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Real accounting interview questions & how to answer them as a student

Frances Chan

Careers Commentator
Discover real questions students are asked in accounting interviews & learn how to answer them like a pro.

Want to know what to expect from your next interview with an accounting firm? Let's check out some of the most common questions accounting firms ask and explore ways to answer them!

  1. Personal questions
  2. Questions about your career goals & professional interests
  3. Behavioural questions
  4. Questions about your skills
  5. Technical questions
  6. FAQs

Personal questions

Many students are pleasantly surprised to find that interviews with public accounting firms can be rather relaxed. Interviewers often focus on understanding who you are as a person, rather than solely concentrating on technical knowledge.

This holds true even for the Big 4 firms. For instance, an Audit Analyst at Deloitte mentioned being asked about their favorite Netflix series during the interview.

Interestingly, the more senior the interviewer, the more relaxed the interview tends to be. A Consulting Associate at PwC recounted their experience with a Director and Senior Manager as "definitely the most relaxed interview I ever had."

It's helpful to remember this: If you're at the interview stage, they're already impressed with your credentials. The face-to-face interview is more about seeing if you're a good fit for the team, someone who would work well with both colleagues and clients.

If you get this far, they already want to hire you. They just need to make sure they’ll get along with you, as they need to work with you every day! – Risk Consultant @ KPMG

Now let's dive into the top questions current interns & employees were actually asked during their interviews.

"Why did you choose to study accounting?"

When firms ask this, they're mainly looking to see if:

  • You make thoughtful choices. Choosing a major is a big decision! Did you pick one totally on a whim? Or did you choose one after evaluating your strengths and interests, researching different fields, seeking advice, and considering the long-term implications of your choice?
  • You're genuinely interested in accounting. Having some degree of interest usually translates to more motivation to do a good job.

👎 Weak response

I kind of fell into studying accounting. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after high school, and my parents suggested it because they thought it would lead to a stable job. I found the classes to be quite dry and theoretical, but I stuck with it because I didn't have a better idea.

While honesty is generally appreciated, this type of response might not impress your interviewers. Let’s explore a more effective way to answer.

👍 Strong response

I've always had a thing for numbers and problem-solving. Choosing a major meant finding a way to use those skills.

Initially, I wasn't sure which direction to go in—applied math, engineering? They were options, but nothing clicked.

It was through conversations with professors, students in different fields, and industry professionals that I learned about accounting and became drawn to how it applies math to business.

It wasn't just dealing with numbers; it was about interpreting them to tell a business's story. This realization made accounting the obvious choice for me and I'd love for the chance to explore it more through this internship role.

"What do you do in your down time?"


This common interview question, along with others like "What's your favorite subject?" and "Tell me something about yourself not on your resume", is a way for interviewers to see a more complete picture of you. 

Remember, it's not just about listing your favorite hobbies or subjects; it's about sharing why these activities are meaningful to you.

👎 Weak responses

Honestly, I don't have much down time as I'm so busy with my studies. When I do have a bit of time to myself, I'm so tired I just binge-watch shows or scroll through social media. 

Why this response is problematic:

  • For starters, saying you're too busy with studies for downtime might not sit well with a public accountant, who likely has a lot more on their plate than you!
  • You've just admitted to studying all the time, which likely means you'll be working all the time too. This screams "BAD TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS" to employers. They don't want crazy workaholics; they want people who can sensibly manage their workload and balance work and life.
  • You don't seem like someone who knows how to take care of yourself. Firms want individuals who can manage their responsibilities while also taking care of their personal well-being.

There's (probably!) only one case where it would be understandable for you to not have hobbies outside of your studies and that's if you had significant life responsibilities (e.g. supporting your family) which genuinely limited your free time.

👍 Strong response

In my downtime, I really enjoy a mix of activities that keep me both mentally and physically active. 

I play soccer – it’s great for fitness and I love the team spirit. It's a nice escape from the daily routine and helps me work on teamwork skills, too.

Reading is another big passion of mine, especially books on history and economics. They help me understand different perspectives and keep my critical thinking sharp.

And recently, I’ve started exploring coding. It began as a curiosity, but I’m finding it really intriguing, especially how it ties into the business world. So, my free time is a mix of sports, reading, and a bit of tech.

"What are your strengths and weaknesses?"

This is a standard interview question at accounting firms and beyond.

👎 Weak response

For my strengths, I'd say I'm extremely hardworking and dedicated. I never stop until I get the job done, no matter how long it takes.

My weakness would be the other side of that coin – working too hard. Sometimes I get so focused on my work that I forget to take breaks, and I can burn myself out.

I also have to admit, I'm not great with numbers. I tend to make mistakes with calculations and sometimes get confused with complex financial data.

Why does this response fall short? 

For starters, you probably don't want to admit to being bad with numbers in an accounting interview.

And saying that you're too hardworking is probably the most cliched response to this question ever.

👍Strong response

One big strength of mine is my analytical skills. Like this one time in my accounting class, we had this major project analyzing a company's financial statements. I dove deep into the numbers and found some trends that even my professor hadn't noticed. It was a bit like detective work, uncovering the story behind the figures and I loved it!

Now, for weaknesses, I'd say public speaking has been a bit of a challenge for me. I realised this during a class presentation last semester. I got pretty nervous and it hit me – in an advisory role, I'll need to be confident in presenting my analysis and advice, especially when explaining financial stuff to clients who might not be as number-savvy. So, I've been actively working on this. I joined a public speaking club at university, and it's been a great way to practice and get more comfortable speaking in front of others.

This response works because:

  • The strength mentioned, analytical skills, is specific and highly relevant to the accounting field. (Other skills like this include attention to detail, a knack for numbers, and problem-solving skills.)
  • The weakness is genuine and the response includes a story that shows self-awareness. The candidate told a story about (1) how they identified the weakness, (2) why they know they need to fix it, and (3) how they're working on it. You should structure your response like this for maximal impact.

You'll also notice how the candidate doesn't just mention their strength or weakness. They also provide examples to illustrate these attributes.

For more tips on discussing your weaknesses during an interview, check out our sample responses to "What's your biggest weaknesses?".

Questions about your career goals & professional interests

Employers want to know where you see yourself in the future and what kind of work you're excited about. This helps them figure out if the job they're offering fits your plans and if you're likely to be happy (and stay with them for at least a few years!).

They don't care if you see the role as just a stepping stone to something else, as long as you are willing to commit at least three years – Audit & Assurance Associate @ Deloitte

So it's not just about whether you can do the job; it's also about whether you'll enjoy it and grow with the company. Employers understand that when your goals and the company's needs line up well, it's better for both you and them!

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

👎Weak response

In five years, I’m not really sure where I’ll be. I see this role as a good starting point, but I’m keeping my options open. I'm just looking for any experience I can get right now, and I'm not too focused on where it will lead.

👍Strong response

I definitely see myself deeply involved in the accounting world. I’m really keen on specialising in audit and assurance. It just clicks with what I’m good at – digging into details and analysing data.

By then, I hope to have my CPA and be handling some more complex projects here. I’m also pretty excited about the idea of guiding new grads who’ll be where I am now – I think sharing experiences and helping others grow is super important.

While I’m open to where my career might take me, I’m all in for building a strong foundation in auditing first. It’s where I can see myself making a real impact in the near future.

This response works because it shows that you thought about which service line is best suited for you based on your individual strengths and interests. 

For more tips, check out our sample responses to "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

"What industries would you be interested in working with?"

👎Weak response

Honestly, I haven't really thought much about specific industries. I guess any industry would be fine as long as I get to do some accounting work. I just want to gain some experience in general accounting practices, so I’m not too fussed about the industry I work in.

Even if this response is true, it indicates a lack of preparation, thought, and interest. Let's look at a more thoughtful response.

