Billy Russel

Billy Russel - FP&A Strategist

October 2022 - min to read

FP&A interview questions: a cheat sheet for landing the next FP&A role

FP&A interview questions: a cheat sheet for landing the next FP&A role

If you’re looking to break into FP&A, there’s never been a better time.

If you want to get in the door with a corporate finance department, you’ll need to prepare for a wide range of interview questions. These questions allow hiring managers to learn about your background and skills, but also about your creative reasoning and interpersonal skills. 

While we can’t cover everything an interviewer might ask, we’ve compiled a list of common questions you’ll encounter at an FP&A interview. 

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The qualities that make up a great FP&A candidate
  • Interview questions for interns, analysts, and managers
  • Technical questions to consider in advance

Ready to flex your interview muscles? Read on.

Contents

  1. What qualities do hiring managers look for in FP&A candidates?
  2. Sample questions for every type of FP&A interview
  3. Conclusion: Ace the FP&A interview

What qualities do hiring managers look for in FP&A candidates?

While you're expected to know the basics of financial planning, financial modeling, and other ways to determine a company's financial health, the best candidates have a suite of soft skills in addition to their technical knowledge.

Let's take a look at some of them.  

Finance skills

A foundational understanding of finance and accounting practices is the cornerstone of a career in finance. While specializations such as advanced Excel and FP&A software skills can be learned on the job, a strong grasp of the basics is required. 

Be ready to address questions about your finance skills and look for opportunities to discuss your analytical process.  

Cross-functional skills

Many FP&A candidates come from different backgrounds in the professional world. Some are looking for a new challenge, while others are attracted to the numbers and processes behind operational success in their former departments. 

Managers often seek cross-functional skills in well-rounded candidates who can understand business challenges from multiple perspectives.

Creative thinking and curiosity

Curiosity is a defining characteristic of a high-quality FP&A candidate. Much of planning and analysis requires complex problem-solving skills. The best problem solvers are both naturally curious people and outside-the-box thinkers. 

Hiring managers look for candidates with creative thinking skills—those who always need to know “why.” Curiosity is a valuable asset to an organization.

Interpersonal “soft” skills

Finance professionals don’t hide behind their spreadsheets. In the modern Finance organization, analysts and managers must be skilled communicators. They must be able to communicate ideas, collaborate with other leaders on solutions, educate decision-makers, and gain consensus on a course of action. 

Showcase your interpersonal and leadership skills during the interview, and look for opportunities to weave examples into your interview answers.

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Sample questions for every type of FP&A interview

Prepare to answer a range of questions during your interview. Depending on the hiring manager, they may ask a series of questions to determine your analytical skills, technical knowledge, creative thinking, and team mindset. Here are some examples of questions and the rationale behind them. 

FP&A intern interview questions

If you want to know how to break into FP&A with an internship or an entry-level position, the secret is to find ways to demonstrate the skills necessary for the role. While you may have little or no FP&A experience, find ways to demonstrate your analytical, presentation, and communication skills in applicable ways. 

How will your educational background aid you in this internship?

Be prepared to discuss your current coursework. This is especially important if you are looking for strategic finance internships from outside of a finance or accounting curriculum. Give examples of how analytics and critical thinking integrate into your coursework. 

Why pursue an FP&A internship versus accounting or another discipline?

Are you interested in business or accounting but exploring planning and analysis as part of your major? Be specific about why an FP&A job interests you. Share examples of your interest in planning and analysis, as well as showcase any cross-applicable skills.

How strong are your Microsoft Excel skills? 

Strong skills are a huge benefit when working within a Finance organization. Although many FP&A software tools exist, many professionals still prefer to work within spreadsheets for much of their analysis. Having advanced chops in Excel is a valuable skill. 

