We've gathered together the questions you're most likely to be asked in an interview for an internship or graduate role in audit at a professional services firm - and we've even given you ideas for answers to some of them too.
Remember you'll also need to be prepared for the questions that employers in any sector might ask - for example, ones about your professional experience, strengths and weaknesses, and aspirations.
Your time at university
1. What have you learnt from your studies and extra-curricular activities that can be applied to a career in audit?
Careers in audit are open to graduates from all degree disciplines, so don't worry if you haven't studied maths or a business-related course at university.
Firms look for candidates with good numeracy skills, strong teamwork and communication skills, willingness to learn, and the ability to build relationships with clients. Use your academic experience, part-time work and participation in clubs and societies to demonstrate that you've developed these skills.
2. How do you structure your time at university?
Your motivation for working in audit
3. Why do you want to work in audit?
If you really want the job you're applying for, plenty of reasons will spring to mind.
It could be that you're keen to get an inside look at the country's top companies by studying their accounts; that you'd like the opportunity to visit client sites and build long-term relationships with them; or that you're eager to study for a professional qualification while getting hands-on experience on the job.
Whatever it is that excites you about working in audit, make sure you show that you've done some research and understand what the job involves, and that you can explain why it appeals to you.
Learn more from our article Why you should consider working in audit, which includes an interview with a partner at KPMG.
4. What have you done to learn about audit?
5. Why have you applied to this sector team?
6. Why do you want to work in this location?
You may have applied to work in a specific location, in which case you'll probably be asked why.
It might be because you'll be able to save money by living with your parents - it's fine to mention your personal reasons, but try to show that you've had a closer look at the office in question too. Perhaps it works with some clients that particularly interest you, or you may have met some of the team members at a recruitment event and got on well with them.
Your understanding of a job in audit
7. What do you think you'll be doing on a day-to-day basis during your first year at the firm?
Your interviewers want you to show that you've done your research into a career at the firm and have a good understanding of what a graduate role in audit involves.
This means you need to know what kind of projects you'll be working on and what sort of tasks you'll be responsible for, who you'll be reporting to, where your work will be carried out – at your firm's office or on client sites – and how much of your time will be spent studying at college.
8. What do you know about the ACA qualification?
To help you learn about what the ACA qualification involves, we've interviewed a senior financial accountant about her experiences of studying for the ACA.
9. How do you feel about balancing work and study?
Your understanding of the firm
If you're interviewing at a 'big four' firm, learn about their similarities and differences by reading The Big Four: meet the world's top accounting firms.
10. What do you know about the firm?
11. What other firms have you applied to, and why?
12. Why do you want to work for a Big Four firm?
13. Why do our clients keep coming back to us?
Interviewers want to see that you understand how the firm is successfully servicing its clients.
In your answer you should touch on what the firm does differently to its competitors, the strong relationship-building skills held by people at the firm, and the services it offers clients in addition to audit.
Your core competencies
14. Tell me about a time when you solved a difficult problem.
Competency questions come up in interviews for all kinds of graduate roles, but they're particularly important to positions in audit. This is because your interviewers probably won't expect you to have a detailed understanding of the audit process so instead will be looking for a number of core competencies to show you have the potential to do well in the job.
The skills interviewers will look for include teamwork, leadership, problem-solving, adaptability and judgement. Make sure you have examples of times when you demonstrated these competencies to hand, and practise answering competency questions using the STAR method, outlining the Situation, Task, Action and Result.
15. Tell me about a time when you used initiative to improve a way of doing things.
16. Tell me about a time when you were working towards a deadline, and the parameters were unexpectedly changed.
Your understanding of the business world
17. Identify three key challenges faced by a business you're familiar with.
18. What solutions would you suggest to address these challenges, and how would you accomplish the desired outcome?
19. Can you discuss any recent developments that have affected the firm and the audit industry?
It's important to demonstrate that you have broad commercial awareness and keep up to date with developments in the business and financial press, but you should also be prepared to show that you're following the audit industry specifically and be ready to discuss it in detail.
