Research hours can pay off

Q: In a job interview last week, I was pushed quite hard by the employers on the question of what I knew about the company. The business in question is a reasonably large supplier of products to the business sector. I was surprised that they seemed to think I should know all about their product lines and target markets? (Joe, email)

Without being there, I can’t adjudicate fully on the level of information they were seeking – but, as a general rule, candidates should expect to display quite a bit of knowledge about the company.

Look at this from the employer’s side. She says: “I am going to pay this person €40,000 a year. That’s my money, hard-earned. I’m putting my money on the table, are they showing enough interest to convince me to pass that money onto them. One way of finding out is by testing the amount of research they have done into us.”

Employers expect that you will have researched. They will expect you to have read their website in great detail. They will expect you to have talked to a current or former staff member. They may even expect you to have spoken to one or two of their customers.

Anywhere you can obtain vital information on the business, do so.

In the interview, you should be able to talk about recent or planned innovations in the business. “I see you have recently added blue widgets to the brown line that has been such a winner for you,” you could say, “how are the blue ones going for you?”

In virtually all cases these days, research is much easier than it once was. A quick trip to Google reveals so much. Make that trip: it’s the least they will expect.


Q: I have worked as an accountant in an accountancy practice. I am now trying to make the transition to industry but feel my inexperience will go against me? (Mary, email)

Perhaps you need to look at your accountancy practice experience in a different light. In practice, you would have dealt with a wide variety of businesses. You were not dedicated to just one: you did blocks of work for clients.

In industry, you will be dedicated to just one client. You will eat, sleep and drink the business: you will move from being a third-party, out-of-house service provider to being part of the management team.

You may feel this represents a major transition for you, but we would argue that in your practice work, you gained a wide range of experience that you can now bring to one specific business. And, while you were not dedicated to one client, you did have a deep concern for all of your clients: you were incentivised to help the business of each client to prosper.

In interview, you should talk about all you’ve learned that can apply to the industry role. Talk about your ability to analyse monthly, quarterly or annual accounts for possible cost savings. Explain how you have experience of comparing costs across a sector and identifying where your clients are paying over and above the industry average.

Say that you look forward to the opportunity to immerse yourself in one business/sector, so that you can become expert in that area. Yes, the role you are seeking will attract applications from accountants with more experience of working in that very sector, but the skills you picked up in practice are transferrable. Say that you’re a quick learner and that you will adapt quickly to the nuances of the sector.

Most of all, we would urge you to keep talking about the value you will bring to the business: and the reality for most businesses these days is that the company accountant’s role is to find ways of saving money.

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