Tell me about X

You're expected to know the basics of what financial analysts do and the types of financial statements you'll encounter on the job. Be prepared to talk about core concepts like:

  • Creating a simple financial model
  • Cash flow
  • The three financial statements (Income statement, Balance sheet, and Cash Flow Statement)
  • Capital assets
  • Capital expenditures
  • Fixed and variable costs
  • Operating expenses
  • Assessing a company's current financial position
  • Financial planning
  • The qualities of a good Excel model
  • What about accounts payable?
  • What are accounts receivable?
  • What is non-cash working capital?

It's always a good idea to come prepared with an analysis of the company's market share based on the data available to you. For example, even though you don't have access to that company's historical data or last year's revenue, you can talk in hypotheticals.

FP&A analyst questions

At the analyst level, you're expected to be proficient at creating a financial model from a budget and manipulating financial data.

You should be able to talk about how models interact with each other. For example, many models forecast operating expenses. Can you interpret that model and explain its effect on a company's cash flow?

You're expected to have a solid understanding of the three financial statements: the income statement, the balance sheet, and the cash flow statement.

Likewise, you're expected to understand the core essentials of financial planning. 

What do you consider your biggest weakness in terms of FP&A?

Most candidates are happy to showcase their strengths during the interview, so this question creates opportunities to see how they talk about their less-developed skills and areas of expertise. This question also allows an interviewer to see where skill gaps might appear and what enrichment opportunities might be helpful to the successful candidate.

Remember that because FP&A degree programs are few and far between, most FP&A training is on the job. So this is a good time to talk about the circumstances of your current or previous positions and what you never got to work on. If you were never able to model operating expenses or create a forecast model because your team was highly segmented in terms of responsibility, you should talk about how you'd like to learn those skills in this new position.

If you're applying to work at a company with a new type of revenue model or offer, there's a lot to talk about here. If your previous company was SaaS but your new company has warehouses of products they sell, you'll encounter new questions that you previously never had to answer, like "how does inventory write-down affect cash flows?"

Tell me about a time you disagreed with a boss or other superior.  

Complex financial modeling may present opposing viewpoints about how to move forward through a challenge. As an analyst, part of the candidate's job will be communicating and educating on their analyses.

The best candidate will have the analytical skills to produce accurate analysis, confidently propose solutions, educate on the facts of the situation, and act as a strategic partner up and down the organization. 

It's important to have a well-thought-out answer to this question. Spend some time before your interview thinking about how you'd approach this if asked.

Have you ever worked on a project that failed? How did you handle it?

It’s often said we learn more from our failures than our successes. This question allows the interviewer a window into your thought process when things don’t go as planned. 

how the process you used to arrive at your conclusions, any circumstances affecting the outcome, and what you took away from the experience. 

What do you think is the most desirable quality of an FP&A analyst?

There are many answers to this question, and whichever you pick will reveal something about your perception of the FP&A role. Analytical ability is an essential prerequisite for analysts, but creative thinking and problem-solving are also valuable. Presentation skills are another vital aspect, allowing you to communicate your results and recommendations clearly and effectively. 

Project management skills, leadership, and communication skills are other avenues to consider in answering. Your answer to this question will give your interviewer a window into your potential skill fit and culture fit with the company. 

What should you do if you find issues with a model or forecast? 

This could be a question about technical skills or soft skills, and answering both aspects will provide valuable insight into your work style. Ask for specifics about the issues and use any detail the interviewer provides in forming your answer. 

FP&A manager questions

At this level, you should not only understand how to model revenues and assess future business needs, but you should also be able to assess both internal and external challenges facing a business.

Likewise, at the manager level, you should expect to lead a finance team. You should also have opinions on the overall strategic direction for FP&A—your FP&A philosophy, as it were. 

What are the most common challenges FP&A departments currently face?

This question provides a broader context for your finance knowledge within the wider world. It shows that you spend time researching the economic and global impacts on businesses and demonstrates that you possess an interest in the subject beyond the technical functions of the job. 

How do you communicate with stakeholders that have limited finance knowledge?