👍Strong response

I'm most interested in working with renewable energy and financial services. With renewable energy, I'd like to get to grips with how they finance big projects and handle all the environmental rules – it’s pretty complex and I’m up for that challenge.

In the financial services sector, things like keeping up with the latest regulations and helping big firms stay on top of the market changes are areas where I think I can really make a difference.

But hey, I’m open to any industry at this point – and I've heard that that's one of the best parts of their job actually. I reached out to an Audit Associate recently on LinkedIn to ask about their experiences, and they told me that they love getting to see the inner workings of various businesses and gaining a deeper appreciation for different sectors. So I really just look forward to working with a variety of sectors and broadening my perspective that way.

Notice how the candidate admits interest in a variety of fields but still has a focus.

Remember to mention sectors that the firm actually works with. If you want to work with tech start-ups for instance but the firm doesn't work with them, that won't gain you any favours!

Also notice how the response mentioned reaching out to a LinkedIn connection for help. This shows the firms that you're already practicing key skills they value: reaching out to people for information or help (just like you'd reach out to an expert within the firm for guidance). They want to see you're comfortable asking for what you need and actively building your network, as these are essential skills in their work environment.

"Why do you want to work for us?"

When an employer asks, "Why do you want to work for us?", they're trying to understand a few key things:

  1. Do you have a specific reason for choosing their firm? They're looking for signs that you've deliberately chosen their company, not just applying randomly.

  2. Will you make use of what the firm offers? It's important for them to know if you're aware of and interested in the resources and opportunities they provide.

  3. Have you done your homework? They want to see if you've taken the time to research the firm's values, goals, and the specifics of their early careers program.

👎Weak response

I'm drawn to work for your firm because of its strong reputation in the accounting and advisory sector.

Your firm’s emphasis on innovative solutions and a client-centric approach aligns perfectly with my professional values.

I am particularly impressed by your commitment to continuous learning and development for your employees, which I believe is crucial in this rapidly evolving industry.

Additionally, the opportunity to work on diverse and challenging projects with a range of clients excites me.

I see this as a platform where I can not only apply my skills but also grow professionally, contributing to the firm’s and my personal success.

This isn't the worst possible response, but it's pretty bad. For example, the first line ("strong reputation in the accounting and advisory sector") could literally apply to any big accounting firm.

Same goes for all the generic buzzwords this response uses: "innovative solutions," "client-centric," "rapidly evolving." 

👍Strong response

KPMG’s global footprint, with your 190,000 employees across various countries, really appeals to me. It’s not just the numbers; it’s about the depth of experience and diversity that such a vast network brings. Working in a firm of this scale means access to a wealth of knowledge from experts around the world and the chance to be part of a wide range of projects. 

Another thing that caught my attention is how KPMG is all about helping grads grow into their future roles, not just here in the US but even globally. That’s exactly what I’m looking for – a place where I can broaden my skills and maybe even get some international experience. It’s super exciting to think about being part of a firm that’s so focused on helping its people grow and develop like that.

"Tell us why you want to work in audit."

Firms will usually try to gauge your interest in whatever service line you've applied for. For example:

  • (If you applied to a tax role) Tell us why you want to work in tax.
  • (If you applied to an insolvency advisory role) Why insolvency?
  • (If you applied to a tech consulting role) What do you like about technology? What draws you to consulting?

Make sure to show interest but don't overdo it. How do you strike the balance?

Well, there must be at least one thing about the service line you're applying for that interests you. Focus on that and don't feel like you need to fake an interest in anything else. Hiring managers will see right through it anyways!

Don't be too fake. Nobody is ecstatic to become an auditor, and when I see candidates approach me being this keen I know it's not genuine. – Management Consultant @ Deloitte 

👎Weak response

I'm eager to pursue a career in audit because of its dynamic and global nature. What really draws me to auditing is the opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of various businesses and industries. It's fascinating how audit plays a crucial role in ensuring transparency and accuracy in financial reporting. I have a strong attention to detail and analytical skills, which I believe are essential in this field. 

