How to Handle Behavioural Questions In Your Next Tax Interview

Published over 1 year ago by Emma P


So you've got your next tax interview in the bag. 
But now you're looking at the interview, and notice the behavioural component. You're pretty sure you can ace that section, but it'd be good to have that rock-solid confidence, right?
Learning how to deal with behavioural questions at the interview stage can take some practice, especially if you've had little experience of it. 
When you know what behavioural competencies the recruiter is looking for, and how you'll be scored according to the most common questions, you'll feel a lot more certain about handling that section of your next tax or accountancy interview.
Why measure behaviour, anyway?
According to the Harvard Business Review, 80% of turnover is due to bad hiring decisions. That's a considerable number, and one of course recruiters want to avoid. Behavioural interviews or competency-based interviews were developed in the 1970s by industrial psychologists. Therefore, behavioural-based interview questions help the interviewer understand how you've performed and behaved in the past with actual results and scenarios.
They're impressed by your CV, and so now they want to find out what makes you tick - so the behavioural part of the interview is the best way to do that. Essentially, they're trying to predict your future performance in the role - both good and bad.
Although you may have the job experience, they want to make sure you're the right fit culturally, too. Does your personality work for the role they want you to do? Are your values aligned to the culture of the business? Is this hire going to be one that makes sense for the business, and will be a good return on investment?
Uncovering these questions in the form of behavioural questions will help the recruiters discover patterns and assess if you're going to be a good fit overall.
"When you ask competency-based questions coupled with traditional questions, it's harder for an interviewer to fabricate on the traditional questions because a follow-up question to an answer might require real-life examples and quantifiable results" - Top Resume
Common Behavioural Questions
Let's take a look at some of the most common behavioural questions you might ask in your tax accountancy interview, and how you might be best placed to deal with them.
Question: "Give me an example of a time where you had a difference of opinion with a team member. How did you handle that?"
Here, the recruiter is looking to see how you behave when up against difficulties. This question is about gaining an adequate measure of your emotional intelligence, teamwork and attitude in the face of challenges. 
How to answer: Explain the nature of the project, the challenge and the difference of opinion from both parties. Make sure to be considered and diplomatic when sharing other people's perspectives. The bulk of your answer should be focused on how you listened, and problem solved to produce a successful outcome for all parties concerned.
Question: "Describe a time when you worked effectively under pressure."
This question is all about measuring your stress levels. Do you blow your top when facing copious amounts of stress? Or do you seethe silently, or become passive-aggressive? Of course, the recruiter is looking to measure how you can effectively channel stress and manage your emotions in a way that maintains your professional composure.
How to answer: Describe the scenario where you felt stressed, your role at the time, and try to give an indication of workload and what current challenges the business was facing at the time. Explain in detail how you managed to commit to a positive result despite the pressure, and perhaps discuss ways that you like to let off steam outside of work, or ways that you set boundaries between your work and home life.
Question: "Tell us about a time where you've had to negotiate with a client"
Understanding your negotiation skills, integrity and judgement is what the recruiter is looking for when they ask you this question. Negotiating is a fine art - and one that can cost your business if you either under or over-promise on a contract. Here, they're looking to assess both your commercial astuteness plus your ability to nurture positive relationships and build customer loyalty.
How to answer: Communicate the role's details by explaining the relationship your business had with the client first. Were they a new client? A long-standing one? How you handle the negotiation will differ accordingly, so it's wise to paint a clear picture here. In objective terms, describe what the client was looking for, and what the outcomes for the business were. Talk the recruiter through your thinking, perhaps using some of the terminology you used in the negotiation, so they can get an understanding of how personable you'd be with clients.
"With these kinds of questions, interviewers are usually trying to learn three things: 
First, they want to know how you behaved in a real-world situation. 
Second, they want to understand the measurable value you added to that situation. 
Finally, they are trying to learn how you define something like "pressure at work"—a concept different people might interpret differently." - 
Competencies for the tax and accountancy field
You'll likely get asked some of the more generic behavioural questions and some very specific to the tax and accountancy industry. So how can you prepare for these?
It's simple. Just go over the competencies and skills for the job position and match those up to the job's actual responsibilities. You can then quite accurately guess the kinds of questions that might come up in the interview itself, and give yourself plenty of time to prepare answers.
