Accountants as Salespeople: 5 Tips for Acing the Interview

 Businessman hand offering handshake

As IMA’s senior vice president of operations and CFO, I interview candidates for many positions in our organization, including our open accounting/finance positions. Over the years, I’ve realized that the most successful candidates for any job approach the interview the way a strong salesperson handles an important opportunity.

Like a salesperson landing the deal of a lifetime, you will have to “pitch” the technical skills on your résumé—your credentials, expertise with software, and ability to produce results—during an interview for an accounting position. Here are some practical tips that can give you a competitive edge.

 

1. Be polite to the receptionist.

He or she is the first of many “gatekeepers” you’ll meet. You’ll probably need to show the receptionist or security personnel your ID—so don’t leave your wallet in the car! Making a good impression on the receptionist won’t guarantee you a position with the firm, but if the receptionist doesn’t like you, others will hear about it, and your chances will be diminished.

 

2. Be on time for the interview.

Happy business woman showing clock

Effective salespeople are never late to an important meeting. In fact, you should be a half hour early, and be gracious. The HR representative will insist that you fill out an application before anyone talks to you. Most companies use a form that asks for information not on your résumé, including salary history and reasons for leaving your previous positions.

Sometimes applicants with strong résumés balk at the application form—they want to go straight to the meeting with the executive team. This raises red flags; the last thing a firm wants is to hire a prima donna at any level.

 

3. Be accurate, thorough, and neat with the application form.

The form is a window into how well-organized you are and how neatly and accurately you’ll handle the reporting responsibilities of the Finance team. A recruiter once told me that whenever he was interviewing for controller positions he would walk the candidate to his or her car and take a peak inside. If the car were full of piles of junk, he wouldn’t present the candidate. Every salesperson knows that neatness counts. This is particularly true if you’re trying to land a job in accounting.

 

4. Prepare for the interview.

interviewGreat salespeople invest in preparation for their meetings. The most important question I ask applicants is, “What would you like to know about our organization?” This is an invitation to engage in a dialogue and to demonstrate the work the candidate has done to prepare for the interview.

The people with the best questions are those who have researched the history of IMA, the CMA program, our global membership network, and our products and services. A thoughtful compliment about our website goes a long way. People who have clearly spent time preparing for the interview, looking at the website, and thinking about questions they’d like to ask have the curiosity and drive we want on our team.

 

5. Ease awkward situations to establish rapport.

The best salespeople are as good at listening as they are at speaking. Once you’ve made it to the interview, you may realize that the hiring manager lacks interviewing skills. Don’t be judgmental; have compassion. He or she may be new to the role or may experience so little turnover on the team that interviewing opportunities are rare.

Also, many hiring managers find the interviewing process very stressful. If there are awkward pauses or if the interviewer runs out of questions for you, here is another salesperson’s tip: people love to talk about themselves. Ask questions about the interviewer’s own career path. Try to find out what motivates him or her and what challenges are trying to be solved. The goal is to establish rapport. Then you can turn back the conversation to the ways you can solve the interviewer’s challenges.

 

Sealing the Deal

Hiring managers are inundated with applications every time they post a job opening. If you are fortunate enough to make it through the initial screening process to get an interview, these 5 tips will increase your chances of landing the job. Only after incorporating these tips can you effectively “pitch” your product and close the deal by showing how your unique skills and abilities are the perfect fit.

 

Written by Doreen Remmen, CMA, CAE

 

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The Elevator (Pitch) of Success

An “elevator pitch” is a short 30- to 60-second sales pitch for your business, your product, or yourself. The term derives from the image of meeting someone in an elevator and having to sell them on your product or yourself in the time it takes for the elevator to get to the next stop. It’s especially important for students and recent graduates to craft their own personal elevator pitch before they enter the workforce and know how to use it throughout their career.

Create ItBusinessman hand touching going up sign on lift control panel
Start off by writing down the goal of your elevator pitch, basic background information about yourself, and what characteristics give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. This shouldn’t be more than 100 words long. Here’s a sample elevator pitch that I might have used many years ago:

“Hi, my name is Dennis Whitney. I’m currently studying finance at Fordham University. I really enjoy the analytical nature of finance, but I also like to write. My professors have encouraged me to look into an internship at a financial publication or finance-related not-for-profit organization. I would love an opportunity to use my knowledge of accounting and finance, as well as my strong analytical and writing skills. If you know of any such opportunities, please let me know. Here’s my business card.”

Practice It
After you’ve organized your thoughts, practice your speech verbally in front of someone. Your family and friends can help you identify what’s good and what needs improvement. As you progress through your career, you’ll become better at writing your pitch and speaking more comfortably in front of people. Outlining it on paper allows you to think about the details before verbally practicing it. You don’t necessarily have to memorize the speech, but you should memorize the outline: introduction, skills and interests, what you want, and why. Also, be flexible. You might want to customize what you say depending on who you meet in the “elevator.”

Professionals use elevator pitches in their day-to-day work. Whether your boss asks you to pitch a new product to the team or go to a trade show to acquire new clients, you will always need an elevator pitch to help you along the way.

iStock_000011097997_MediumUse It
Once you’ve created and practiced your elevator pitch, you can use it nearly anywhere. In-person events are the best place to use your pitch, since your passion and the first impression you make play a large role in how your pitch is perceived. Using it online or on your résumé might not be as impactful. Recent college graduates looking for their first job can use it to promote themselves at a job fair, networking event, or even the supermarket to build contacts. And no matter what industry you decide to work in, you’ll use elevator pitches throughout your career – whether you realize it or not!

It has been said that it only takes seven seconds to make a good first impression. Make them count by dressing professionally, making eye contact, and being respectful, and don’t forget to smile.

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE
Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

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