This is a weak response because it's still unclear why you're interested in audit specifically. Buzzwords like "dynamic" don't mean anything and frankly, anyone can claim to be fascinated by the role of audit "in ensuring transparency and accuracy."

👍Strong response

I'm interested in working as an auditor because it equips you with skills that are incredibly valuable no matter where you go in the world. This means I can work in various countries and diverse settings, which is a fantastic opportunity for personal and professional growth. My studies in international accounting standards have also prepared me for this journey, and I can't wait to put these skills to work on a global scale.

Behavioral questions

Employers ask behavioral questions to get a peek into how you would behave in certain situations. They typically start with "Tell us about a time when ..." and they look gauge if you have certain traits. Accounting firms tend to look for teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving skills.

To be sure you know what they're looking for, you can always check the job description. For example, if they want someone who "works well under pressure" or "successfully meets deadlines," you can almost expect them to ask questions to see if you fit those criteria.

'How have you demonstrated teamwork?'

Regardless of how the interviewer phrases this question, you can be sure they'll ask you about teamwork.

  • How do you think your time playing volleyball refined your teamwork skills?
  • Describe a project where you had to work with a team to achieve a common goal. What was your role and how did you contribute to the team's success?

Teamwork is critical at accounting firms. Whether it's working with clients, collaborating on complex financial reports, or brainstorming solutions with colleagues, your ability to work effectively as part of a team is crucial.

That's why firms often have candidates collaborate with each other in group assessments. They're not just looking for number crunchers; they're on the hunt for team players who can blend their skills with others to achieve the best results.

👎Weak response

Well, I usually end up taking charge in group projects because I’m pretty good at leading. In one project, I assigned tasks to everyone and made most of the key decisions. We did well in the end, but some team members seemed unhappy with the tasks they were given. I think the project showed that I can lead a team to success, even if some people don’t fully cooperate.

👍Strong response

In a marketing project at uni, I learned a valuable lesson in teamwork. At first, I assigned tasks based on what I thought were everyone’s strengths, without getting their input. This led to a bit of a mix-up and some frustration in the team.

It was a wake-up call about the importance of communication and involving everyone in decisions. After this, I focused on making sure we all shared and integrated our ideas, like unique market insights or creative strategies.

This approach really turned things around. We were able to combine our diverse skills effectively, leading to a successful marketing campaign for a local business.

In a good response, it’s important to showcase your ability to work effectively within a team, acknowledge the value of different roles, and demonstrate learning and self-awareness. A bad response overlooks these aspects, focusing too much on leadership or failing to show effective interpersonal skills.

"Tell us about a time you demonstrated leadership."

In the corporate world, leadership means something a little different from what you've experienced in school. It's not just about being the founder of a club or leading a student project. In the professional world, leadership is also about your ability to manage teams effectively, nurture talent, and inspire your peers. 

When asked to share an example of leadership, think of instances where you've guided others, fostered a collaborative environment, or helped someone grow. These experiences, no matter how small they might seem, can showcase your potential as a future leader in a company.

You'll also see this question asked in the following forms.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to lead a team. What was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it?
  • Can you give an example of a time when you had to motivate a team? What strategies did you use?
  • Describe a situation where you had to make a difficult decision in a leadership role. What was the decision, and how did you arrive at it?

👎Weak response

Well, I was the captain of my university debating club. I made sure everyone attended the meetings and we all did our best. We didn’t win any big competitions, but I think everyone enjoyed being part of the club.

Notice how this response doesn't show how the candidate's leadership made any difference. They may as well not have led the club! 

👍Strong response

As captain of the debate club, I saw we needed a better way to get ready for our debates.

So, I started a new system where after every practice debate, we'd have a group session to discuss what went well and what didn't. This wasn't something we used to do. It really helped because everyone got to hear different viewpoints and we learned from each other's strengths.

This change made a big difference. Our team started doing much better in competitions, and we even made it to the nationals that year. It showed me how one big change, like giving and getting feedback as a team, can really boost everyone's performance.

