered, you can start preparing for what is actually going to make you stand out during that interview, giving you an advantage over other candidates.
1) Establish what they’re looking for
You need to know what they're looking for so that you can make the focal point of the interview drawing parallels between your skill set and their desired skill set. If you are interviewing through a recruiter, this should be made easier. Your recruiter will likely have met the client (we meet all of our clients) and will know what value the business wants this role to bring, what specific projects the client wants the successful candidate to be getting involved in, and what strengths and skill set they're looking to be demonstrated during the interview.
If your recruiter hasn't already discussed this with you, ask. Get a phone call booked in with your recruiter the day before the interview (once you've already prepared your own research on the business) to talk through any remaining questions that you might have and to run through the information that you won't necessarily find on a website.
2) Prepare your quantifiable achievements
I've so often had candidates whom I've interviewed who haven't prepared any quantifiable achievements to discuss with me in our meeting. It's virtually impossible to market a candidate into a role when they can't even demonstrate to me what value they've brought in a previous role, never mind to the person who will ultimately be paying their wage.
Listing your responsibilities will not set you apart from the crowd. Listing favourable yet unquantifiable traits (e.g. I'm extremely trustworthy) without specific evidential examples will not set you apart from the crowd.
Prepare by considering what change you've implemented in previous businesses. What did you alter to make the business run smoother or to make the business more profitable? Examples might include:
System implementations. Be detailed but succinct. What problems arose? How did you solve those problems? What positive effect did this have on the business?
Did the business grow during your time with them? How did you accommodate for this?
Did you reassess the commission structure to make it more profitable/appropriately incentivise consultants?
What did you change about the management information that was being delivered to the business? How did this affect the business? How long did it take to be produced?
Have you been involved in the opening of offices, opening into new service lines, opening into new geographies?
How did the cashflow improve whilst you were there? How?
What business partnering have you been involved with? Who with? What effect did this have on the business?
Has the business been through a transaction in your time there? An acquisition, a merger, a sale? What was your involvement?
What responsibilities have you gained in your time with the business?
What was the retention like in your team? Did members of your team qualify and still remain with the business? Did you streamline your team? What training did you implement with the finance team?
What relationship did you create between the finance team and the sales team? How?
Consider your quantifiable achievements and make parallels between what you've achieved and what they're looking for.
3) Know the questions you're going to ask
There's a two-pronged approach to this. Firstly, you want to ask the questions that will reflect you in a good light. Secondly, you want to ask the questions that will allow you to interview them.
If someone was very successful in this role, what would they have achieved after a year? (Draw parallels between their answer and what you've previously achieved)
What is the culture of the business like? (it's important that you not only find this out but also express an interest in it)
What is the 3-5 year business plan?
What are your main problems your face in your finance function currently?
If you're taking the time (and expense) of attending an interview, you ought to give yourself the best fighting chance. So do your research, do your preparation and make sure you arrive on time and in good nick.
On the bright side, once you've established your quantifiable achievements they can be fairly transferable to most interviews you attend!
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