10 competencies employers want to see at interview

As the experts in the niche area of UK practice accountancy recruitment, our team support hundreds of clients to find the accountants that they are looking for at every level in every part of the UK. So, inevitably we’re perfectly placed to identify any key themes or requirements that accounting firms are looking for in their new recruits.

Today, we wanted to highlight the core additional competencies that we notice most hiring managers want to know about, alongside practical examples of how you can showcase them in an interview setting.

Here’s our top 10 competencies that employers want to see at interview.

1. Teamwork

A major risk that accompanies every new hire is bringing in a personality that rocks the boat and causes problems in a team that is otherwise high performing and settled. With this in mind, teamwork is a really important skill and a competency that employers need to see demonstrated at interview.

To show that you are a team-worker, make sure that some of the examples of success  that you offer out at interview refer to team wins. Using the word ‘I’ too often might ring alarm bells for some employers. Though they will undoubtedly want to know that you’re a capable independent professional, they will want to hear a few examples of ‘we’ when you talk about your professional achievements.

2. Communication

This one is critical. Particularly in the finance sector where some professionals are highly technically astute but don’t perform so well when it comes to communication. Be sure to showcase examples of times you’ve excelled at public speaking, leading or contributing to meetings or pitches and when you’ve used your verbal or written communication skills to improve a situation with a client or a colleague.

If you’re adept at online communication and have any examples of writing articles or contributing to the firm’s marketing efforts, ensure you shoehorn them in to your interview too.

3. Flexibility

Managing a team is never black and white and hiring managers will be attracted to candidates who can demonstrate that they can be flexible in their approach and adapt to working on different projects and with different clients. So, showcasing examples of when you’ve been able to pivot and respond in a flexible way to changes in your workload or working systems will stand you in good stead at interview.

4. Decision making.

Great firms usually have plenty of great thinkers in their workforce. Knowledge and technical ability is so important, but if those skills are not backed up by the ability to make good, well thought through decisions, hiring managers can be concerned that progress will be slow.

At interview showcase examples of when you’ve been faced with a difficult professional decision and demonstrate how you ensure you were well equipped to make that decision and that you made it in a timely manner.

5. Accountability

Intrinsically linked to decision making, accountability is a core competency. Great employers don’t expect their staff to make the right decision every time. But knowing when to call time on your decision, admit that it might not have been the right one and reassess the direction of travel is a really important skill to master. No-one enjoys working with a colleague, junior team member or manager who shirks responsibility and passes the buck. With that in mind, when you’re in an interview, don’t be afraid to talk about your mistakes, how you learned from them and how you went about putting them right.

6. Conflict resolution

Employers know that a mix of different personalities and working styles can lead to conflict so it will be important to them to learn that potential new recruits are competent in conflict resolution. Depending on the level of the role you’re interviewing for you might want to offer examples of when you’ve worked with clients or colleagues in spite of a conflict and perhaps how you resolved it. If it’s senior level roles you’re interviewing for, you’ll want to offer examples of how you’ve managed complaints or difficult staffing situations that led to conflict.

7. Calm under pressure

Most employers will be attracted to staff who are cool, calm and collected and don’t succumb to feeling overwhelmed. Ensure you showcase a time where you’ve dealt with an unexpected source of pressure and let your interviewer know that you’re able to demonstrate all of the competencies we’re discussing today, even when you’re up against the clock, a big workload or under pressure from a client.

8. Prioritisation

Following on from being calm under pressure, when your workload heats up, the hiring managers who are interviewing you will want you to demonstrate that you’re able to see the wood for the trees and that you’ll approach the most pressing parts of your workload first. Showcasing that you can oversee workflow and are able to recognise critical deadlines and the impact of a delay to different areas of service delivery will stand you in good stead to win the job.

9. Positive approach

Though we’re all only human, on the whole, employers want to hire upbeat, energetic people who are motivated to succeed and make a difference. Positivity is infectious and can be showcased at interview both via your verbal communication and also in your body language and how you respond to social cues. So, make sure you’re sitting up straight, smiling lots and  offering out the warm and dynamic side of your personality at interview.

10. Creativity

As a manager, there’s nothing worse than being the only one in the room who offers out ideas or shares a different viewpoint on how something might be done. So when and if you’re asked at interview if you have any questions or observations, use this as an opportunity to showcase the creative side of your brain. Be inquisitive and offer out observations in a helpful and constructive way.

‘If you approach an interview in public practice with the viewpoint that your mathematical prowess will stand you out from the crowd, you’ll likely be disappointed. If you’re interviewing as a future leader, you’ll need to demonstrate plenty of additional soft skills. And if you’re interviewing as a junior member of staff, your potential to become more than just a cog in the wheel that spews out accounts will be a big part of your hireability, so make sure you’re ready to show how competent you are in the top ten areas.’

Garry Howling, Managing Director

Supporting our candidates with interview prep is a big part of the service that we provide at Public Practice Recruitment Ltd and it comes totally free of charge. If you want to ramp up your search for a new role in practice with a team of cheerleaders supporting you to secure the very best jobs and rewards, make sure you’re working with the best and contact us today. 


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