This version clearly explains what the person did as a leader and how it helped their team. 

"Give an example of a time when you encountered a problem or difficult situation."

Working in the field of accounting won't always be smooth sailing, so employers ask this question to gauge whether you can deal with bumps in the road, big and small.


  • Tell us about a time when something went wrong. How did you deal with it?
  • Tell us about a time when you overcame something challenging.

👎Weak response

I remember this one time we had a group assignment and things just weren’t going well. We were all busy with other work, and communication wasn’t great. Somehow, we managed to get the project done by pushing through and hoping for the best.

👍Strong response

There was this one time in a group project last semester where we had this big marketing plan due, and just a week before, one of our team members got really ill and couldn’t chip in. So, we were kind of scrambling.

I got everyone together for a quick chat. We figured we'd split up his part of the work so no one got too overloaded. I also thought it’d be a good idea to talk to our professor, just to explain the situation. Luckily, we got a bit of an extension.

It was a bit of a whirlwind, but it really showed us how to pull together when things get rough and the importance of keeping cool and talking things out. In the end, we turned in a project we were all proud of, and it turned out pretty well, actually!

"Tell me about a time you failed."

This question is related to the last one in that it asks you to reflect on a time when things didn't go as planned. Firms are gauging how you deal with tough situations and whether you can successfully learn and rebound from them.


  • Why did you fail [unit] at uni?
  • Can you share an example of a time you failed and what you learned as a result?
  • How do you cope with failure?

👎Weak response

I can't really think of a time when I've outright failed at something. I guess I’m usually pretty careful about what I take on, so I avoid getting into situations where I might not succeed.

👍Strong response

In my second year of university, I took on the role of organizing a charity event. I was really excited and maybe a bit overconfident. I ended up underestimating the time and effort needed for planning.

As the event date approached, I realized we were behind schedule, and key aspects like sponsorship and publicity weren’t fully sorted. Despite my efforts to pull things together last minute, the event wasn’t as successful as I had hoped.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson about effective time management and the importance of realistic planning. It was a humbling experience, but it made me a more organized and detail-oriented person. In my next project, I applied these lessons, leading to a much more successful outcome.

"Tell me about a time you had to work with a difficult person."

This question is basically about how you deal with conflict. Here are some other versions:

  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to work closely with a colleague who was difficult to get along with?
  • Tell us about a time your morals were challenged. How did you deal with the situation?

At any firm, you're bound to come across a mix of personalities. Navigating these interactions is a big part of the job.

So, when firms ask these questions, they're trying to get a sense of your people skills. Can you work smoothly with a colleague who's hard to get along with? How will you react if a client is demanding or even confrontational?

It's all about understanding whether you can maintain professionalism and composure even when things get a bit tricky.

👎Weak response

At my last job, there was this guy who was just impossible to work with. He always wanted things done his way and wouldn’t listen to what anyone else had to say. I tried to avoid him as much as possible and just did my work independently. There wasn’t really anything I could do about it; some people are just difficult to work with.

👍Strong response

Last semester, I worked on a group project with someone who was quite assertive and often dismissed our ideas. At first, I felt intimidated by his strong opinions. But I knew we needed a change to succeed.

So, I met with him and shared how our team's diverse ideas could enhance our project, using specific examples. I also suggested a new meeting format where everyone would have equal time to speak. He was initially surprised but agreed to try it.

This approach really turned things around. He started valuing our inputs more, and our final project reflected all of our contributions. It taught me that even when it's intimidating, direct communication can lead to positive changes in a team.

Questions about your skills

Employers all look for a skills match and some interviewers will ask you about them directly.

"Describe a time you used technology that would be useful at work."

Firms are NOT asking this to see:

  • If you use the same tech stack as them (though that's of course great!).
  • If you've mastered accounting software

They will teach you everything from scratch after you get the job. At this point, they mainly want to know that you've used different technologies and can learn new ones on the job if necessary. 