Question: Can you describe an accounting process that you helped develop or improve?
By asking this question, the interviewer is looking to test your initiative and proactivity. They want to know that you're not going to rest on your laurels if you take the role. Start thinking of processes you've improved or adapted throughout your career, and try and relate them to something you're going to have to do in this new position.
How to answer: Firstly, describe why the situation was not ideal. It could be anything from it being time consuming to being expensive, or perhaps too stressful. Walk them through your thinking at the time - how you spotted an opportunity to improve, and what you decided to do about it. Finally, talk about the impact your choice had on the company as a whole. Giving specific stats and figures would work great here (for example, saving the company 6% on accounting costs every quarter).
Question: Why did you choose tax/accounting as a career - what are your goals?
Here, the recruiter is looking to gain a measure of your interest and passion in the field. How personally motivated are you to show up and do your best? By being open about where you'd like to get to, the recruiter can visibly see your feelings towards your career choice as you describe your career aspirations. Passion speaks for itself!
How to answer: Start with the initial inspiration to go into the field. When were you first attracted to the world of numbers, and why? Then talk through where you might see yourself in 1, 3, and 5 years. Of course, we never really know where our careers will go in the future, but having something to aim for shows your employer you won't just be coasting in this role until something better comes along. 
Question: What's a challenge in the tax field, and how do you think we can overcome it?
This question is a test of two things - your knowledge of the field, and your creativity. Like any good tax accountant, creativity is essential to beat the competition and stay relevant. This question also forces you to think on your feet - a good test of character and show them how well you can come up with a good solution to a direct question.
How to answer: It's okay to take a few moments for this question. Rushing into an answer may cause you more harm than good, and this question is designed to allow you a little bit of thinking time. Take stock of the problems you have encountered multiple times in your career, or think of the things that most frustrate you in your profession. Then you can offer a few suggestions- make some references as to what areas may need to change in the future, or where businesses often feel they need more support.
"While it may be tempting to hide the fact that you don't know the answer to an accounting interview question, don't. If you're asked to define or describe something, and you have no clue what it is, admit it. "- The Interview Guys
So you've got an idea of what questions you might be asked - now it's time to really dive deep and prepare as well as you possibly can before the actual interview day arrives.
Prepare your success stories in advance 
Behavioural interviews are really about demonstrating that you have the personal and social qualities to do a great job. Overall, the recruiter is looking at the following types of skills:
Problem-solving, initiative, judgement
Attention to detail, planning and organizing
Handling stress, resilience, adaptability
Integrity, reliability, motivation
Analytical skills, creativity
Persuasiveness, negotiation
Team building, leadership, management
As part of your preparation, it might help draw a mind map with these kinds of behavioural attributes and then think of examples throughout your career where you've demonstrated these behaviours.  It's completely fine to take that into the interview with you to jog your memory, should you need to.
Have two-story examples per behaviour, so you have a back up if the one you were going to use doesn't quite fit the example they are looking for. 
To give your stories a structure, use the STAR technique:
Situation - describe the situation in which the story is based
Task – describe your role in the situation
Action – describe the actions you took
Result – describe the outcome because of your action
Let's take an example. If you get asked ""Give me an example of a time when you motivated others."
You might answer it in the following way:
Situation: When I was working at X company, we had just onboarded a new client.
Task: It was my responsibility to make sure their paperwork was all correct. I had a couple of staff members to help me sort through our new client pack, and I decided to add a little extra welcome gift in there as a motivation for them to stay loyal.
Action: I motivated them by scheduling a team meeting to brainstorm how to improve the client's onboarding experience. Lots of ideas were thought of, and we kept a note of some of the more exciting ones to try.
Result: In the end, they became more motivated and felt important, and we achieved an overall uplift in customer loyalty by 4% as a result. Clients all mentioned how the onboarding gift made them feel looked after.
That's a simple example of how you can showcase your thinking, judgement, and actions taken to produce a positive outcome for a business.
Now you have some examples of the questions you might be asked and how to structure your answers, hopefully, you're now equipped with a bit more of an understanding of how to nail the behavioural part of your interview!
For more tips on securing your next tax accountancy role, check out the other helpful pieces on our Creative Tax Recruitment blog.
Or,  now that you're ready to ace that interview, why not level-up and apply for that high paying accountancy or tax position?