Finance professionals in a modern business environment must be educators. Translating detailed information into a usable format for many different audiences is an important skill. Many finance professionals invest time and resources in expanding their communication skills along with their analytical skills for this reason. Demonstrate to your interviewer that you can communicate effectively across the organization and to internal and external audiences.

Can you tell me about the biggest challenges we face as a company currently?

Like the question about general FP&A challenges, this question is a chance to demonstrate your deep understanding of the finance function. In this case, you’ll also demonstrate that you’ve done your homework about the company and its financials. This question serves as a check against your interest in the role, as well as your communication and analysis skills. 

Be sure to talk about both internal and external challenges in this answer. Not only should you do your best to evaluate future business, but you should also talk about the company's market share and its trajectory for growth.

Being able to create hypotheses without access to historical data and draw conclusions about external challenges based on what you can observe in the market shows you're a smart candidate. It'll take you far in the interview process.

How would you describe your management style? 

Finance managers must be able to guide and support their analysis team throughout their careers, providing guidance, mentorship, and leadership. Discussing your management style in specific allows the interviewer to visualize how you will fit within the larger organization. It also demonstrates your ability to navigate interpersonal relationships, provide balanced leadership, and work as part of a team. 

How do you engage employees in the process?

Like management style, your ability to provide guidance and enrichment for staff is a vital part of the team's health. Discuss your views on peer leadership, skip-level management and mentorship, career road mapping, and advancement opportunities. Discuss ways to build a culture within the Finance function, and ensure the FP&A team has a seat at the table in the broader organization. 

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FP&A technical interview questions

Acing the technical questions is required to show a candidate's ability to do the job of the FP&A analyst. The FP&A interview will as you about the basics of FP&A like cash flow, net income, variable costs, how to create a quarterly forecast model, and how to model working capital.

You should demonstrate some familiarity with the most common FP&A tools and prepare answers to the questions we've listed below, most of which relate to forecasting.

What planning tools and platforms are you familiar with? 

While you can pick up platform skills on the job and familiarize yourself with them before the interview, it’s always nice to have some knowledge of the tech stack. Be prepared to discuss your level of familiarity with financial planning and analysis software.

Check the job description for any required systems and be prepared to discuss them. It's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the most common FP&A tools on the market, including:

As well as the common ERP systems:

Even if you've never used these tools, demonstrating that you're familiar with their relative trade-offs will go a long way toward appeasing the hiring manager.

What are the three financial statements and their importance?

The ability to clearly define and discuss the income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, and their interaction is table stakes for most FP&A jobs. Be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of how these essential documents come together.

You should also be prepared to discuss how these financial statements are used to create financial reports, forecast revenues, and report on a business's financial performance.

Be prepared to discuss other information (like shareholders' equity).  

What forecasting techniques have you had experience using? 

As with the financial statements, you should be prepared to discuss forecasting techniques: their uses, strengths, and applications. Likewise, take time to share your understanding of top-down versus bottom-up models of forecasting.

Showing you have a broad and deep computational skill set will set you apart from candidates with less specialized skills. 

How do you record PP&E, and why is this important?

Handling changes in fixed and long-term assets in the balance sheet requires appropriate calculation and care.

Demonstrating knowledge of proper classification and management of PP&E assets, knowledge of depreciation, capital expenditures, repair, and replacement, etc. demonstrates your proficiency in dealing with these items on the balance sheet.  

How do you create a rolling forecast? 

Versatility and a ready toolbox of techniques are essential for FP&A professionals at every level. Possessing the technical knowledge to construct a rolling forecast shows that you can adapt your approach to the company's needs.

Communicating this information to your interviewer shows that you have both the technical grasp and the communication skills to work effectively in the department. 

Conclusion: ace the next FP&A interview

Consider the above questions, spend some time practicing your answers (to yourself or with a mock interview helper) and you’ll be well prepared to step into a financial analysis role you’ll love.

Hiring for an FP&A position or need help finding an FP&A job? Check out our Slack community full of FP&A pros.

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