This past winter, we surveyed approximately 11,400 accounting professionals, asking them to tell us what it’s like to work for their firms. We asked about culture, compensation, hours, training, work/life balance, diversity, and business outlook. We also asked about the interview questions their firms are now using to weed out candidates—and below are the behavioral interview questions (along with helpful hints on how to answer them) that professionals at Big 4 firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC) who took our survey told us their firms are currently asking.
1. “Tell me about your greatest strength and weakness.” (Hint: Your greatest strength should be a requirement of the role you’re applying for, and your greatest weakness absolutely can’t be perfectionism.)
2. “Tell me about a time you demonstrated leadership.” (Get specific about the leadership actions you took in a situation and its successful outcome.)
3. “Tell me about a time you solved a difficult problem either in school or at your last job or internship.” (Ideally, this should showcase your teamwork skills and leadership experience, but if you can’t come up with a team example, a solo success is fine.)
4. “Tell me about the most challenging situation you dealt with at your last workplace.” (Similar to but slightly different than #3; this doesn’t have to be something you solved, just something you’ve dealt with—successfully!)
5. “Tell me about a time you made a difference in your community.” (This is a time to mine and show off your volunteer experience; it could be anything, not necessarily working for a nonprofit, and could date back a few years, if need be.)
6. “Tell me about a time when you had a difficult conversation.” (Not with your significant other, friends, or parents; talk about something in a workplace setting.)
7. “Tell me about a time you had to work against a tight deadline.” (Show that you’re up to the task of working on short timelines and will go the extra mile to succeed.)
8. “Tell me about a time you managed a complex project with multiple people.” (This is another leadership question—an opportunity to show off your leadership experience and teamwork skills; extra credit for relating the project to something you’d be doing in the role you’re applying for.)
9. “Tell me about a time you received negative feedback. How did you respond?” (Refrain from saying that, in the end, the feedback was unwarranted and you were in the right; this will only highlight that you might be difficult to work with and don’t handle criticism well—handling criticism well is a positive attribute, one that hiring managers are looking for in candidates.)
10. “Tell me about a time you had to give someone negative feedback? What was your approach?” (Turning the tables on #9, this question gives you the chance to show off your people skills, empathy, communication skills, and leadership skills—try to highlight all of them in your answer.)
11. “Tell me about your most successful project and why it was your most successful.” (Make it something that’s as closely related to the role you’re applying to as possible.)
12. “Tell me about a time when you've used technology to help you out on a project.” (This is your chance to show that you’re familiar with, maybe even proficient in, a program or application that will be essential to use in the role you’re applying for.)
13. “Tell me about a time when you were the leader of a group and helped to give voice to someone who wanted to share their perspective.” (A question that delves deeper into your leadership skills, mining your ability to identify team members who have a difficult time speaking up and who likely have a lot to offer; an extra-credit type of question that you shouldn’t sweat but if you can nail it, you'll have an edge on the competition.)
14. “Tell me about a time when you were working in a group and had to handle the conflicting opinions of other group members.” (Another chance to show off your leadership and teamwork skills, albeit in a slightly different way than in the questions above; here, you want to speak about your approach to difficult conversations and how you bring people together.)
15. “Tell me about the last thing you learned and how that went.” (Key traits that recruiters are looking for these days are ‘eagerness to learn’ and ‘ability to learn quickly,’ so, when answering this one, make sure to express that you love to learn, are constantly learning, can learn quickly, and then point to something you’ve learned that relates to the job you’re applying to.)
16. “Tell me about a time you had to think outside the box.” (This is testing your problem-solving ability and creativity, so make sure you speak about looking at a problem from various points of view, solving a problem, and maybe even how you enlisted others to help you solve the problem—you’ll get extra credit for highlighting your teamwork skills.)
A final note
Of course, if you want to work for a Big 4 firm, you’ll need to nail more than the above interview questions. You’ll need to nail the “Tell me about yourself” question, you’ll need to know your financial statements well, and you’ll need to be ready to answer other questions like the following (which Big 4 professionals told us their firms are also asking these days): “Tell me what’s unique about you and why it’s unique?” “What in your mind is the culture of our firm and what sets it apart from our competition?” “How do you learn best (self-study, online training, classroom training, shadowing another team member, on-the-job learning) and why?” “Tell me about the most recent book you read.”
As for that last question, you could do worse by answering with and then speaking at length about this book, which on April 15, 2021—the day Vault will be releasing its new Best Accounting Firms to Work For ranking—will be celebrating its 10th birthday (it was original published on April 15, 2011). And if you do mention the book, it would perhaps not be a stretch to say that it's the Best Novel About Accountants, Accounting, and Accounting Careers Ever Written in the English Language.
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