The Big Four professional services firms have been criticised for failing to spot, or warn about, the global financial crisis, and their practices are also facing scrutiny from British and European regulators who say there's not enough competition among auditors. Make sure you're able to discuss these issues, and their impact on firms in the industry.
20. What stories in the financial press have interested you recently?
The first article in this series of two on Paper P7 case study questions discussed question style, what to look for in the requirements, how higher-level skills are tested, and the meaning of professional marks within a question requirement. This second article goes through part of a typical Section A case study question, applying the recommended approach described in the previous article. This approach comprises four stages.
STAGE 1 – UNDERSTANDING THE REQUIREMENT
The first thing to do is to read and fully understand the question requirement. Here is the requirement we will be looking at in this article:
‘Prepare a report, to be used by a partner in your firm, in which you identify and evaluate the professional, ethical, and other issues raised in deciding whether to accept the appointment as provider of an assurance opinion as requested by Petsupply Co.’ (12 marks)
Note: this requirement includes two professional marks.
Having read the requirement, break it down. You are asked to do two things:
- identify, ie state from the information provided
- evaluate, ie discuss from a critical point of view.
The requirement asks you to consider ‘professional, ethical, and other issues’. This could cover a wide range of considerations, such as:
- ethics: independence, competence, conflicts of interest, confidentiality, assessing integrity
- professional issues: the risk profile of the work requested, the fee – and whether it is sufficient to compensate for high risk, availability of staff, managing client expectations, logistical matters such as timing, legal and regulatory matters – such as money laundering, and (in some cases) obtaining professional clearance
- other issues: whether the work ‘fits’ with the commercial strategy of the audit firm, the potential knock-on effect of taking on the work – such as the impact on other clients, or on other work performed for this client.
You are asked to produce a report, so remember that the professional marks available will be awarded for using the correct format, the use of professional business language, and for presenting your comments as a logical flow culminating in a conclusion.
From reading the requirement, you know that the question scenario will be based on a potential assurance assignment and will be broadly based around acceptance issues.
STAGE 2 – READING THE SCENARIO
When reading through the detail of the scenario, you should now be alert to information relevant to this requirement. Highlight important points that you think are relevant to the scenario and remember to focus on issues that could affect your acceptance of a potential assurance assignment.
Now read the following extract from the scenario and highlight the salient points – remember to look out for any factors relevant to the ethical, professional, and other issues described above.
Extract: You are a senior manager in Dyke & Co, a small firm of Chartered Certified Accountants, which specialises in providing audits and financial statement reviews for small to medium-sized companies. You are responsible for evaluating potential assurance engagements, and for producing a brief report on each prospective piece of work to be used by the partners in your firm when deciding whether to accept or decline the engagement. Dyke & Co is keen to expand the assurance services offered, as a replacement for revenue lost from the many small‑company clients choosing not to have a statutory audit in recent years. It is currently May 2007.
Petsupply Co has been an audit client of Dyke & Co for the past three years. The company owns and operates a chain of retail outlets selling pet supplies. The finance director of Petsupply Co recently communicated with your firm to enquire about the provision of an assurance report on data provided in the Environmental Report published on the company’s website. The following is an extract from the e-mail sent to your firm from the finance director of Petsupply Co:
‘At the last board meeting, my fellow directors discussed the content of the Environmental Report. They are keen to ensure that the data contained in the report is credible, and they have asked whether your firm would be willing to provide some kind of opinion verifying the disclosures made. Petsupply Co is strongly committed to disclosing environmental data, and information gathered from our website indicates that our customers are very interested in environmental matters. It is therefore important to us that Petsupply Co reports positive information which should help to retain existing customers, and to attract new customers. I am keen to hear your views on this matter at your earliest convenience. We would like verification of the data as soon as possible.’
You have looked at Petsupply Co’s Environmental Report on the company website, and found a great deal of numerical data provided, some of which is shown below in Table 1.