An “A” in financial accounting? Check!
Interview landed for your dream financial analyst job? Check!
Knowing exactly how to prepare for this super important interview? …. Not quite as straightforward, right?
That why we’ve put together the following list of 10 financial analyst interview questions to help. Prepare using our sample questions and answers, and you’ll stride confidently into your job interview and secure that dream job…Check!
Table of Contents:
- Why do you want to be a financial analyst?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why do you want to work for us?
- Walk me through how you would develop an investment recommendation for senior management.
- Describe a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline. How did it turn out?
- You’ve discovered a discrepancy in the details of a cash flow statement. What do you do?
- How would you handle a very unhappy (and vocal) internal customer during a business meeting?
- Tell me about a time when you were working in a team and your opinion was challenged.
- What is an EBITDA and what isn’t included in it? (Prepare for tough interview questions!)
- What tools would you use to prepare illustrated reports with graphs, spreadsheets, or charts?
Employers want to know why the job scope of a financial analyst is appealing to you. If they invest in you, they want to know what parts of the role really get you out of bed in the morning. There’s no right answer to this question. Just be honest and detailed. “I love working with numbers” is too generic, but you could try something like this:
“I love working with numbers to understand the financial implications of a decision. Knowing the implications will help me guide business managers toward educated and responsible business decisions.”
Interviews are all about aligning on expectations. A hiring manager asks this question to gauge that your expectations can be met by the company, and vice versa. If you’ve graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and this is your first “real” job, then “becoming Chief Financial Officer at a Fortune 500 company” is not a realistic five-year goal.
Are you interviewing with a fast-moving start-up? In that case, CFO in five years might be the perfect goal! Know the company culture and set your goals accordingly:
“The truth is I would ultimately love to be a CFO, but for now, I simply want to spend as much time during these first few years of my career learning and making an impact. When I get to year five, I expect I’ll have a better feel for what I want my career path to be, and I’ll work with my manager to set myself up accordingly.”
Read more about answering “Where do you see yourself in five years” here.
This is a common financial analyst interview question. Employers want to know that you’re making a deliberate decision to work for their company. What is it about the company that appeals to you?
You might try something like this:
“I’ve researched dozens of companies this semester in search of the perfect fit. I would like to work for your company because you offer a variety of roles for financial analysts. I will be able to change roles throughout my career without leaving the company.”
Again, know the company! Share as many details regarding why the company appeals to you, but don’t badmouth other companies.
We know you have a process. You’re an analyst! This is your opportunity to share how your mind works. The interviewer will be more interested in how you get to specific recommendations and less about the tools and analytical specifics.
Describe how you would develop the investment recommendation: What data you would collect, what caveats need to be made, and who you would partner with? Strive to strike the perfect balance of independent and collaborative work:
“First, I would seek to clearly understand what the end goals are for the investment. Do they want or need a quick ROI? Is it an investment that includes an acquisition? Second, I would collect the financial statements (balance sheet, income statements, and cash flow statements), and if they don’t exist yet, I would work with the key stakeholders (business groups and other finance partners) to create them such that they are applicable to the project. Third, I would talk with the business partners to understand what caveats might need to be made. For example, cash flow will be xyz assuming that the widget comes to market in Q3 as planned. If it doesn’t, this investment would become decidedly more risky. And lastly, I would make sure to have a few different investment options for the managers to consider, shifted primarily based on the various caveats and potential business conditions.”
Managers want to know how you will perform when demands are high and the pressure is on. Are you going to take a deep breath and rally positively, or will you get the job done at the expense of your co-workers’ peace-of-mind?
If this interview is for your first job out of college, feel free to use examples from your coursework. Do you have an example from when a team member dropped the ball but the assignment still needed to be completed on time? Use the STAR method to describe how you positively met the deadline without blame and drama. If you have job experience, share how your ability to plan for contingencies set you up for success when a tight deadline was imposed.
Here’s a sample answer:
“During my internship last summer, four hours before our final presentation to senior management, we discovered that one of our peers/teammates had come down with food poisoning the night before and would be unable to present. Granted, we’d all worked on the project together, but none of us had practiced her segment. We thought about asking to reschedule given the late notice, but we knew that the manager’s time was scarce, so we decided to adjust! In order to minimize disruption, we all agreed to keep with our original presentation sections, but then we discussed as a group who might be comfortable with a more “on the fly” presentation for our sick teammate’s section. I was happy to step in and the presentation went off without a hitch!”
Understanding your ability to problem solve is at the heart of this common financial analyst interview question. Your manager and team will expect you to identify problems and constructively address them:
“First, I’d double-check the numbers to ensure that there was in fact a discrepancy. Then I would think through and jot down the available ramifications and remedies. Next, I would meet with my manager immediately to discuss. In a past position, my manager shared that a change in the next quarter’s pricing structure was the root cause. She apologized for the oversight in communication and even thanked me for my attention to detail and positive approach!”
There are some financial analyst roles that are gate keeping in nature and may require making unpopular decisions. Managers want to know that you can keep your cool and diffuse the situation positively. If you have a real-life example, use it! If you don’t have an example, be specific in how you would expect to handle the situation:
“My approach would depend on the number of people in the meeting. In a 1:1, I would listen carefully to the concerns and try to find a real-time solution. If there were multiple attendees and the dissatisfaction is keeping the meeting from moving forward, I would ask to meet 1:1 at a later time to discuss further. I would also share the conflict with my manager to get his guidance.”
Similar to the last question, this is an opportunity for the hiring manager to gauge how well you play with others. Your teammates aren’t always going to agree with you.
The specifics of the example won’t be terribly important, but your description of how you reacted will be. Focus on your communication skills. Whether you’re right or wrong doesn’t matter. It’s more important that you listened, understood, and valued contrary inputs.
Try something along these lines:
“We were preparing our final group paper in our sports marketing class last semester, and I recommended to the team that we should each present a portion of the project to the class. Another teammate shared that he felt it would be more fluid if only one person presented. I wasn’t sure why, and I felt pretty strongly that we should all be represented in the outcome, so I asked him for more information. He pointed out that the presentation was only 10 minutes long and to break it down into four presenters meant that we could easily lose up to a minute in transitions. I hadn’t thought about that, so I conceded his point and we compromised, agreeing to proceed with two presenters, which would minimize transitions but still ensure some variety in delivery.”
The specifics of this financial analyst interview question may not be common, but its preparedness spirit is. Whether it’s a question about EBITDA or about how inventory fluctuations affect an income statement, the point is to be prepared for hard questions. Interviewers want to be sure you know your stuff!
It pays to prepare. In the end, you can’t fake what you do or don’t know. If you get a hard question that you can’t answer, don’t fake it. Be honest:
“That’s a really great question, and while I know I covered that in my Accounting II course, I just can’t remember the answer in this moment. I’m going to look that up after this interview so I know it moving forward!”
Hiring managers want to know that you have a working knowledge of the tools of the trade. In the end, it doesn’t matter what tools you use as long as you can generate the reports/results required.
Plan, prepare, and practice!
Plan to be amazing. The more examples you have ready, the better prepared you will be to answer unexpected questions that come your way. Practice your responses (out loud!) to all 10 financial analyst interview questions. If you plan, prepare, and practice, the interviewer will be dazzled, and your dream job will be right around the corner.