Interview advice for prospective trainees

There is always that one interview that sticks with you; the one that you later replay in your head to figure out what you did wrong. For me, it was an interview at a firm where each partner appointed their own trainees. This was fine, the building made a good first impression and the receptionist was very friendly. Unfortunately, that is where my good experience ended … The partner was 15 minutes late for the interview and when I walked into his office, he barely looked up from his phone to greet me and started with the typical “So, tell me more about yourself”. While I was talking, he answered his cell phone cutting me off mid-sentence. and spent the remainder of the interview texting. Needless to say, I walked out and knew I would never see them again.

You always think you were dealt a bad hand and hope others have not gone through the same experience, but the truth is horror interview stories are more common than you think.

Here are some of the situations prospective trainees (with and without their degrees) were faced with during interviews and how you can swiftly handle them with ease:

  • Trainees were requested to provide the journals for various transactions. Well, on a normal day it would take a trainee a while to write down journal entries and you would probably need a pen and paper because you are being put on the spot. Take a deep breath and draw the T-accounts you need for the transaction; it will help clear your mind and see the journals you need to process.
  • One is often asked about previous work experience and how you would like to be managed. As a prospective trainee, this would often be your first job and the only management you know would be your mom telling you what to do. This can be an awkward question to answer, but try to avoid words like “chilled”, “laid back” and “cool” which often creep in you are not quite sure of your answer.
  • Performing a reconciliation seems pretty simple, but if you are required to perform or explain a reconciliation during an interview, do ask the interviewer for a pen and paper. It is often easier to explain something that is in front of you rather than trying to save face and confusing yourself with what you are comparing to what, which often ends up with you mumbling a bunch of words that do not make sense.
  • Giving a definition during an interview can be intimidating. As a student you always have a textbook to consult if you are asked for a definition in an assessment situation and remembering it on the spot can be quite tricky. Be honest with the interviewer, tell him/her that you cannot provide them with a precise definition but that you can tell them what its function is or how it is used.

Interview jitters always play a role, when you are so nervous that you cannot remember basic answers to standard questions and when you walk out the interview you start wondering how you messed up that answer.

Some interviewers will also use reverse psychology on you by asking which questions you thought they would ask you and then asking you those same questions, catching you off guard and unprepared. If this happens, remember that you did prepare these answers. Take a moment and then respond; do not get panicky.

Everyone likes a little bit of humour in an uncomfortable situation, so if the interviewer tries to break the ice (hopefully, that’s the purpose of the question) by asking you how you would count the fish in the ocean, you should laugh a little …

If you are faced with a challenging question, be it personal or technical, take a moment to think about your answer before blurting out random words. The interviewer will understand; they are human too and have been where you are now.

The purpose of an interview should not be to test your knowledge, but rather to determine whether you will fit in with the culture of the firm and get along with the other team members. It should allow you to get to know the firm a little more and to establish if you would be a good fit.

A training centre can teach you what they need to know: do not stress too much about impressing them with your knowledge and rather focus on establishing “is this where I want to be the next few years?”.

Quote: Interview jitters always play a role, when you are so nervous that you cannot remember basic answers to standard questions and when you walk out the interview you start wondering how you messed up that answer.

AUTHOR │ Chantal Potgieter AGSA, Registered Tax Practitioner, BComp Acc Science, is Audit Manager at Diastoleus Professio Incorporated