Why asking questions is key in a Senior Finance Interview

Written by: Lauren Druce
Published on: 20 Aug 2014

By Lauren Druce

Lauren is Associate Partner at Cedar, a  specialist financial recruitment consultancy focused on sourcing senior financial talent across commercial organisations.  

When candidates prepare for an interview, they typically focus on how best to talk through their CV, answer questions and present their experience in line with a job brief. All too often they overlook one of the most fundamental weapons in their armoury: asking questions.

It's a common misconception that an interview is a one-sided conversation. An interviewer needs to know about your experience and background, asses your cultural fit for the team and your overall suitability for the role. But is's also your opportunity to gather information and find out more about the business, the role, the team, the challenges, expectations and the broader process. For an interview to be successful this two-way information exchange is essential. 

The internet can facilitate your initial research but there are important questions that you need to ask in an interview to truly determine whether this is the right opportunity for you. Asking insightful and considered questions proves to your interviewer that you are taking the process seriously. It's easy to feign interest in a company but demonstrating that you have done your due diligence will put you in a much stronger position. 

You might want to write down your critical questions beforehand, to ensure that when you walk out of your interview you have all the information you need.

Below are a selection of questions to consider before an interview and a few suggestions of those to avoid:

How is finance perceived by the broader business?

Understanding how the finance function is viewed internally can be an indication of challenges that might face people joining the finance team. This can also lead to a further conversation that explores internal politics within the organisation.

What are the common traits of successful people in your business?

Understanding more about the people already working within the team and their backgrounds will give you greater insight into the culture of an organisation and consequently how appropriate the fit will be for you.

What will be the biggest challenge(s) for someone coming into this role?

It's always much easier for the interviewer to talk about the positive attributes to a role rather than discuss the potential negatives. Asking about the challenges will ensure that you get a balanced view. This will also provide a good opportunity for you to further demonstrate relevant examples of your experience.   

What are your expectations of the successful candidate over the first 12 months?

It's important to understand and be comfortable with the role expectations in the short to mid-term. This can lead to a conversation around the strategic plans for the business and how they might impact on your future career with the organisation.

How do I compare to your ideal candidate?

There's nothing wrong in asking for feedback in an interview. This will allow you to address any reservations or areas of concern and to clarify anything that might have been misunderstood or misinterpreted. Furthermore it will provide you with a final opportunity to cover off any areas that will support your candidacy for the role.

Questions to avoid:

Only ask questions that you are genuinely interested in, rather than just for the sake of it. If you're enquiring about general information that can be found on the company website or in the job description you will look ill-prepared.

Avoid asking closed questions which require a simple one-word answer. Instead opt for open-ended questions that give the interviewer an opportunity to expand with a more detailed response. It's essential to build rapport during an interview but avoid being overly familiar and asking personal questions.

Avoid asking questions around the practical elements such as salary, holidays and flexible working early on in an interview. Ideally, these are conversations that you should have directly with your recruitment consultant, who can negotiate on your behalf.  

Ask one question at a time rather than asking lengthy and cumbersome questions with multiple parts.

Throughout an interview the conversation should flow and should not feel like an interrogation from either side. Be mindful not to interject or interrupt; relax and be confident. It is your role to interview the interviewer as much as they are interviewing you. Leave your interviewer with a strong and lasting impression by using your questions not just your answers.

It is only by having two-way dialogue with a client that you can identify whether the opportunity is truly right for you or not. By working with the right consultancy, you can utilise your recruitment consultant to help you analyse and evaluate the responses to your questions based on your wants, needs and motivations for making the move ensuring that it would be the right choice on all levels.