Culture corner: Interview Impressions

Each month, we interview a Richter partner to gain insight into how our leadership finds balance and focus in a demanding job, and what non-technical skills contribute to career success.

This month, it’s all about interview impressions. Job interviews are the great equalizer – nerves can get the best of us in these situations. But successful applicants can overcome the jitters and showcase their skills in a face-to-face setting. How do you become one of the success stories? Partner Tanya Greenidge shares tips on how to make a positive and lasting impression. Richter also has a variety of positions we’re looking to fill, so we hope these tips come in handy for you!

Looking back at your first job interviews as a young professional, what was it like? Is it similar to what people go through today when they apply for a job at Richter?

My first job interview process started with a phone screening, then it was followed by in-person interviews with different leaders within the group that I would eventually join. The interviewers asked mostly behavioural questions to assess the fit between my personality and the firm’s culture. Coming in from university is not the same as being interviewed as an experienced professional. When an undergraduate student applies for their first job, it’s very likely that their work experience is not directly related to the position being applied for. Therefore, interviewers are looking for certain qualities that would allow the candidate to potentially thrive in the work environment rather than specific professional achievements.

What I appreciated most from interviewing at Richter compared to other firms that I interviewed at, was that it felt more personal and customized. During the third interview, it was obvious that the leader who interviewed me (he was then a manager and has since become a partner!) had spoken to the previous interviewers and had taken the time to read my job application thoroughly. Yes, there were some behavioural questions, but the interview felt more like a discussion tailored to me rather than a check-list of compulsory questions.

Students who are interviewed for internship positions today get the same type of experience that I had. I always try to let them demonstrate their qualities through the life experiences that they’ve had to date, whether it is from their education, sports or volunteering opportunities. It really helps me to get to know them better.

As current partner of Talent & Culture and former HR partner within Tax, what traits or qualities are we looking for at Richter in a potential experienced hire?

To be honest, we do not really focus on some specific traits or qualities. Instead, I would describe our interview process as a two-pronged approach. First, we assess functional capability— their level of knowledge, experience or expertise—through factual scenarios inspired by client situations that would be encountered in that role. In a second interview, we try to determine if the person is going to fit well into the team that he or she will be working with day in and day out. It’s important to consider whether the candidate will fit into our organization’s culture. The integration is very likely to fall apart if this is not considered as the person may not feel comfortable socializing or asking for support when needed especially during the early months of the on-boarding process.

Most of the time, I can tell when there is a fit by paying attention to the flow of the discussion. When the formal interview switches to a more natural rhythm of conversation, I find myself wanting to know more about the person, and they too usually come up with quite relevant and inquisitive questions. Suddenly, an hour has passed, and we didn’t even notice it. On the other hand, when the fit is less obvious, the interview feels more like a struggle, and the conversation typically doesn’t go beyond the question/immediate answer format.

What’s more important: their answer, or how they deliver the answer and present themselves?

A good interview is not only about the specific answers provided by the candidate per say. I’m more interested in their thought process in getting to the answer than the answer itself. I take note when the person I am interviewing asks questions to gain more insight and relevant context before answering. By doing so, they demonstrate how they think and how they will approach not only their assigned tasks but also how they will approach their clients (whether that’s an internal stakeholder or external clients). By being inquisitive and trying to frame the question, they help me understand their analytical process. It gives me confidence in the ultimate answer provided by the candidate.

What’s the single more impressive answer you’ve witnessed during your interviews? Anything that has stood out?

I can’t say that one answer has really stood out as the most impressive. What I love though is when I can sense that the person is authentic. Some people interview well, but then how they present themselves is not how they show up to work daily. It is essential to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and to demonstrate a willingness to always get better. What’s most impressive is when authenticity and self-awareness is brought into the interview, because it takes a lot to know who you are and where you’re at in your career journey. If what you know you don’t know remains a blind spot, you can’t then, improve upon it. As an employer, often we look to hire someone seeking growth, to offer them new challenges that will create excitement and engagement in the position.  I’m looking for their potential to develop past the immediate role that they are being hired for today.

“What’s most impressive is when authenticity and self-awareness is brought into the interview, because it takes a lot to know who you are and where you’re at in your career journey.”

As new software and platforms that leverage emerging technologies become more commonplace in the industry, is showing a desire to learn new skills or the ability to use new tools important for new hires?

Right now, it is not a requirement to have knowledge of a specific technology. However, candidates must demonstrate the willingness to embrace change and be adaptable. At a conference that I recently attended, a speaker mentioned that what students learn in their first year of university is going to be outdated by the time they graduate. If I anticipate the answer to this same question in five years, I will probably say that learning these emerging technologies has become a requirement for our industry.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

I have always wanted to be an executive coach. During my first year at Richter, I met one of our leaders who worked in that field. I was fascinated by his career trajectory and told him that I wanted to do the same. As I was only in my early twenties, the advice he gave me was aimed at helping me to get the credibility I would need to work with C-level executives: “Become an expert in something, gain some life experience and challenge yourself. Stay in a zone of constant discomfort” I took his advice to heart. I got my CPA designation, worked for five years in audit and then spent ten years becoming an expert in Canadian taxation — my favourite subject during my university studies. In hindsight, his advice lead me down this path of synchronicity now that I have switched into the role of partner of Talent and Culture. While it wasn’t on my radar at first, it was an excellent opportunity to move towards this coaching path that my younger-self always wanted to undertake!

Read more articles in the Culture Corner series: