News & Blog

Competency Questions and Accountants

  • June 20, 2016


The Finance and Accountancy team give their advice for Accountants tackling competency questions during a job interview.

Anyone familiar with interviews will have experienced competency style questions, as they are considered a standard interview technique in today’s selection processes.   At their heart is the premise that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour and interviewers specifically measure responses against the competency framework of a role to ascertain a candidate’s suitability. 

If you haven’t prepared for competency style questions as part of your interview, you can be caught off guard, regardless of the experience you’ve had to date.  You are under the glare of the spotlight, with your experience and skills being taken out and scrutinised for a role that you really want; it’s a daunting prospect irrespective of your level of seniority.

Competencies range widely dependent on company identity, and the requirements of a specific role.  If you are applying for a management accountant role as part of a large team, then understandably the competencies that you are assessed against will be vastly different than for a role in a smaller company where you may also be taking on responsibility for managing the Finance team itself.

Competencies can be broadly grouped and although will vary you should be able to expect to be assessed against:

Your approach to your work and the responsibilities it entails.  
This will include how you work independently and in a team.  In addition, your ability to prioritise, schedule your workload and manage your time will be considered alongside attention to detail.

This is a vitally important competency, regardless of the job that you do.  Whether it be dealing with clients, customers or your colleagues the manner in which you listen and tailor your communication according to the situation will be scrutinised.

If the role involves man-management, your interviewer will want to explore your ability to build and develop teams, and the successes that you’ve had in the past.  This will likely include training, mentoring and empowering through delegation, as well as managing poor performance and disciplinary abilities.

Cognitive Competencies
These will include elements such as making decisions, problem identification and solution, assessing and managing risks as well as emotional resilience. 

Preparing for a competency interview

This list isn’t exhaustive and you may be assessed against other additional criteria.  The most practical piece of preparation you can do is to revisit the job description for the role.  The demands of the role such as man-management, team work and the role scope will help you to identify the competencies most likely to be addressed.  It’s possible that the company you’re applying to will also have their own established framework beyond the role scope, on which they base their interviewing.  Ask your consultant if they are aware of what it may be when preparing for your interview; they may be able to aid you in this area.

When discussing competencies during interviews, one of the most common pieces of negative feedback that we receive about a candidate is the tendency to talk around the question asked, and not actually answer it.  It is understandable; you’re in a pressurised environment and trying to demonstrate the breadth and depth of your experience and knowledge.  However, there are techniques to keep you on track and help deliver a really good, succinct answer.

Communicating your competencies

We recommend the SOAR technique as the best method to use.  When you are describing the Scenario, Ownership,  Action, and Result, it’s essential that you become au fait with the use of “I” rather than “we”.  The focus on ownership within the SOAR technique helps to remind you that the interviewer is interested in your actions and results.

‘S’ - Scenario 
Choose a scenario that most appropriately fits the question. It could be an enquiry about your experience in a specific remit, or when you have implemented new ideas or processes, keep it relevant.  

‘O’ – Ownership  
Ensure that it is clear who took ownership of the scenario (hint: this should be you).  

‘A’ – Action
What action did you take to resolve the situation and bring about a satisfactory conclusion?  

‘R’ – Result  
How did the outcome have an effect on the company or department?  This technique will help you to formulate an answer that is succinct, lasting about two minutes, contextualised and most importantly, actually answers the question!  

Practice makes perfect

It is useful to practice using the technique in advance, but try not to fall into the trap of preparing answers to specific questions in advance.  There is a good chance that this would not actually answer the question posed in the interview.  We’ve included some questions that you might find useful to practice the technique with:

  • Tell me about a time you had difficulties with your subordinates accepting a new idea or departmental objective.  How did you overcome this?
  • Talk me through your latest budget preparation?
  • Can you give me an example of how your department implemented a strategic objective?  What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time when you have managed/been involved with a complex financial project with a tight deadline.  What was the outcome? What difficulties did you experience?  How did you overcome these?
  • Can you give an example of when a project or your team failed to meet its deadlines?  What did you do?