👎Weak response

Well, there was this one time when I used Excel for a project at uni. It was pretty basic stuff, just some spreadsheets and formulas. I guess I also dabbled a bit with MYOB and Xero in a few courses, but nothing too advanced. So yeah, I've got some experience with those, I guess.

👍Strong response

During uni, I regularly used tools like Excel, MYOB, and Xero for various projects. For instance, in a finance project, I created financial models and detailed reports using Excel. It was a significant part of my coursework, and I got pretty good at it through hands-on practice and guidance from professors.

In another course focused on accounting software, I had the opportunity to work extensively with MYOB and Xero. I learned to navigate these platforms by completing assignments and applying them to real-world accounting scenarios.

"What skills do you bring to the firm or service line?"


  • How do your skills translate into the audit room?
  • What can you bring to the firm that others cannot?
  • (After talking about your life experiences) How might these experiences apply in a work setting?

👎Weak response

I guess I have some good skills. I did pretty well in my accounting classes, and people say I'm a fast learner. I'm not really sure what specific skills I'll need here, but I'm willing to learn whatever you teach me. I think I'm pretty good with numbers and stuff, and I can work on Excel and other software if that's what you need.

This response smacks of 'I have no idea what the role is about'. The 'skills' they bring up (being a fast learner, being good with numbers) don't relate to any specific requirements of the firm or service line. 

👍Strong response

Here's a response someone might make if they're applying for a role in tax.

In my tax-focused internship, I really got the hang of uncovering tax savings that often go unnoticed. It’s kind of like being a detective with numbers, which not only saved our clients money but made the work interesting.

I’m also pretty good at making complicated tax laws easy for clients to understand. There's something satisfying about taking something complex and explaining it in a way that clicks. Like, I don't think it's 100% necessary to help clients understand the ins-and-outs of tax law, but I do find that it does help me gain their trust when I can explain the rationale behind new regulations. 

Technical questions

Luckily, some firms don't ask technical questions at all!

As for the firms who do ask technical questions ... don't get all worked up thinking you need to be a walking encyclopedia of technical knowledge. That's not the expectation here.

You'll mostly be asked about basic accounting principles or the business unit you applied for. For example, if you're applying for an audit role, you might be asked to explain what you know about internal controls.

Interviewers aren't here to play mind games with you or hit you with tricky questions, because they know that you're new to the industry!

What they really want to see is that:

  • You're not totally clueless – you've got a grasp of the basics, which, let's be honest, you should have covered in your classes unless you've been snoozing at the back of the lecture hall.
  • You have a bit of interest in the field which you'll be working in every day.

So if you find yourself stumped by a question, don't feel the need to make up an answer. It's perfectly okay to admit that you can't recall a specific detail. What matters most is your eagerness to dive into learning and filling those knowledge gaps.


Can I just use the sample answers here during my interviews?

No, our responses are just examples to guide you on how to approach these questions. Instead, think about your own experiences and use them to shape your responses. If the story isn't genuinely yours, interviewers can usually tell. (Remember, the recruiter interviewing you has probably spoken to hundreds if not thousands of candidates at this point!)

How can I possibly prepare answers to all these different questions?

You don't need a new answer for every question. Sure, you should more than one story so interviewers see you've done different things, but you don't need 100 stories for 100 questions.

Pick your top five stories and use them to answer any question that comes your way. For example, if you led a fundraising event in college, this one story can showcase multiple skills:

  • Leadership: Discussing how you managed the project.
  • Teamwork: Explaining how you collaborated with your team.
  • Problem-solving: Talking about overcoming budget challenges.

What if I'm asked a question that I didn't prepare for?

If an interviewer asks you a question you didn't expect, try to figure out what skill or quality they're really asking about.

For example, if they ask about a tough situation you handled, they probably want to know how you solve problems or work with others. Take a moment to think, then share a story from your experiences that shows you have that skill. 

What next?

We hope this gave you lots of ideas on how to tackle those pesky interview questions. And if you're still looking for opportuniites, make sure to check out all the internships we have in this field. All the best!