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Finding the Best Corporate Finance Pro for the Job: The Right Interview Questions to Ask

How to identify the most well-suited candidates for your organizationís needs.

September 6, 2007
Sponsored by Spherion Professional Services
By Brendan Courtney, senior vice president, Professional Services Group

Most employers understand that their talent selection process is a crucial component of how effective their workforce is going to be. You need to find the right people for the right jobs.

This is especially true when it comes to hiring corporate finance professionals, individuals whose ability to analyze various business requirements and fiscal implications can make a major difference in a company’s financial performance. How can you make sure you are identifying the most well-suited candidates for your organization’s needs?

Although talent selection is not a scientific process with guaranteed results, the fact is that you can significantly improve your success with finding the best candidates by improving your interviewing process.

The first step we always recommend is to define the qualities, talents and skills that you’d most like to have in a new employee. Once you have some clarity around what those competencies ought to be, then you can set out to develop a series of interview questions that help you weed out those candidates who don’t match up with what you are seeking and identify those that seem to make a good fit.

Unfortunately, few managers and hiring authorities today are trained in interviewing techniques, which makes interviews of prospective corporate finance workers more of a gamble than a strategic business process. In order to identify, select and hire exceptional talent, interviewers need to know how to turn an interview into an in-depth, substantial conversation.

One of the most effective tools for sparking rich and informative discussions with job candidates is the technique of behavioral interviewing. Often referred to as situational interviewing, this is a questioning technique that forces finance job candidates to give real-world examples of how they have handled specific events and challenges in the workplace.

Rooted in the principle that past performance is the best indicator of future performance, behavioral questions focus on how something was done – rather than the end results.

For example, in a typical interview, a candidate is asked to describe the duties of his or her previous jobs. In a behavioral question, a candidate will instead be asked to describe a recent work situation in which he or she overcame a difficult challenge. The focus is on the action taken, professional techniques employed and lessons learned (e.g., a successful teamwork experience, an important learning experience in the workplace, etc.).

  • Tell me about a time when you demonstrated your trustworthiness or integrity in school or at work.
  • In what kind of a work environment would you say you do your best work?
  • Can you give me an example of a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done?
  • Tell me about a time when you followed a policy with which you did not agree.
  • What one personal or professional goal have you set for yourself in the last couple years and how did you go about trying to accomplish it?

These behavioral inquiries probe into workplace skills and behaviors the candidate has already demonstrated. By using behavioral questions, you pull candidates away from the comfortable facts in their resumes and zoom in on their personal workplace experiences. This provides an unrehearsed look at the skills and personality of a candidate.

Remember that an interviewer’s job is less about matching skills to needs — something that has already happened in the pre-screening process — and more focused on exploring the professionalism and workplace competency of the individual candidate. By concentrating on past performance and experience, behavioral interviewing can be one powerful technique to help your organization better evaluate and select the right corporate finance workers for your team.

And here’s one final suggestion to consider for your talent section process. After you have completed the interview process, don’t make the mistake that many employers commit by relying on their colleagues in HR to do reference checks with the HR groups at the candidate’s previous jobs. You should always check the candidate’s references with the managers for whom they worked in previous jobs; it is surprising how often those simple phone calls will paint a much different picture than you viewed in the interview.

Bringing in new team members to any organization is a serious responsibility with long-term implications. The cost of failure can be high, from the expensive possibility of rapid turnover to the morale problem of overworked employees who are forced to compensate for poor hiring decisions. By making sure that you’re asking the right interview questions, you can improve your chances of identifying the right corporate finance professional for the right job.

For more information, visit Spherion.

Brendan A.J. Courtney, Senior Vice President & Group Executive, Professional Services Group, Spherion Corporation. Brendan Courtney serves as senior vice president and group executive of professional services for Spherion Corporation (NYSE:SFN).